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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Voices from the Ground

My son is a coin collector and was quite impressed [with the shop in the al-Rasheed Hotel] and said out loud, "Mum , let's go down to the al-Rasheed tomorrow (my day off) and look up this place, the items are good and the prices are right. Let's Mum!"

"I'm sorry baby, we can't. I will take you to another shop near al-Mutanebbi, you might find similar things."

"Why, Mum? Why can't I go to this shop?"

"Because it's in the green zone baby, and you're Iraqi."

I could see the words forming on his lips; I could hear them ring in my head.

His rebellious look locked with my own sadly understanding eyes - but he just looked away, defeated.
-- "Sahar IIS," McClatchy Newspapers' Inside Baghdad blog.

Iraq is one of the most dangerous places on Earth to be a journalist. According to the international organization Reporters Without Borders, 205 journalists and "media assistants" (i.e., camera operators, sound technicians, photographers, etc.) have been killed since the start of the war, two are MIA, and 14 have been kidnapped. It currently ranks 154th out of 168 in terms of press freedom -- among the lowest scores in the world. Iraq is the most deadly war for journalists since WWII.

If there's good news coming out of Iraq, it's this:

Editor and Publisher:

Six Iraqis who have worked in the McClatchy (formerly Knight Ridder) Baghdad bureau received the International Women's Media Foundation Courage in Journalism Award on Tuesday at a luncheon at New York's Waldorf-Astoria hotel.

Some of them have written for the "Inside Iraq" blog that McClatchy publishes online...

In presenting the award to Shatha al Awsy, Zaineb Obeid, Huda Ahmed, Ban Adil Sarhan, Alaa Majeed, and Sahar Issa, ABC News reporter Bob Woodruff (who also knows how dangerous Iraq is for reporters) said, "These six Iraqi women have reported the war in Baghdad from inside their hearts. They have watched as the war touched the lives of their neighbors and friends, and then they bore witness as it reached into the lives of each and every one of them."

Woodruff explained the danger. "...they have been the backbone of the McClatchy bureau, sleeping with bulletproof vests and helmets by their beds at night, taking different routes to work each day, trying to keep their employment by a Western news organization secret," he said.

It was a week ago exactly that I wrote about the concern for objectivity in reporting and how it's not exactly a good thing. It leaves out the human element and gives us only statistics and numbers. Facts are faceless. The woman I quoted at the beginning of this post, Sahar Issa, gets the difference between journalism and reporting. Reporters repeat things, journalists inform.

"In every society there is good and bad. Laws regulate the conduct of the society. My country is now lawless," she said in her acceptance speech. "Innocent blood is shed every day, seemingly without purpose. Hundreds of thousands have been killed for seemingly no reason. It is our responsibility as journalists to do our utmost to acquire the answers, to dig them up with our bare hands if we must."

"So why continue? Why not put down my proverbial pen and sit back?" she asked. "It's because I'm tired of being branded a terrorist: tired that a human life lost in my country is no loss at all in the eyes of the world. This is not the future I envision for my children. They are not terrorists, and their lives are not valueless."

Golly, that's like all unobjective and stuff. Reporters aren't supposed to talk about people -- not in Iraq, anyway. Iraq is just a big game of Risk; the story's about the players, not the pieces. The media can't be bothered with silly little stories of daily fear and want among the populace. They've got maps and colorful graphics and graphs to show. They've got some idiot from some right wing think-tank to interview. Why ask Iraqis what they think when people like William Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, or some random fool from the Heritage Foundation are all happy to tell you? Don't waste their damned time with stupid little stories about average Iraqis -- they don't matter because their names aren't on any maps. You talk about Baghdad and Falllujah and Sadr City and that's about as close as the focus gets. There's no reason to talk about actual people -- after all, everyone knows that people actually have to live in those dots on those televised maps, right?


We need more voices from the ground, the voices of Iraqis who struggle to survive within the media's extremely wide-angle lens -- a lens that never seems to focus on them. We need to know the streets where governments and nations and politics don't matter all that much or, when they do matter, they matter in terms only of who's doing all the shooting today or who's responsible for all the injustice this week. We need McClatchy's Inside Iraq and its sister site Baghdad Observer. We need Faiza Al-Arji's A Family in Baghdad Blog.

We need these sources because they tell us what the media refuses to -- that people actually live in Iraq. People who aren't terrorists, insurgents, or one of the many other kinds of monsters.

I began the post from one of those voices from the ground and I'll end with one.

Since the beginning of the invasion and the occupation of Iraq, we passed through a lot of hard times and many calamities. And whenever things calmed down a bit and headed towards a national reconciliation or an agreement among the contradicting parties to calm down the situation in Iraq, things somehow would turn back on to crises again. There is someone who kindles the fire so Iraq would keep on being in a state of fighting and conflict, without peace.
--Faiza Al-Arji, A Family in Baghdad.

Turns out that Iraq isn't just a big electronic map. Who knew?


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