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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

More on Jill Carroll

I've been holding on to this for a couple of days unsure about whether to post it, but now that Jill Carroll's captors have released a video and demanded that Iraqi women be set free or she will be killed within 72 hours I thought the perspective it offers might be enlightening. I found it quite sobering, from a female journalist I know who has worked extensively in Iraq:
I was very sorry to see that the kidnappings have started up again in Iraq. Unfortunately, it is a society that is accustomed to spying -- they all spy on one another -- and a foreigner cannot move about unnoticed anywhere -- phone calls will be made and it's just a matter of time. It is extremely naive for a foreign reporter to imagine they can move around in Iraq -- even to hospitals, police stations, universities and other public places with security and responsible officials in charge. There is no safe place in Iraq, not even the South. There are spies everywhere. At this point any journalist operating there, especially a freelance one, is one of three things:

1. Not leaving their hotel and if they do go out, it's with very heavy and very expensive security
2. Operating on a basis of being willing to martyr themselves because they truly believe getting the truth about Iraq is worth more than their life
3. Naive. Anyone who has spent anytime in Iraq, had any Iraqi friends, studied its modern history and cared to understand the society SHOULD know there is no such thing as blending in. There is a culture of report writing and tattling and a deep, unshakeable mistrust of foreigners -- They don't even trust each other. They know who all of us are -- they know where we live -- they know who we work with -- they make a point of it. You can't sneak around and you CANNOT hide.

Personally I might be in category 2 -- except one problem -- even if I don't give a damn about my own life, I wouldn't like to have the responsibility of exposing Iraqi colleagues and friends to being shot in the head, making widows and orphans of their families. And what if I survived and they didn't? I couldn't look that family in the eye. Maybe at some point I will change my mind and find myself willing to risk the lives of those people around me -- after all it's the most important story in the world and it's the most lied about story in the world and that is frustrating.

When the civil war starts up in full force it will be possible for journalists to go in with one group or another under their protection -- but right now we're still in the twilight period. I am wondering to myself who took Jill -- they are clearly Sunnis and that is bad news. Being female will help her, the Iraqis find it more distasteful to harm a woman than a man. If she is with the Iraqi Resistance I have a lot of hope for her -- they will not kill her, she may end up in a long dialogue with them and get a good story out of this. But if she is with the Ba'thists and Al Qa'ida these are closed organizations with a nihilist agenda toward Iraq -- no one tells them what to do or negotiates with them and they don't need money -- they have tremendous financial resources -- they don't need to resort to kidnappings for ransom. These are my thoughts for now. Please don't publish anything with my name anywhere near it.
I don't often write about Iraq because I don't know a lot about what's going on there but I am quite concerned about journalists who risk working there, especially the ones who aren't embedded and are trying to get the real story out. I read (and recommend) Juan Cole.