Terry Waite's Lecture at CSUB on November 13, 2007
The Kegley Institute of Ethics brought another top-tier speaker to Cal State for a free public lecture open to both students and the community this fall. Terry Waite is a name recognized by those who followed the various stories of hostage-taking in the Middle East during the 1980s.
Long devoted to humanitarian causes, intercultural relations and conflict resolution, Waite garnered international recognition in the 1980s when, as a special envoy to the Archbishop of Canterbury, he successfully negotiated the release of hostages in Iran and Libya. In 1987, while negotiating the release of hostages in Beirut, Waite was himself taken hostage. In captivity for 1,763 days (four years of which were in solitary confinement), he was chained to a wall, often left in darkness, beaten and subjected to mock executions.
Waite spoke to a large crowd in the Doré Theatre about "Resolving Conflict: The Test of Humanity." His personal story of reluctantly agreeing to negotiate for the release of American hostages in Lebanon in the 80s was dramatic, explaining how he worked to build trust with the captors, only to be taken hostage himself. His description of life in capitivity was riveting, and included beatings, interrogation, and extreme deprivation. For over four years, Waite had just two opportunities to use a pen and paper, the first to write a farewell letter after his captors told him he would be executed shortly. The only other time was laden with humor: Waite had finally found a sympathetic guard to try to secure him a book to read. Not reading English, the guard returned with The Great Escape! He next brought Waite a book on breast-feeding, followed by Dr. Spock's Baby and Childcare! Convinced the man getting the books was stuck on the baby care shelf, Waite asked for pen and paper, which he cleverly used to draw a penguin for the guard. After that he received with great delight a number of Penguin classic books. But he had gone years without anything at all to read, during which time he tried to keep his mind sharp by writing works in his head. Remarkably, Waite returned home from Beirut after his release harboring no hostility or resentment toward his captors, no regret or self-pity about his experiences.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, Waite has often been called upon by various news media to share his views on Islamic fundamentalism, the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, and the best way to negotiate with hostage-takers in Iraq. In January 2004, he returned to Lebanon for the first time since his 1991 release to visit refugee camps and research the effects of war on the young.
"What I have tried to do is take the positive side of the experience of being a hostage and build on it," he says. "It has given me increased empathy with those who are victims of warfare or oppression." Taken On Trust is Waite's bestselling account of his ordeal.
Waite now devotes most of his time to humanitarian efforts around the world, inspiring people to create better lives for the less fortunate. He is the founder and president of Y Care International, which provides relief to vulnerable and disadvantaged young people. He also is the U.K. president of Emmaus International (serving the homeless), a trustee of the Freeplay Foundation and a patron of the Children's One to One Foundation. His efforts have included helping street children in Columbia and India gain access to education, bringing clean water to remote areas of Africa, and offering trauma counseling to war-ravaged children in Kosovo and the Middle East.
Waite offers a perspective of world affairs founded on open communication, cooperation, and a deep understanding of diverse cultures. Waite has achieved a unique role on the world stage: part pragmatist, part visionary, and fully dedicated to the pursuit of social justice.