Putting yourself in God’s hands
During hurricane Katrina, a police car was dispatched in New Orleans to pick up a minister and take him to safety. The minister said thank you, but that he put himself in God’s hands, and would stay. When the levee breaks, a boat is dispatched to pick up the minister and take him to safety. The minister said thank you, but that he put himself in God’s hands, and would stay.
Soon the water rises, and the minister is forced to the roof. A helicopter is dispatched to pick up the minister and take him to safety. The minister says thank you, but that he put himself in God’s hands, and would stay.
Eventually the water rises and the minister drowns. When he gets to Heaven he asks, “God, I put myself in Your hands and You let me drown. Why?” And God says, “I sent a car. I sent a boat. I sent a helicopter. What more could I do?”
We were reminded of this story recently when taking a taxi into Gotham from JFK, and someone mentioned that they thought New York City taxis were expensive. This is, of course, a matter of perspective. For comparison, you might look at the cost of a ride from the Baghdad airport to the Green Zone: $5,000.00 USD. While this may seem high compared to getting into Manhattan, it is, in fact, not unreasonable when you consider that it will most likely get you where you want to go, alive and un-kidnapped.
One group that finds the cost of Iraqi taxis to be too high is missionaries, who often simply drive across the border from a neighboring country. When they do this, they don’t bother with high-priced security escorts, since they are doing God’s work, have put themselves in God’s hands, and therefore do not need to take security measures.
While we certainly admire their faith, it is important, when facing danger, to try to reduce the likelihood of getting killed. This is why even the most faithful should wear seat belts, not smoke, and practice safe sex. Similarly, when thinking about high-threat security for transferable targets (if you can’t get one foreigner, any other will do), it is important to realize that our goal is to make those we wish to protect sufficiently costly to go after that it makes more sense for the bad guys to go after someone else. We are not trying to remove the threat: We just want it directed at someone else. Missionaries (and, for that matter, journalists and NGOs) do not adopt this philosophy, which makes them that someone else.
The result of this is fairly clear. The US Embassy Hostage Working Group (HWG) in Baghdad maintained an extensive database over a two-year period tracking every reported foreign kidnapping. From April 2004 to April 2006, 448 individuals were reported taken hostage. Metrics included the incident date, location and what the victims were doing in Iraq at the time of their abduction. Interestingly (yet not surprisingly), 82% of all kidnapping incidents occurred during vehicle movement between secure compounds or during daily commutes from residence to work. This follows the pattern normally seen in kidnappings throughout the world.
The analysis below depicts the percentage breakdown of what occupation was most targeted by criminal gangs and insurgent groups for kidnap and ransom (K&R) or kidnap and kill (K&K).
Of particular note, however, is who wasn’t taken. Military (denoted more than 150,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines from the Multi-National Coalition Forces) and Security (represented more than 25,000 private military company staff who served as bodyguards or with convoy security details) were the least taken, which may seem surprising considering that they presented the most numerous and desired target by the insurgency. In two years of a full-blown insurgency, with daily attacks on Coalition soldiers and convoys, only one American soldier and ten private security “guns for hire” were reported taken hostage. The obvious question is why not more? And the answer even more simple: They were hard targets. These individuals understood that Iraq represented “Indian country” and conducted daily trips into the “Red Zone” driving armored vehicles, wearing body armor, carried with fully loaded weapons, and rehearsed worst-case scenarios in the event of an attack.
On the opposite spectrum were many of the journalists and NGO (Non Government Organizations) aid workers who frequently drove around Baghdad and Iraqwith no acknowledgement of the dangerous environment beyond, of course, their abiding faith in their missionary zeal or the noble cause about which they were writing. Ironically, most kidnapped journalists and NGO victims believed that supporting the cause of the insurgency against the “evils” of the American occupation would protect them from the scourge of kidnapping that affected every walk of life inIraq. At best, most of them placed their lives in the hands of an Iraqi translator and driver they paid a paltry $20 a day to drive them around in a local car. In many cases, it was later discovered that the “trusted” driver delivered the oblivious victim to the doorstep of one the numerous kidnapping elements operating in Iraq. Subsequent investigations would reveal that in many instances, the driver would receive a delivery fee greatly exceeding any monthly salary offered by his Western employer. Journalists and aid workers, whose numbers never rose above 1,000 in total, constituted nearly 20% of all kidnap victims.
In between these two extremes was the number one practical target: The contractors rebuilding Iraq, and principally truck-drivers, delivering supplies to military bases spread all over the country. There are a lot of them, so the number kidnapped is not disproportionate to their presence.
There is an old Arab saying; “It is foolish to hunt a tiger when there are plenty of sheep to be had.” This philosophy was exploited to the fullest by the kidnapping gangs operating in Iraq. The days of the Old Testament in Babylon (in modern day Iraq), when Daniel survived a night in the lion’s den on prayer alone, are over. People who do not take the steps to mitigate the threat will pay the consequences of their action. Thus, while putting yourself in God’s hands may be good for your immortal soul, when thinking of your mortal body it is a good idea to remember that God put high-threat protective specialists here to protect your corporeal being in areas of danger.
Special thanks to Dan O’Shea (http://www.danielrisk.com/), former Coordinator of the Hostage Working Group (HWG) in Iraq, for providing the hard data for this article. We strongly urge everyone interested in this area to look at his Web site.