Gay ex-hostage promoting peace

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

Gay peace activist James Loney is looking to turn the experience of being held hostage in Iraq into a campaign to help promote peace between religions and confront extremism.

Mr Loney’s abduction by Iraqi militias between November 2005 and March 2006 became the focus of international media attention, his partner and family kept his homosexuality a secret in fear that his captors would execute him.

Now he is shaking off his experiences with Islamic fundamentalists and embarking on a nationwide tour to talk about the possibilities of peace between faiths.

Next week he is the keynote speaker at a conference on peace, religion and human rights being hosted by the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights in Edmonton, Canada.

Mr Loney, a member of the Chistian Peacemaker Team, says peace can be achieved by overcoming the extremists, he told the Edmonton Journal that fundamentalists can be defeated by “not letting the extremists have the final say on who God is, by not letting them be the final voice of God.”

The 42-year-old peace activist, was taken hostage in Baghdad along with Brit Norman Kember, fellow Canadian Harmeet Sooden, and American Tom Fox, whose bullet-ridden body was later found.

He said the saga has spurred him to push for change, “I don’t want to say I feel called to do this. But let me put it this way, there’s a big rock that needs to be moved, and we all have different-sized sticks or levers to move it.

“This kidnapping handed me a bigger lever to do what needs to be done, a bigger voice. I feel that it’s a gift. But it’s a responsibility, too.”

Mr Loney says he sometimes still feels scared, “Though I do still startle easily when I hear loud noises, but I don’t have any nightmares or anxiety attacks or emotional numbness.

“I can easily imagine I’d be a complete mess if they’d tortured us, physically or psychologically. Instead, it was just this amazing experience to go from this bleak struggle to exist into freedom, to return to my family and friends, to get so much support and love. I’m very, very lucky.”