A British Baptist newspaper and a community weekly scooped major media in securing interviews with freed hostage Norman Kember.
Kember, 74, has shunned film producers, playwrights and the national press vying for rights to tell the story. But he granted an exclusive interview for the March 30 issue of The Baptist Times, weekly newspaper of the Baptist Union of Great Britain.
After The Baptist Times article appeared, a reporter for the Harrow Observer, which, like the Baptist Times, had reported regularly on Kember’s plight during his 118 days of captivity in Iraq, went to his house and knocked on the door. His wife, Pat, recognized her from services she had attended at their church and invited her in.
“Often as a local newspaper you do find that you just can’t compete with the sheer number of reporters the nationals can put on a story and the time they can give to it. Plus there’s the fact that they can pay for people’s accounts,” Lindsay Coulson, editor-in-chief of the Harrow Observer, a weekly newspaper with 14,000 subscribers, told the Press-Gazette. “You can’t blame them, the most we can do is offer them a coffee. So to get the story in spite of all that is a major achievement for us.”
In the interview Kember told of his relief at returning home, his emotional reunion with wife, how his faith helped him cope and his plans for the future, but he refused to discuss his experiences in captivity.
“Norman said he would talk about his experiences, but not at the moment,” said reporter Dhruti Shah. “The fact that he said he would talk means that hopefully the door is open [for us]. That’s the thing with local papers–we can build on that relationship whereas with nationals it’s a bit more difficult.”
In his interview with The Baptist Times, Kember thanked the paper and its readers for their support. “Thank you for keeping us in your prayers, for your vigils, and for the hundreds of letters Pat and I have received,” he said. “We have been overwhelmed by the goodwill and the concern we have been shown.”
Editor Mark Woods, who conducted the interview, wrote in an editorial in the same issue: “It is natural and right to feel a particular interest in the sufferings of those close to us, and we make no apology for keeping this situation before the eyes of Baptist readers as we have. But we should be clear, too, that beside the multiplied suffering caused by the war, this is small stuff.”
In other news, Kember publicly thanked the Muslim envoy who traveled to Iraq to try to win his release.
Joined by his wife and Pastor Bob Gardiner, Kember met Anas Altikriti, a leading member of the Muslim Association of Britain, at Harrow Baptist Church. During the time Kember was held hostage by a group called the Swords of Righteousness Brigade, Altikriti was sent by the British Anti-War Movement to Iraq to attempt to negotiate for his release.
Kember and two Canadian hostages, James Loney, 41, and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32, were freed after a March 23 multi-national military rescue operation. A fourth hostage, American Tom Fox, 54, was found shot dead on the streets of Baghdad weeks before the others were freed.
Meanwhile, former Beirut hostage Terry Waite said Kember and the other Christian peace campaigners should never have gone to Iraq.
“I applaud the position of peace but protestors should find other ways of making a stand,” Waite, 67, said. “Next time there is a kidnapping, it will be even more unpleasant for the captives because the rescue made it look like the kidnappers were defeated. They won’t want to let that happen again.”
“It is legitmate to ask whether it is Christian to go and protest in Iraq,” Waite said. “While people may have genuine Christian and humanitarian concerns, if the risks you are posing to other people are high, you should reconsider.”
But Waite, who was held hostage for almost five years when envoy to the Archbishop of Canterbury in the late 1980s, said he wasn’t surprised that Kember failed to thank his rescuers at first.
“When I was released I was naturally bewildered and overwhelmed,” Waite said. “There was information overload as I caught up with all the news I had missed. It is difficult for anybody to adapt to the outside world after being held hostage for such a long time but Norman Kember was also greeted with the news that one of his fellow captives was murdered.
“It is hardly surprsing he did not immediately say ‘Thank you’. He would just have been bewildered.
“He has done what I would have recommended and given a press statement on his return to Britain and then retreated to get his thoughts together.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
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