Sunday, March 26, 2006

CPT criticized in media, in Britain and Canada at least

Earlier this week three "Christian aid workers", members of the Christian Peacemaker Teams held hostage by Iraqi insurgents, were rescued by a British led team that included the British SAS, U.S. troops, and (perhaps, as details are sketchy) members of Canada's elite JTF-2 special forces unit. The hostages — a Briton and two Canadians — had been held hostage for several months. A fourth hostage, American Tom Fox, was found shot to death earlier this month.

Yesterday's news reports said Norman Kember, the British captive, was heading home amidst allegations that the aid workers had not adequately thanked the soldiers who rescued them. Apparently Kember only thanked the soldiers after he returned to London and the word got out of the group's lack of gratitude. The Christian Peacemaker Teams give a different story, saying that the three thanked their rescuers "quickly".

(The web sites of most U.S. news outlets had headlines like CNN's, "Freed UK hostage thanks rescuers amid criticism". Fox's web site said, "Freed British Hostage Thanks Soldiers Who Saved Him", though Fox did mention the criticism. Just an interesting example of media manipulation: both stories said about the same thing, but Fox's headline puts an entirely different spin on it than CNN's.)

There is an interesting difference in the way the Canadian and British media are discussing this story and the way the American media is covering it. Nowhere on major U.S. news outlet web sites will you find criticism of the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) organization and their motives. This criticism is being leveled in British and Canadian media.

This is the story from The Scotsman:
("Kember lives to ask 'was I foolhardy or rational?')

This is the story from The Toronto Star:
Activists' action poses dilemma

The CPT is an organization of Mennonites and Quakers whose stated mission is to act as human shields and negotiators. They go to conflict areas and stay at hospitals and other humanitarian locations in order to discourage attacks. They are not missionaries, as they feel this impedes their work. Instead, they act as intermediaries. They have worked as go-betweens in the occupied territories between Israel and Palestine, helping to bring middle-of-the-road Israelis and Palestinians together.

The CPT members were in Iraq ostensibly to record American prisoner abuses. They oppose U.S. troops in Iraq, though they say they have nothing against the individual soldiers. They are prepared to die for their cause and say they don't wish to be rescued. In particular, they don't want anyone to die in their rescue.

Criticism has been leveled at this group with regard to their "don't want to be rescued" stance. It's all fine and good for the aid workers to say that they don't want to be rescued, but what are Western governments to do when their loved ones plead with the governments to rescue them? Do they let them die, or do they rescue them? Letting them die would be a public relations mess, while rescuing them is a public relations boon — as seen this week — even if the rescue attempt puts the lives of soldiers and civilians at risk.

In London on Friday, Terry Waite — the man who was held hostage in Beirut from 1987 until 1991 said of the CPT, "Many say that's a risk we understand and are willing to take. The only problem with that is that, as you take that stance, you do involve other people in the situation, and that might be a problem. I applaud the motive but at this stage I question the tactic." Others have also pointed out that they are naive if they think they can make a difference in Iraq right now. Others suggest they shouldn't even be in Iraq during the current conflict. They can say they don't want to be rescued, but their capture will, inevitably, put someone's life at risk whether or not that was their intent.

The web sites of U.S. news outlets have not expressed any of this criticism against the CPT. They mention that British officials were unhappy with the group's apparent lack of gratitude, but they don't level criticism at the group's tactics. I find this interesting. I wonder what's at work here. You could put it down to "liberal bias", except that the U.S. outlets haven't mentioned the group's decidedly anti-war stance. Fox hasn't criticized them either, and they are openly biased to the right. The Toronto Star is biased toward the left and they ran an article criticizing the group (I used to work for The Star, from 1998 to 2001 as a business systems analyst.)

Do American media outlets simply feel that there isn't enough interest in this story to warrant a closer examination of the Christian group's motives? Or maybe they are too busy with other stories of "higher priority". We ate at CiCi's yesterday (a pizza buffet place). Fox News was on one of the TVs. The whole time we were there the station was concerned with the Tennessee minister who was apparently killed by his wife. CNN's big story was the immigrant protest against tougher immigration laws.

Or could it be that there's simply less criticism of Christian groups in American mass media?

At any rate, it is funny how these news companies will cover a single story until you are sick to death of hearing about it, while they leave other stories wanting for much needed analysis.

No comments: