As a group of influential Sunni scholars in Iraq calls for the release of four kidnapped aid workers of the Christian Peacemakers Team, we go to Najaf to speak with Sami Rasouli, an Iraqi American who is a member of the Muslim Peacemaker Team that was founded in conjunction with the CPT. [includes rush transcript]
A group of influential Sunni scholars is calling for the release of five Westerners taken hostage last week in Iraq. The Association of Muslim Scholars said the captives should be granted their freedom as a humanitarian gesture. The group has helped mediate the release of kidnapped foreigners in the past.
The five captives include four aid workers from the humanitarian group Christian Peacemaker Teams–two Canadians, a Briton and an American–as well as German archaeologist Susanne Ostoff, who was seized with her Iraqi driver last Friday.
Ostoff was working for a German aid organization distributing medical supplies in Iraq since before the 2003 US invasion. The group of Sunni scholars said releasing her would recognize Germany’s “positive” stance on Iraq.
The Association of Muslim Scholars said the release of the four aid workers from Christian Peacemaker Teams would recognize their “good efforts in helping those in need.” The non-missionary aid group has been operating in Iraq since 2002, and has had a presence in Gaza and the West Bank for the past decade. It has previously operated in Afghanistan, Chechnya and Bosnia.
In the West Bank city of Ramallah, the top Palestinian Muslim cleric–Mufti Ikrema Sabri–also called for their release.
The four members of the group were taken captive Saturday and appeared in a video broadcast by Al Jazeera. The video bears the insignia of a group calling itself the Swords of Righteousness Brigade who accused the four of being undercover spies working as Christian peace activists. In the tape, the men identified themselves on camera as Tom Fox of Clearbrook Virginia, James Loney of Toronto and Harmeet Singh Sooden of Canada and Norman Kember of Britain.
- Sami Rasouli, he is a member of the Muslim Peacemaker Team which was founded in Iraq in conjunction with the Christian Peacemaker Teams. He joins us on the line from Najaf.
Click here to watch an extended Democracy Now! interview with Sami Rasouli.
AMY GOODMAN: The four members of the group were taken captive Saturday and appeared in a video broadcast by Al Jazeera. The video bears the insignia of a group calling itself “The Swords of Righteousness Brigade.” They accuse the four of being undercover spies working as Christian peace activists. In the tape, the men identify themselves on camera:
NORMAN KEMBER: My name is Norman Kember. I am 74, and I’m a member of the Christian Peacemaking Team in Iraq.
HARMEET SINGH SOODEN: My name is Harmeet Sooden. I’m 32, and I’m working — I’m a volunteer for CPT in Iraq.
JAMES LONEY: My name is James Loney. I’m 41 years old. I’m from Canada, and I am part of the Christian Peacemaker Team in Iraq.
TOM FOX: My name is Tom Fox. I’m 54 years old. I’m from the United States, and I’m a member of Christian Peacemaker Teams in Iraq.
AMY GOODMAN: We go now to Iraq to speak Sami Rasouli. He’s a member of the Muslim Peacemaker Team, which he founded in Iraq in conjunction with the Christian Peacemaker Teams. He joins us on the phone from Najaf. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Sami.
SAMI RASOULI: Thank you, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. I met Sami in Minneapolis, where he was running a Middle Eastern restaurant, a very popular watering hole in Minneapolis. I know a lot of people listening on KFAI in Twin Cities, on public access in St. Paul know Sami very well. Well, he moved back to his home, to Iraq. Can you talk about the four Peacemakers? You know Tom Fox, in particular, from Virginia?
SAMI RASOULI: Yes, Tom Fox is a friend of mine who I met about eight months ago. First time, it was when we together took action in the city of Fallujah. About 15 members of the Muslim Peacemakers Team from Najaf and Karbala were accompanied by three members of CPT, one of them was my friend Tom. And we did the cleanup action in Fallujah on that day the whole day. Then, before that, also, Tom and I, we met to preparation visit to Fallujah. And after that, we did also visit Fallujah after my arrival to Iraq last August.
The first day I arrived on August 24 at the CPT house in Baghdad in Karada. I learned that next day there was a visit to Fallujah scheduled, so I joined them with that visit, and Tom was with me. And then we did another visit with Anita David, Tom and I, too. And last action, also, we accompanied some families, Palestinian families, that sought refuge to Syria, but we couldn’t cross the Syrian boarder, so we stayed there about — I, personally, I stayed about five nights with them, but he stayed about two weeks, then came back. And last time we met was sometime, I think, in November 1st, where we made another visit to Fallujah, after we were invited to meet the cleric in Al-Furqan Mosque, the Shaikh, and also a dentist-doctor in his clinic to tell us about the situation during Ramadan.
