Monday, January 12, 2015

Requiem for massacred journalists

Originally published in NOW English.

The targeting and execution of journalists is trendy, catchy, and it instills fear. It gives a young jihadist visibility and glory among other young jihadists who dream of such fame. The deadly attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris will prompt followers and members of the Islamic State (ISIS) and other radicals to target, abduct and execute journalists more frequently.

A day after the Charlie Hebdo massacre, in the blast of euphoria on jihadist forums, there was other terrible news circulating. Two Tunisian journalists who had been missing in Libya since 8 September werereportedly executed by the Libyan branch of ISIS. A press release circulated on extremist forums with images of Sofienne Chourabi and Nadhir Ktari stated that the jihadist group had “applied the law of God.”

Their deaths did not make headlines; I almost couldn’t find a picture of the executed journalists online. Many other Arab journalists have been executed, kidnapped or simply disappeared without a trace in the Islamic State territories in Iraq and Syria. Many others journalist disappearances have not even been reported by news outlets.

But they are merely Arab journalists who, most of the time, break the news in their local media and work as fixers for Western reporters; they are on the ground first, suffer from censorship, and are not protected by local law enforcement. They constantly have to find ways around restrictions to report the news. When death becomes normalized in a conflict zone, it’s the locals who are always seen as disposable pawns, as if their deaths were somehow less outrageous. They die in car bombs, are shot at, are killed. We haven’t heard of many of them because their killers didn’t film it all to rejoice in their narcissistic barbarism.

There used to be a certain reticence about killing a journalist. War factions, as radical as they might have been, used to need journalists because they relayed their messages to the world. They needed journalists to state their causes, to get attention, to gain more followers. Now, they have social media and don’t need middlemen — journalists are now disposable. Journalists are no longer a terrorist’s best friend.

There used to be a certain reticence about killing a journalist in a Western capital, too. Crimes like this were quite rare, perpetrated by dictatorial regimes and mafias across the world. They were always careful when planning the murder of a journalist by staging a suicide, a robbery, or an illness. Now, they are executed in broad daylight in their offices.

The crime scene used to matter a great deal. The general public seems to have gotten used to war correspondents being slaughtered, thinking that it as a risk journalists assume when they take a job. But boundaries are always being pushed further. It was just one step from decapitating a war correspondent in the desert to killing 12 journalists in their newsroom. The crime scene has changed and the world is shocked, but the truth is that the crime scene shouldn’t matter much.

Western journalists are being hunted by radicals in Europe and elsewhere. It’s not just journalists in conflict zones that are being kidnapped while on assignment. It’s the idea that hunting a journalist in his/her office on a quiet little street in Paris or elsewhere that has become normalized and feasible. What is also scary is that crime spreads like a virus. Fanatics rejoiced, jealously, over the massacre committed by the two brothers in France. Now that they know it can be done, others dream of doing the same thing, possibly even looking for a game of one-upmanship.

There will be more journalists abducted, tortured and executed. Not just by jihadists, either, but by people out there who hate free speech and find the Charlie Hebdo massacre inspiring. The jihadists have just opened a Pandora’s Box, and others will follow in their footsteps. Murder is infectious.

Why do jihadists murder journalists? Because journalists are easy to kill. They don’t have weapons; they are not trained to fight back. Nobody defends them, either. People around the world will tell you how the media is bad; how the media manipulates you; how journalists don’t tell you the truth or how they twist the truth; how they’re part of conspiracies and represent special interests. For this, journalists are killed, raped, threatened — not always 12 at once, but one or two at a time, all over the world, from Mexico to Russia. This mentality leads many people come up with excuses for murder.

Executions of Western journalists and humanitarian aid workers are infectious because they stand out. Massacres stand out even more. The Charlie Hebdo massacre was too horrifying not to inspire other Islamic State followers, eager to receive Twitter praise from other young followers; who rejoice, believing God gave them Kalashnikovs to cleanse the world of liberals, apostates, and even Muslims that happen to stand in their way because they have honest jobs as law enforcers in Paris or elsewhere.

There will be other journalists who die at the hands of people who don’t agree with what they publish. The Charlie Hebdo massacre was a declaration of war not just on free speech, but on journalism itself.

Ana Maria Luca tweets @aml1609.

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