Stateside: Christian Peacemaker Teams
Christian Peacemaker Teams in perspective
By way of easing into the interview I did with conscientious objector Josh Casteel several weeks ago, I asked him how he came to be speaking at UC Berkeley that day, and his reply included some background information about Christian Peacemaking Teams and their recognition—or lack of it—by the military and by the government in Iraq.
I started working with an organisation called the Catholic Peace Fellowship, out of South Bend Indiana at the University of Notre Dame. I started working with them about a month after I received status as a conscientious objector from the U.S. Army, which I finally achieved May 30, 2005.
Through my work with them, I got in touch with another organisation called Christian Peacemaker Teams. I ended up coming out to the Bay Area, to Portland and Seattle, doing some speaking with a woman named Sheila Provencher who's a part of a Peacemaker team in Iraq. I told my stories of being a soldier in Iraq and my path to becoming a conscientious objector and she told her Peacemaker stories and her communities that try to build reconciliation in Iraq.
Through those connections, emails got swapped somewhere between the Catholic Peace Fellowship and Susan Quinlan, who's one of the main coordinators of FrontLines, and it just happened that I was planning on being out in Berkeley to visit some friends when all this was happening, so it just came at the perfect moment for me to be able to be a part of it. So we moved forward.
The peacemaking group in Iraq, how does that work? I mean, I know that you weren't involved with that--you met up with that after you came back to the States--but what do you know about that?
It was started by a group of Mennonites. It was set up under the--The founding speech of Christian Peacemaker Teams--CPT--is that "Those who want to work for peace have to be as willing to risk their lives for peace as soldiers are in combat." It comes from a respect for the kind of sacrifice that soldiers are willing to make. And wanting to take that same motivation and give it a better method that isn't violent.
So they willingly put themselves into areas of conflict and do very grassroots reconciliation work. Trying to foster reconciliation between Shi'a and Sunn'a in Baghdad. To try to foster dialog between Catholic Caldeans in Iraq and Muslim clerics.
How do you think they are perceived? Are they tolerated by the American forces or by the government in Iraq?
As far as the establishment goes, the government, I don't even think they're much of a blip on the radar screen. Sometimes they're allowed conversations and interviews with colonels that are deployed to Iraq, that kind of thing, to talk about issues like human rights. But for the most part, they're kept at bay and they operate very independently. Even from non-governmental organisations, from NGOs that typically do things like work with the government, or whatever.
[The rest of the interview—which was about his life in the US Army—was published at http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL0510/S00301.htm ]