I was really saddened when I heard the news while I was in Karbala waiting for the group, those guest group coming — were supposed to be scheduled to come into Karbala and Najaf next day on the 27th of November and 28th of November. But then the news that we got since then, we’re busy working at the MPT with the CPT closely to find a way how to get them safely released. And today I am in Najaf, right now talking to you. I came yesterday from Karbala to get a promise from the young cleric, Syed Muqtada al-Sadr, office to issue a statement to talk about the CPT and testify that they are not spies, as their kidnappers alleging, because on September 26, a group of CPT delegates and CPT permanent residents in Baghdad, there were about eight of them with me, we met Syed Muqtada for about 90 minutes. We were discussing various issues that concerning the Iraqi situation and before the referendum on the constitution. And he, in next day, left and I think they stayed a couple of days and left Iraq, except the permanent residents who always have been in Iraq since October 2002.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Sami, I would like to ask you, the Christian Peacemaker Team, as well as the Muslim Peacemaker Team, what activities precisely were they involved in? I understand the Christian Peacemaker Team was not a missionary group. So what did the day-to-day activities of both groups involve?
SAMI RASOULI: The Christian — yeah, the Christian Peacemakers Team are a group who were established in 1986 from Mennonites, Quakers, and Brethren Church, and they are really not missionaries, and also they are not a church organization. They don’t provide any humanitarian help, material help, such as money or medical assistance, medicine, and so forth. But they provide, really — they offer their lives in a lethal situation, hot spot where violence erupts.
I was talking to friends that they know at CPT, and they speak with really frustration and sadness about their ordeal today, but I was replying, telling them that while if we have a peaceful Iraq today, you don’t see Christian Peacemakers around. They are in Colombia, because there is a conflict; they are in Palestine, because there is a conflict; and they are in Canada, mediating between the Native citizens and the Canadian government, because there are some conflicts about land, and so forth. And today they expanded their mission down in Africa. So —
JUAN GONZALEZ: But, specifically, what do they do when they go into one of these hot spots?
SAMI RASOULI: In Iraq, they brought Shias, Muslims and Sunnis together. They help us. We were inspired by their action to travel all these thousands of miles across the ocean to come here in Iraq and speak about peace, promote nonviolence. And they are so steady and consistent in visiting the same place they did visit many times just to lay down their sense of community and friendship.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Sami Rasouli, who has lived in the United States for many years, an Iraqi who has returned home to Karbala and Najaf, speaking to us from Najaf. I wanted to ask you about Tom Fox. In the video that was shown on Al Jazeera of the four Christian Peacemakers, when they go to Tom Fox, they also go to his credentials. He has a Marine ID. He was a U.S. Marine, a Quaker for 20 years. He talked a lot around September 11th about his feelings and wanting to change the record, I guess you could say, of the United States, wanting to bring peace to the world. Do you think that could weigh in here with the way the video hones in on that military ID?
SAMI RASOULI: I haven’t seen him talking in that video. But I understood — Tom, he’s tall, more than six feet, I don’t know exactly how tall he is. He is bald, and many times had been approached by Iraqis, whether in Fallujah, Karbala, Baghdad, and even on the Syrian borders, when the Syrian authorities didn’t allow us to get in, so they throw us on the No Man’s Land, where lots of violent activities take place, like kidnapping, killing. And we were warned even by the Syrian authority there are many criminals in that area. So my most concern was about him. So we tried to cover his head with this checkered red kaffiyeh to hide his identity and give him a newspaper to read, because lots of people were around looking and staring at us, and so, the people who approached me asked me who’s this guy and what he’s doing here. So he was like — his just shape raising lots of questions among Iraqis.
I’ve seen Iraqis coming and approaching the CPT members, asking them for Bibles. But they are rejected and apologize politely that 'We don't have Bibles. If you need a Bible,’ telling the Iraqis, 'you can go to any Iraqi church in Baghdad to get that.' So his outlook, it looks like, it brings some suspicion. I know that he worked before, as I understood, in Washington as a musician. But Tom is a loving, peaceful, quiet guy. He has lots of gifts, where the team, the CPT team in Baghdad, when I visit them and they have meetings, he keeps like calm, not speaking or discussing anything until the last minute. And when you listen to him, you sense all the righteousness and all the wisdom, and finally his points that he made or he makes, it will be well taken and would be the final conclusion, were the CPT/MPT to take action upon that.
AMY GOODMAN: Sami Rasouli, we want to thank you very much for joining us, who set up the Muslim Peacemaker Team, modeled on the Christian Peacemaker Team. Sami, speaking to us from Najaf, the four Christian Peacemakers still kidnapped in Iraq. And again, a lot of people from Tom’s community in Virginia, one of the four, talk about how central he was to the Quaker community there in his desire for peace and wanting to represent the United States differently than the military has in the past, which is why he went to Iraq to bear witness and help people, joining his three colleagues at Christian Peacemaker Team.