Canadian hostages risked death for pacifist cause

Date: 03-23-06

OTTAWA (AFP) - Harmeet Singh Sooden and James Loney, two Canadian hostages rescued in Iraq are devout pacifists united by their strong convictions, according to friends and family.

It is their devotion to social justice causes and opposition to the US-led invasion of Iraq that brought them together and led them to the war-torn country where they were taken hostage and held during the past four months.

But, nothing had prepared the two members of Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) for the ordeal in which their captors, the Brigades of the Swords of Righteousness, threatened to kill them unless all Iraqi prisoners were released.

Harmeet Sooden, 32, was born in Zambia to Sikh parents originally from Indian Kashmir. A slight, softly-spoken man, he spent his youth in Africa and only became a Canadian citizen in 2003 while studying engineering at McGill University in Montreal.

James Loney, 41, was born in Sault-Sainte-Marie in northern Ontario province to a typical Canadian family -- his father Pat an anglophone and his mother Claudette a francophone.

Sooden has never relented in his obsession over Kashmir, disputed by Pakistan and India, where his grandparents still live, and did not stay in Canada long.

In 2004, he went to Gaza and the West Bank with a group that supports the Palestinian cause and sent emails about injustices against them to friends worldwide.

He then went to New Zealand where he studied English literature at Auckland University, hoping some day to become a teacher.

An enthusiast of Shakespeare, African art, and squash, which he teaches from time to time, his great love remains helping those most in need.

In November 2005, Sooden decided to go to Iraq with CPT to show his solidarity with Iraqis. It is then that he met James Loney, head of the mission.

A disciple of non-violence, Loney, is described by those close to him as spiritual person, always seeking to help others since his early childhood.

No surprise then that he became a social worker in Toronto, helping homeless find lodging.

"That's pretty typical of Jim, putting others before himself," his brother Ed Loney told CBC television.

A fanatical pacifist, a writer in his spare time, he is also part of two associations focused on resolving conflicts by peaceful means.

In August 2000, he joined CPT, went to the Palestinian territories and several times to Iraq to collect testimonies from families of detained Iraqis and offer them legal help.

"I believe that our actions as a people of peace must be an expression of hope for everyone," Loney said. "My hope in practising non-violence is that I can be a conduit for the transformative power of God's love acting upon me as much as I hope it will act upon others around me."


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