Symbolic Forest

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Blog : Posts tagged with ‘captives’


In which we ponder religious motives

As it’s Sunday, let’s think about religion for a moment. More specifically, let’s think about Norman Kember, the peace activist rescued last week after spending several months as a hostage in Iraq.

The big news story since his release, of course, is that he didn’t seem particularly happy to be freed. His gratitude to the SAS seemed rather forced, and he repeated his anti-war position. And that, in itself, is an admirable thing – I’d respect him much less if he had switched to say: “actually, now, I think the SAS are doing a damn fine job out there.”

Whether he was right or wrong to go out there is something that can be debated for hours, but it isn’t what I want to talk about. I’m more interested in whether he wanted to be rescued or not, and how that might be down to his religion.

There’s no doubt that Kember was deeply religious.* His behaviour, it seems, is classic for deeply religious people – it’s a case of self-martyrdom. Since the earliest days of Christianity – well, since the days of St Anthony, at least – the devout have flocked to non-deadly varients of martyrdom. St Anthony himself favoured hermeticism, but not all of us, particularly today, could cope with living on our own in the depths of the desert. So, people have found other ways to suffer in the name of Christ,** particularly by self-denial and “mortification”. Kember accidentally found an excellent modern way to suffer and mortify himself, and serve his favourite political cause along the way: be a hostage. No wonder he didn’t particularly want to be rescued.

* And the two Canadians who were captives along with Kember look, in the pictures shown on the BBC site, to have a bit of a fanatical gleam in their eyes.

** The best-known being the Stylites, probably because they sound rather silly.


In which we listen to abuse

As I drove to work this morning I was listening to Today on the radio, and I heard them play the sound from the video of UK troops abusing Iraqi civilians.

The soundtrack, and the voices of the British soldiers on it, were self-evidently sadistic. Moreover, they weren’t just violent; they sounded as if they were enjoying it. The unseen soldier sounded to be getting a thrill out of humiliating his helpless captives. This was his way to have fun. It sounded to me as if he’d be replaying the scene over and over again in his mind, to get every little bit of pleasure back again. Replaying it over and over, faster and faster, in his own private time.

Or maybe that’s just my own interpretation of it. Getting pleasure from people like that without their own agreement is always wrong, whether you enjoy it or not.