One of today’s New York Times headlines: “After Beheading of Steven Sotloff, Obama Pledges to Punish ISIS.”
The story came after the militant group ISIS in Iraq put out a video showing the execution of Sotloff, the second hostage journalist in the past month to be beheaded. The first was another freelancer, James Foley. In the most recent video, Sotloff tells the camera that he is “paying the price” for Obama’s actions against ISIS in Iraq.
I haven’t watched the videos, and I don’t plan on it. There’s something so undignified about the voyeuristic position into which viewers of the ISIS videos are pegged. Don’t turn Sotloff and Foley’s deaths into Google Analytics hits.
And then, proximity makes the videos all the more terrifying. The beheadings are too close to home–not literally, of course, as I am currently sitting at my desk in Missouri–but professionally. I’m studying for my master’s degree in journalism, with an emphasis in investigative and international news reporting. My goal is to tell stories from abroad, to convince people to becomes more informed citizens beyond national borders, at a global level. A large part of my identity is rooted in my work, and I know that the brain exaggerates the likelihood of the worst possible outcome, but nonetheless: right now, it seems as though I’ve chosen a career that moonlights as a death trap.
I commend the bravery of Sotloff and Foley, who traveled to the most dangerous parts of the world to tell stories that would otherwise be lost in silence. The two journalists might have been killed, but their words keep going and going, existing in their own right, playing a role in public conversation long after the reporters’ deaths.
Instead of watching the videos, read the pieces that Sotloff and Foley lost their lives to write. Here’s one from Sotloff about soldiers and bread lines in Syria, published in Foreign Policy in December 2012:
Hamid Shloni is on this stalemated front line. He’s 27, and once worked in a cement factory; he joined the fighting last spring, when men began mobilizing in his village. Every 20 minutes or so, he pokes his Kalashnikov out the window and lets loose a barrage of bullets. “Need to keep them awake,” he says with a beaming smile that reveals a wide gap between his teeth. “They are not here for a vacation from Damascus.” Fighters sitting on the floor appear not to hear Shloni’s routine wakeup call and the commentary he offers to justify it. Utter boredom, or the cold, has paralyzed these men, who huddle around a cell phone looking at pictures of famous female Arab singers.