Reflections on the 4th anniversary of Tom Fox’s death

Today is the fourth anniversary of Tom Fox’s death. Tom was killed by his kidnappers in Iraq on March 9, 2006, 104 days after Harmeet, Norman, Jim and Tom were driving back from a Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) delegation visit when their car was pulled over by armed men and they were kidnapped. Since I didn’t know Tom personally, I can only really write about my experience of his loss. For a more intimate portrait of Tom, see these eulogies by my colleagues.

I found out about Tom’s death two days after he was killed. It was a Saturday morning. When I walked into the living room at the London Mennonite Centre and Charletta told me "There’s terrible news from Iraq." 

Four years later its hard to put myself back in the space I was in when I heard the news. I, along with thousands of others around the world had been working so hard for our colleague’s release. Every Wednesday for months, a group of us in London stood holding  photos of Tom, Harmeet, Normand and Jim and candles in Trafalgar square. At times we had spent days answering phone call after phone call from press and then worked hard to keep the story alive after coverage of our four colleagues dried up. We tried (mostly unsuccessfully) to talk about the thousands of Iraqis who were being held in similar conditions to our four friends. 

Here’s what I wrote at the time in a letter home:
As February wore on, it became clear in that we could no longer simply operate in emergency mode. We had to set up a sustainable campaign that could continue as long as our friends were held. In between spurts of media attention with the release of new videos, we needed to give reporters a reason to write about our friends and remind their captors that Tom, Harmeet, Norman and Jim were being kept from important work for peace they had been doing back home. As the Network of Christian Peace Organisations met, we had to figure out how to handle accounts since Norman was the treasurer. We tried to focus on this angle when talking with media..

March 5th was the 100th day of captivity for our friends, so 100 supporters gathered in Trafalgar Square with white doves. Two days later, another video was released showing Harmeet, Norman and Jim but not Tom. The three asked their respective governments to negotiate for their release. At the time, I rationalised Tom’s absence as simply reflecting the possibility that the group did not want to negotiate with the U.S. government. I was quite hopeful because this video didn’t include any threats against our friends. But on the following Saturday I heard the horrible news that Tom’s body had been found. The following days were very difficult. Although I had never met Tom, I felt like I had gotten to know him through working for his release. I can’t imagine how difficult it was for the Iraq team and for Tom’s family. My hope ebbed to its lowest point.
In the days after Tom’s death, I found it difficult to grieve. I just felt a blankness and exhaustion. The article Tom’s Last Journey Begins helped me connect with a deep sadness, but also the love the whole CPT community felt for Tom. In it, Doug Pritchard recounted what was told to him by our colleague Beth Pyles as she spent the night with Tom’s body just before he was flown back to the US:
On this plane, right beside Tom‘s coffin, was the coffin of an Iraqi detainee. So Tom accompanied an Iraqi detainee in death, just as he had done so often in life.

At Tom‘s departure, Pyles read out from the Gospel of John, "The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it" (1:5). In honour of Tom‘s Iraqi companion, she spoke the words called out repeatedly from the mosques of Baghdad during the Shock and Awe bombing campaign in March 2003, "allah akhbar" (God is greater). She concluded the sending with words from the Jewish scriptures, "The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD" (Job 1:21).

Dawn broke. The contingent of Puerto Rican soldiers nearby saluted. The plane taxied away. Venus, the morning star, shone brightly overhead as the night faded away.

Godspeed you, Tom, on your final journey home to your family and friends

Even now as I reread these lines, I feel myself reacting to the words. Tom’s witness and his spirit are still with us.