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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 March 2006, 11:02 GMT
Why Norman was right to go
By Bruce Kent
Peace campaigner

100 days vigil
Dozens attended a vigil to mark 100 days of captivity, in early March
On Wednesday night, just as on every Wednesday night since Norman Kember was kidnapped in November, we held a vigil in Trafalgar Square.

This week, just as they have every week, passers-by would talk to the 25 of us gathered there and would ask about Norman's case. They were interested, sympathetic, and very supportive.

But to be honest, our hopes were beginning to fade. After the American hostage Tom Fox was killed two weeks ago, people were starting to fear that the British man might be next.

Naturally, then, Norman being safe and free is the most wonderful news, the most fantastic relief.

But I still believe Norman was right to go to Iraq - and I don't think that he will regret having gone. And here's why.

Bruce Kent
He felt a call, a kind of vocation, to do something a bit more direct
Bruce Kent

Norman totally, bitterly, opposed the invasion of Iraq and all that was done there. He could see there were a lot of people in Iraq who were hurting and suffering, who had lost relations or been imprisoned. Whatever their nationality, our job as Christians and as people interested in peace was to offer help and consolation to people who were suffering. That was Norman's basic wish.

He also wanted to show a kind of British solidarity - to demonstrate that we were not a country which was united in favour of what had been done. It was a common Christian humanity that inspired Norman; that these were people who were suffering. He wanted to go and help.

This is not, of course, an exclusively Christian prerogative. We do not have a monopoly on compassion - in fact I think it's everyone's duty to help those who in need. But we as Christians are commanded to be concerned about the suffering and imprisonment of others - it's an explicit mandate to us.

Norman Kember's house
Norman Kember will return to his home in north-west London
I know people will say Norman shouldn't have put himself in danger in the first place. There is, however, a comparison they don't make. They don't ask if it's right for instance, for a young soldier to go to Iraq to do his duty. We send out government people and contractors and God knows who else as well as soldiers, and they all take major risks, some of them for commercial reasons and some for political or other purposes.

Some go because they think armies are the best way to keep peace - I'm not judging their motives. But why shouldn't people who have a different approach towards justice and peace also take risks?

Peace protests
Kent on a 1980s peace protest

That's exactly Norman's position. Over the years, he and I have met dozens of times on one peace campaign or activity or another, whether it's about the arms trade or nuclear weapons. But he felt - and it came through in many of his writings - that it was in a sense a bit easy to write letters and hold placards and go on demonstrations and write to your MP. He felt a call, a kind of vocation, to do something a bit more direct. And that's what led him to go out there.

Even when it looked very dark, I don't think he would have regretted going for one minute. As a human, of course, he would have been absolutely scared. The awful thought of one of his friends being taken out and shot, which he and his fellow hostages must have known about, would have meant an enormous amount of anguish.

Norman Kember
Norman Kember at a peace rally

He would also have been very deeply upset knowing what his wife would have been through. But I don't think he would ever have regretted going.

He might now ask himself if anything positive has come out of the whole ordeal. It has. There's a great deal of awareness now of what's going on in Iraq - not just because of him, but he's certainly contributed to it. What's specific to Norman's case is a new understanding between Muslims here in this country and the peace and human rights campaign here.

We might have been separate in the past, but the Muslim community has been so helpful and so co-operative here, it needs as many thanks as anyone else. Of course I would like to thank the Foreign Office and, if it was the military that helped free him, then them too. But the Muslim community has really behaved in a wonderful way.

Messages came from all over the world - from all sorts of organisations and people. Most remarkable, perhaps, was that we had a message from an alleged terrorist in a high security prison, and even from a proscribed organisation in Egypt. It was all very heartening and very helpful.

And now - a time for absolute celebration and thanksgiving.


Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

Peacemakers have to take risks too. I'm really glad that Norman Kember has been freed today. Christians need to take risks in reaching out and speaking out for peace. Norman put himself quite literally on the front-line here. I hope he and his supporters will be allowed to air their views - then given some space to recover from the ordeal with their family.
Andy, Pershore

Norman Kember was not right to go. Nor did he have a "right" to go. I am anti the war in Iraq, totally, but Mr Kember went to a war zone and in doing so, not only de facto endangered himself, but also the lives of those seeking to gain his freedom. Showing solidarity is one thing; interfering in a theatre of war is tantamount to sabotage in something that is already an obscene mess.
Gerard Eastick, Edinburgh

I second the comment that Christian Peacemakers should go to Iraq to help to bring about peaceful solutions or show individual people that there are people who love them even though they may be regarded as our enemies. If soldiers, contractors, and others can go, peacemakers can go too.
Elaine Brubaker, Bluffton, Ohio, US

Whilst I wholeheartedly welcome the wonderful news of Mr Kember's release, I feel very strongly that individuals who decide to go to such dangerous places, do so entirely at their own risk. It often appears that both the hostages, their families and their supporters expect their national governments to move heaven and earth to secure their release. A release that would not have been necessary if the individual had not ignored common sense advice not go there in the first place. The risk to other people, most notably the hard working men and women of the Armed Forces and Security Services, is just not worth it in the long run.
Jon , Ottawa, Canada

It's all too easy to criticize Norman Kember for going out to Iraq to attempt to make a difference. These same critics wouldn't dare to take any risks themselves. Whether he had come back alive or not he still believed it was right to go. I thank God that he was rescued.
John Airey, Peterborough, UK

When you take a decision to leave the safe and controlled areas of the world you take the responsibility for your own safety. I'm glad Norman Kember was recovered, but he bears a responsibility for the efforts that went into recovering him. I ski and believe that you have a right to go beyond the safely marked areas, however when you pass beyond the signs you take that responsibility yourself, if a rescue team needs to be sent out you bear the responsibility for that.
Ali, Geneva, Switzerland

Bruce Kent says Mr Kember will still believe he was right to go. Surely the important question is whether those brave soldiers who risked their lives rescuing him think he was right to go.
David Gwilliam, Leicester England

Could someone elaborate on just what the difference Mr. Kember thought he was going to make? Its a nice idea, but rather egotistical. Putting oneself at risk, and others, and worrying family and friends... to achieve what? No, I'm convinced that one did not say it was for religious reasons doing what he did would get one sectioned under the mental health act. I mean what sort of state mental has he got himself, and his close ones, into. It's just shoddy thinking on his part.
Neil, Newcastle, UK

It's not a question of whether Mr Kember was 'right' or 'not right' to go to Iraq; it is a question of whether, once in Iraq, he and his companions observed common sense security procedures. Mr Kember will know himself whether or not there were things in this regard that could have been done better and I am sure he has already reflected upon this during his unhappy period of captivity. I for one was surprised at how swiftly Mr Kember and his companions were captured by their kidnappers but I am equally surprised and delighted that, for three of the four hostages and their families, there has been a happy end.
Andrew, Egham, Surrey

I think that this whole situation has proven once and all that activists for peace can be just as brave as any soldier. Perhaps even more so, because they put committedly put their lives on the line without the option of using violence even in self-defense, continuing Mahatma Gandhi and others' great experiment in discovering how powerful the power of Love truly is.
Tom Marshalek, Bloomington, IN USA

i have no sympathy for people who go to war zones, get them selfs kidnapped then risk our armed forces lives to get them out when their job is hard enough already, perhaps this will teach him and others like him not to meddle in foreign affairs
tom gillingham england, gillingham kent

I'd glad Norman Kember is alive and free. He is an unfortunate misguided man, who put his own life and those of others in great danger. He should not meddle in things he quite obviously does not understand.
Alison Townsend, Leicester

Rescued at great expense to the tax payers of three countries, By the very forces that he protests against. Speak out by all means. But don't go to war zones if you are not experienced.
Richard M, London

Norman Kember was not right to go. Nor did he have a "right" to go. I am anti the war in Iraq, totally, but Mr Kember went to a war zone and in doing so, not only de facto endangered himself, but also the lives of those seeking to gain his freedom. I do not think he is a hero. Showing solidarity is one thing; interfering in a theatre of war is tantamount to sabotage in something that is already an obscene mess.
Gerard Eastick, Edinburgh

Absolutely right to go. He's am inspiration and if more people had his courage and conviction perhaps the politicians couldn't waltz into such turmoil as fluidly in the future.
Adam McGuigan, South Africa

l believe norman and the people did a good work and l think the govt shld reward them according to a good work done to sacrifies your whole whorld just to bring peace to iraq and help the needy was a great task and l think god will bless them abundatly
gertrude, accra,accra,ghana

For a man to go to iraq as a peace keeper deserves commendation and respect. I must relate Mr Kemba as a Hero who even if he does not get an OBE is surely a man i will respect for ever.
chez eric, birmingham

I am really glad about this news. Just three days before we remembered and praied again for Norman. His release looks like to that of St. Peter when an angel opened an locked door and took the Peter out while none of the 16 soldiers around the Peter saw something. With Norman, God used human soldiers, maybe because we don`t believe in miracles too much nowadays.
George, Timisoara/Romania

I second the comment that Christian Peacemakers should go to Iraq to help to bring about peaceful solutions or show individual people that there are people who love them even though they may be regarded as our enemies. If soldiers, contractors, and others can go, peacemakers can go too.
Elaine Brubaker, Bluffton, Ohio, United States

Whilst I wholeheartedly welcome the wonderful news of Mr Kember's release, I feel very strongly that inviduals who decide to go to such dangerous places, do so entirely at their own risk. It often appears that both the hostages, their families and their supporters expect their national governments to move heaven and earth to secure their release. A release that would not have been necessary if the individual had not ignored common sense advice not go there in the first place. The risk to other people, most notably the hard working men and women of the Armed Forces and Security Services, is just not worth it in the long run.
Jon , Ottawa, Canada

Predictably, not one mention of the troops who freed Mr Kember. Apparently Mr Kent is more pleased with the 'helpful' support of a terrorist than with the men who freed his friend. I guess you won't publish this though.
Anthony Jones, Leeds, UK

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