I have never given the terrorists credit for being strategically savvy. The 9/11 attacks had the same effect as Pearl Harbor, galvanizing and mobilizing the United States to take the kind of action against global terrorism that should have started a decade ago. The 2002 Bali bombing had a similar effect on Australian public opinion. When al Qaeda bombed a wedding party in Amman, Jordan, in November, they turned the country against them, and have been trying to explain it away ever since.
So now a group calling itself the Swords of Truth Brigades has kidnapped four members of the pacifist group Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT)
, accusing them of being “spies working for the occupying forces.” They have threatened to kill the four hostages unless all detainees held by the Coalition and the Iraqi government are released by December 8.
The charge of spying has no clear foundation. The four men–British citizen Norman Kember, 74, American Tom Fox, 54, and Canadians James Loney, 41, and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32–have track records as peace activists, most notably in the Palestinian area. CPT had been active in Iraq since before the war started, and supplied some of the “human shields” as symbolic protest against the impending liberation. Their mission had not changed. The day before he was kidnapped CPT team leader Tom Fox wrote: “We are here to stand with those being dehumanized by oppressors and stand firm against that dehumanization. We are here to stop people, including ourselves, from dehumanizing any of God’s children, no matter how much they dehumanize their own souls.” By “oppressors” he, of course, meant the Coalition forces in Iraq.
The Iraqi CPT mission statement notes that “the primary focus of the team for eighteen months following the invasion was documenting and focusing attention on the issue of detainee abuses and basic legal and human rights being denied them.” This is ironic of course because any abuses suffered by people detained by the Coalition are investigated and the perpetrators punished, while those “detained” by the terrorists are simply hostages, without rights, without due process, without options. Abuse–which is a tame word to describe actions up to and including execution by such vile means as slow beheading with a knife–is part of the standard tool kit in the terrorist arsenal. Whether CPT felt it important to document these forms of abuse is unclear, but I’m guessing not.
Of course, CPT does not blame the terrorists for abducting their team members. A statement on their website notes, “we are distressed that those who have taken our friends, Harmeet, Tom, Norman and Jim, could try and bargain with their lives and we want to understand why they would do such a thing.” See, it’s all a matter of understanding it. It cannot be that the terrorists are sociopaths who foment violence against innocents as a means of pursuing their program for power; that would be too easy. In any case, CPT knows where the blame lies: “We are angry because what has happened to our teammates is the result of the actions of the U.S. and U.K. governments due to the illegal attack on Iraq and the continuing occupation and oppression of its people.” The terrorists are behaving as anyone else would under foreign military occupation. If they are forced to behead them, the blood is on the Coalition’s hands.
Meanwhile, on November 25, German archaeologist and Muslim convert Susanne Osthoff and her driver were taken captive by another militant group. They are demanding that Germany cease all business dealings with Iraq. Yes, that’s Germany, a country that opposed the war, and will not send troops there. True, Germany is helping train some Iraqi security forces outside the country–but why kidnap a Muslim woman, whose husband is an Iraqi, who did volunteer work in Iraqi hospitals, and who was a consistent critic of the war effort? In this respect, Ms. Osthoff fits the same profile as British aide worker Margaret Hassan, who was slain in November 2004.
CPT friends and fellow travelers have rallied around the effort to get the hostages released. And what a list. A letter in the Mennonite Weekly Review featured a letter signed by the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas), the Palestine People’s Party, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Democratic Union of Palestine, Fatah, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Palestinian Liberation Front, and the Palestinian Popular Struggle Front. “We appeal to our brothers in the resistance and all those with alert consciences in Iraq,” the letter said, “with whom we consider ourselves to be in the same trench confronting American aggression and occupation, to instantly and quickly release the four kidnapped persons from CPT, in appreciation for their role in standing beside and supporting our Palestinian people and all the Arab and Islamic peoples.” The Council on American Islamic Relations has called for their release as well. The Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq seeks freedom for all five hostages.
Maybe the abductors will see reason; but there is no reason to believe they would recognize reason if they saw it. I do not even think they are good at what they do. These kidnappings are simply bad terrorism. The targets are all wrong. The point of taking hostages is to gain publicity, to bring issues and demands to the public eye whether they are realistic or not. If you can also raise money, so much the better. And if you execute people who are working on rebuilding projects or aiding Coalition forces, you might scare others away. However, you do not abduct the “useful idiots” on the other side who support you. This serves no purpose whatsoever.
A sensible terrorist political warfare strategy tries to drive wedges into the enemy society by isolating the groups you will never be able to win over and appealing to as wide a base as possible. The Swords of Truth Brigades should not be threatening the CPT team; they should be holding a joint press conference to denounce the Coalition. The way they are behaving is comparable to the North Vietnamese shooting Jane Fonda with a firing squad instead of a camera in 1972. The terrorists really do not know who their friends are. They kidnap humanitarian workers. They target journalists. They bomb the U.N. Lenin must be spinning in his tomb.
–James S. Robbins is senior fellow in national-security affairs at the American Foreign Policy Council, a trustee for the Leaders for Liberty Foundation, and an NRO contributor.