By Shada Islam
Feb 25, 2012
IT isn’t often that
journalists are described as heroes. But once in a while, a reporter stands out
above the fray, capturing world attention for her/his charisma, courage,
devotion to duty and desire to tell the hard truth about a confused and
Marie Colvin, the
much-respected international war correspondent who was killed in Homs on
Wednesday along with Remi Ochlik, a freelance French photographer, was
definitely a hero — and an inspiration.
Perhaps Colvin’s death
will change the course of history. If the general outrage prompted by Ms
Colvin’s death results in a tougher international stand against the Syrian
regime, her tragic death may represent a turning point in the Syrian
government’s long and bloody war against its own people.
I know it’s unfair to
focus on the killing of two people when thousands of innocent civilians are
being massacred by the Syrian regime. But death — like life — is often unfair.
Colvin died reporting the tragedy of war and what the UN finally had the guts
to call ‘gross human rights violations’ in Syria.
We watch and read
about the bombings and massacres under way in Homs and other Syrian cities. We
are saddened and angered by the news. But we would not know about these and
other examples of man’s cruelty to men, women and children without people like
Colvin and Ochlik. Reporters — like other human beings — come in various guises
and colours. As a journalist who has covered trade wars rather than what goes
on in bloody battlefields, I confess to being immensely humbled by the courage
of men and women like Colvin. War correspondents are definitely the bravest of
reporters. And Colvin was more courageous than the rest.
Not surprisingly she
provoked the ire of the Syrian regime. Her mother Rosemarie Colvin has said she
believes her daughter was “murdered” by the Syrian authorities. She said she
never tried to talk her daughter out of war reporting. “She was always
determined and very committed to what she was doing and it just wasn’t
something that I would try to talk her out of or get involved with,” she said.
Born in the US but
based in London, Marie Colvin covered some of the world’s bloodiest conflicts
over the past few decades. In 2001 she suffered a shrapnel wound sustained from
a grenade explosion covering the civil war in Sri Lanka, depriving her of sight
in one eye. In her last dispatch from the Babr Amr, Colvin said the people in
the devastated city wanted to know: ‘why have we been abandoned by the world?’
The BBC journalist
Allan Little has described her as “the best eyewitness reporter not just of her
generation but of our age”. The day before her death, I remember listening
horrified and spellbound as she told the BBC of her anguish at watching a baby
The report was matter
of fact, harsh and cruel. It left me shaking with anger at the international
community’s failure to end the Syrian tragedy.
Two years ago,
speaking at a ceremony to honour journalists who had been killed doing their
job, Colvin said that covering a war meant going to places torn by chaos,
destruction and death and trying to bear witness. “It means trying to find the
truth in a sandstorm of propaganda when armies, tribes or terrorists clash.”
She said war reporters were driven by the conviction that “we do make a
Colvin’s case is by no
means unique. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists says that at
least 46 journalists were killed in 2011, with Pakistan the deadliest country
for the second year running.
The Committee said
deaths during dangerous assignments — such as covering street protests —
reached the highest level on record in 2011 as the Arab uprisings dominated the
Seven deaths were
reported in Pakistan, followed by five each in Iraq, where attacks have
continued despite the US withdrawal, and Libya, where a popular revolt against
strongman Muammar Qadhafi escalated into a NATO-backed war.
died while on dangerous assignments, many of them while covering the chaotic
and violent confrontations between authorities and protesters during the
uprisings that swept the Arab world,” the report said.
camera operators accounted for 40 per cent of fatalities, more than twice the
proportion CPJ has documented since it began keeping records in 1992. The group
also reported an increase in the deaths of Internet journalists, who “rarely
appeared on CPJ’s death toll before 2008”. CPJ said it was still investigating
another 35 deaths in 2011 that may have been work-related. Forty-four
journalists were killed in 2010, according to the group.
The World Association
of Newspapers and News Publishers’ annual World Press Freedom Review revealed
that: “In the last 10 years, 36 journalists have been targeted and killed in
Pakistan and none of their cases have been brought to court. In 2010, the
country was the world’s deadliest for the press, and 2011 has seen no let-up.”
The victims included:
“Syed Saleem Shahzad, the South Asia correspondent for Italian news agency
Adnkronos International (AKI) and Pakistan bureau chief of the Asia Times
website, [who] was tortured and killed in a targeted attack.”
Journalists — when
they do their job well — are the conscience of the world and the guardians of
truth and morality.
Long after Bashar
al-Assad and his regime become part of history, the words and writings of
journalists like Marie Colvin will live on, reminding us of the many ways in
which war and conflict destroy the lives of ordinary and innocent men, women
and children. Yes, Colvin is right: good journalists and their reports do make
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Brussels.
Source: The Dawn, Karachi