I read a book this weekend, Even Silence has an End, by Ingrid Betancourt.
Doctor Betancourt is a former senator and candidate for the presidency of Columbia. She was kidnapped by FARC Communist rebels while she was en route to a campaign appearance in her race for the presidency and held prisoner for six years.
Even Silence has an End describes her long years in captivity. A number of her fellow captives have also written a book, Out of Captivity.
If I read the other book, it will be after I give the subject a rest. There’s only so much of the brutality and injustice that FARC visited on these people that I can take.
What interests me today is the extremely toxic personality conflicts that developed among this small group of abductees and the hatred that it engendered in them toward one another. Small group toxicity and the resulting nastiness affects all of us as we go about our jobs and workaday lives. It poisons our relationships and wounds people deeply. It also makes us less effective in what we are trying to accomplish. Instead of getting good things done, we end up wasting our energies scratching and clawing at one another.
It sounds very much like this is what happened among these captives during their long years of helpless insecurity at the hands of brutal guards who might beat, starve, put them on forced marches or even kill them at any time.
One of the comments the American authors made about Doctor Betancourt is absurd and abusive on its face. “It was her own arrogance that got her kidnapped,” one of her fellow captives said.
Let’s be clear. The abduction of Ingrid Betancourt, as well as the other captives, was caused by the criminals who abducted them. FARC did this.
According to Even Silence Has an End, what happened is that presidential candidate Betancourt was scheduled to make an appearance in an area that officials had recently declared guerrilla free. She was supposed to have armored vehicles and military escort. When she arrived at the jump-off point, her armored vehicles and military escort were withdrawn. The orders probably came from her political opponent, the president.
Doctor Betancourt does not say that the president wanted her to be abducted. She says that he was trying to keep her from making the campaign appearance.
Whatever the motives behind all this, she had gone into dangerous areas before and decided to go ahead with the campaign trip. She was abducted while she was en route to the engagement.
Does that make her abduction her “fault?” No. She was abducted by FARC. It is their fault.
What is astonishing is that this intelligent person is so messed up by his captivity that he doesn’t “get” that.
It is a mark of the damage that prolonged and intense association within toxic little groups does to people’s thinking. Leadership plays a huge part in this. if the leader — and by that, I mean the one who has the power — wants people to settle down and get along, they usually do. But FARC had everything to gain by pitting these prisoners against one another. If they had worked together, it would have made escape much more likely.
By dividing them emotionally and keeping them focused on hating one another, FARC had a much more manageable group to deal with.
One of the oddball claims that the other prisoners have made is that Doctor Betancourt retained authority, even as an abductee. She certainly was the most high profile prisoner, which would have made her more valuable to FARC. She also had dual citizenship with France, and the French went to bats for her and kept on fighting for her throughout her captivity. This, too, would have made her more important to FARC.
At the same time, the other prisoners, including the Americans who wrote Out of Captivity, were pretty much forgotten and ignored by everyone but their own families and sometimes not even them. They had less value to FARC because of this. They also had to live with the emotional damage this abandonment did to them throughout their captivity and for the rest of their lives.
It is important to note that Doctor Betancourt was chained with a chain around her neck. She was also starved and put in solitary confinement. When she attempted escape, the FARC soldiers gang-raped her as punishment.
If that’s what it means to be the queen bee of a FARC prison camp, I think I’ll pass.
The interesting point in all this is that these captives might very well have managed an escape, and they certainly would have been much less damaged emotionally by their captivity, if they had not yielded to the manipulations of their captors and fallen into obsessive small-group hatred and internecine rivalry.
They needed leadership and discipline within their ranks. They also needed to work out goals for themselves that would have allowed them to function as a unit without attacking one another. I can think of no better goal for a group of abductees who are being unjustly held prisoner than escape.
They got confused — and apparently are still confused to this day — as to who their enemy was. And that made a hell of their hell, which continues to run their emotions, even after they are physically free.
This sad tale forms teachable parallels with Christians today all over the world. I’ve heard from more than one person that part of the trouble in forming a Christian resistance to the genocide taking place in the Middle East is internecine rivalries between different Christian faith traditions. I see it all the time in the internet rivalries and name-calling that goes on among Catholics on internet websites.
We are feuding with one another over whether or not to say the mass in English or Latin, whether or not to hold hands during the Our Father, and whether or not or even how much to bend our faith to politically correct cultural dictates such as gay marriage, abortion and euthanasia. Even our own priests are all over the map about these things.
At the same time, we are carrying on these absolutely moronic feuds among ourselves, we are seeing a genocide of Christians in Muslim countries that just keeps intensifying and growing. We stand silent while Christians are imprisoned in North Korea, while their churches are razed in China and while they are mocked and unjustly reviled here in the United States and in Europe.
Much of the reason why is that we are wasting our energies and our time fighting with one another. We need to remember that we are not, ever, truly in the power of those in power in this world. We answer only to Jesus Christ and we are citizens of His Kingdom before any other.
We need to stop fighting with one another. That is the devil’s handiwork in our lives.