Tom Fox (1951—2006)

Christian Peacemaker Teams member, kidnapped and executed in Iraq

Keep to Jesus

By guest contributor Ken Sehested

It was a morning like most mornings, the newspaper splayed on our kitchen table, eating breakfast, sipping coffee. Scanning headlines on an inside page, my eye paused at a headline with the words Iraqi rights abuses. Having twice been to Iraq, I began reading. Nothing new, until the tenth paragraph.

The account mentioned that four humanitarian aid workers had been kidnapped in Baghdad. Only one name was currently known: Norman Kember.

That’s when I choked on my granola.

I was among Norman’s references in his application to participate in a Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) short-term delegation to Iraq. I had stayed in his home in London, England; he and Pat, in ours, in Memphis. Norman, along with Canadians Harmeet Singh Sooden and James Loney, were near the conclusion of their 10-day trip when, along with CPT staffer Tom Fox, they were kidnapped by a jihadist group on 26 November 2005. They would remain in captivity for more than three months. Near the end of that time, Fox, a Quaker from Virginia, was separated from his companions. They would not know until they were freed on 23 March that Fox had been executed two weeks prior, his body found in a garbage dump.

News of the kidnapping prompted calls for their release from around the world, including—most significantly—from a long list of prominent Islamic organizations and leaders throughout Muslim communities in North America, Europe, and the Middle East.

Though only 54, Tom Fox had already lived two full lives. The first was as a clarinetist and recorder player for the U.S. Marine Corps Band. After retiring, and after a spiritual transformation that led him into the Society of Friends, he began his second life as a committed pacifist and human rights advocate.

A turning point came 20 years prior to his work with CPT. He said that an elderly Friend gave a one-sentence message in worship one Sunday, I feel that in all things we need to keep to Jesus.

Fox had already been working full-time with CPT for two years prior to his abduction, first in Palestine and then with the CPT office in Baghdad. CPT provided first-hand, independent reports from the region, worked with detainees of both U.S. and Iraqi forces, and trained others in nonviolent intervention and human rights documentation. In his work with incarcerated Iraqis, Fox often served as the only link with their families. He also escorted deliveries of medicine to clinics and hospitals and supported the formation of a Muslim Peace Team. Journalist Seymour Hersh, whose New Yorker magazine first exposed the Abu Ghraib torture scandal in 2004, cited CPT’s work in his shocking story about U.S. military abuse of prisoners.

In his writing, Fox paraphrased a statement from Quaker founder George Fox (no relation):

Be patterns, be examples in every country, place, or nation that you visit, so that your bearing and life might communicate with all people. Then you’ll happily walk across the earth to evoke that of God in everybody.

Also in 2004 he wrote in his journal about a contemplative vision of …

… a land of shadows and darkness. But within that land candles were burning; not many but enough to shed some light on the landscape. Some candles disappeared and it was my sense that their light was taken away for protection. Other candles burned until nothing was left and a small number of candles seemed to have their light snuffed out by the shadows and the darkness. What was most striking to me was that as the candles that burned until the end and as the candles whose light was snuffed out ceased to burn, more candles came into being, seemingly to build on their light.

Following his death, CPT created a funeral banner—an Iraqi custom—to display at the site where his body was found. One of the phrases hand-painted in Arabic was this line from the Qur’an: We are for God and we are from God.

Ken Sehested is editor and author of prayer&politiks.

Works Cited

Norman Kember (Hostage in Iraq) and James Loney (Captivity: 118 Days in Iraq and the Struggle for a World Without War) have written books about their experience in captivity.

Principal sources for this story: