By Timothy Dwyer and Michael Laris
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, December 1, 2005
As Tom Fox headed toward the end of his first week in captivity in Iraq, friends said the 54-year-old musician and peace activist was well aware of the dangers he faced in the war-ravaged country.
He was so realistic, in fact, that he devised a written plan he distributed to friends and co-workers that they should follow if he were taken hostage. Don't pay ransom for his return, he wrote in an October 2004 e-mail, and reject the use of violence in trying to win his freedom. Don't "vilify" the abductors, he said, but instead "try to understand the motives of their actions."
Fox was kidnapped Saturday as he and three colleagues with a North America-based peace group were on their way to a meeting with a Muslim leader in which they planned to represent the families of imprisoned Iraqis, according to a former teacher in close touch with Fox.
Yesterday, there were no new communications from the Swords of Righteousness Brigade, which took responsibility for the kidnapping of Fox and his three co-workers, all of them members of Christian Peacemaker Teams, an antiwar organization with offices in Chicago and Toronto.
"We are very worried about our four friends," Christian Peacemaker Teams said in a statement on its Web site yesterday. "We fear that whoever is holding them has made a mistake. [They] are four men who came to Iraq to work for peace and explain their opposition to the occupation. They are not spies."
Last night, about 75 people gathered at a worship service for Fox and the other captives at the Langley Hill Friends Meeting in McLean, where Fox is a longtime member. Services also were held in Winchester, Va., and at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va., where Fox took classes before going to Iraq.
At the service in McLean, where Fox's e-mail from 2004 was read aloud, his friends reminisced about his ideals. One woman said that just before Fox left for Iraq, he told her, "Too many are willing to die for war and too few are willing to die for peace."
Although worried friends talked about him in careful terms, saying they feared something they might say could endanger him, they all focused on his love of peace and his fierce dedication to its principles.
"Tom wades in. He doesn't stand at the side," said Lauri Perman, who has known Fox for 15 years. "Making peace for him is not a matter of staying safe. He goes where the need is."
Maj. Douglas Powell, a spokesman for the U.S. Marines, refused to comment on Fox or his record with the Marine Corps. "We will not disclose any information about any hostage," he said.
Fox was born in Chattanooga and graduated with a double degree in music performance and education from George Peabody College for Teachers, now part of Vanderbilt University, in Nashville. An accomplished clarinetist, he spent 20 years playing with the Marine Corps Band, most of that time in the Washington area, said a friend who did not want to be named. As a band member, the friend said, Fox was not required to undergo basic training.
He has two college-age children. His friend described him as "the most loving father anyone could be."
About 22 years ago, Fox attended his first Quaker meeting and has been to weekly meetings ever since, the friend said. His passion gradually shifted from music toward peace activism, which grew out of his Quaker experience, the friend said.
About two years ago, he quit his job as assistant manager at the Whole Foods store in Springfield after deciding to join the Christian Peacemaker Teams and began his training with classes at Eastern Mennonite University.
"He wrote incredible papers for me," said Lisa Schirch, a professor of peace building at Eastern Mennonite. Schirch taught Fox, has visited with him in Iraq and kept in close enough contact with him through e-mail that she knew what his plans were for the day he was kidnapped.
"He was obviously very intelligent, deeply committed to this work and had a very peaceful presence," she said in a telephone interview.
She said that they did role-playing in class as part of training and that one day Fox played the role of a Palestinian police officer who was being confronted by a peace activist. "I graded him down because he was too kind," she said. "He just emanates kindness. . . . He is a very centered and peaceful person, and I can't imagine that the hostage-takers don't sense that about him."
Fox is supported financially, emotionally and spiritually by his Quaker meeting house in McLean and by the Northern Virginia Mennonite Church in Fairfax City. Last February, he was invited to deliver a sermon at the Fairfax church by its pastor, Pearl Hoover, who is part of a five-person support committee that Fox set up before he left for Iraq.
"He is someone who has that sense of quiet about him," Hoover said. "He is certainly not someone who seeks the public eye at all. He does not like public speaking. The week he came to give the sermon he said, 'I would rather be in Iraq than up here in this pulpit this morning.' "
Friends said that in Baghdad, Fox would retreat to the roof of the apartment building where he lived with his co-workers when the violence got to him, and he would pace around the roof as a form of meditation.
Faith has been a defining factor in Fox's life. "It's a spiritual conviction," Perman said. "He's a Christian, but it's an inclusive kind of Christianity."
Fox's e-mails to friends in the United States usually had a passage from the Bible. His typical day would include a Buddhist meditation prayer. He was particularly proud of helping to start a Muslim Peacemaker Team that included Sunni and Shiite members.
Several years ago, at a religious retreat in Pennsylvania, Fox was waist-deep in a creek splashing with a group of kids, Perman recalled, nearing tears. Reading haltingly from a letter she planned to send to fellow church leaders yesterday, she said: "Although Tom is waist deep once again, he is still in the living water" of God.
Last year, Fox decided he couldn't spend his respite time from Iraq in Northern Virginia, where he had lived for more than 30 years and raised a family. It's too cramped, too commercial and too busy, he told friends.
He settled on Clear Brook, Va., as a peaceful place to recharge between stints in Iraq. He stayed in a spare room in a two-story caretaker cottage near rocky pastures, Jersey cows and the large stone Hopewell Centre Meeting, which dates to 1759. From there it was an easy trip to Shenandoah trails and meditation spots.
His kidnapping has brought intense concern and, among some of those with whom he's worshiped, a measure of soul-searching, as fellow Quakers see their pacifist views crash against the brutal realities of wartime Iraq and sharp political rhetoric at home.
For Anne Bacon, clerk of the Hopewell Quaker group, the biggest hurdle is to suppress any urge to lash out at those who have taken Fox hostage.
"I know Tom would not want the captors vilified or demonized. Sometimes it's hard, when it's someone you care about. . . . I'll be honest about it," Bacon said.
She said she's looking to prayer for help. "We're holding him in the light, as well as the other hostages, the captors, his family."
Staff writers Carol Morello and Martin Weil contributed to this report.