Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

The Alan Johnston Experience | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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It would be difficult not to feel a sense relief after witnessing the euphoric scene that took place last week after the release of BBC correspondent Alan Johnston in Gaza.

It was one of the rare happy endings seen in a string of continuous ordeals faced by many journalists who have worked, and continue to work in our crisis laden region.

But the happiness for Johnston’s release was mixed with other sentiments; it certainly included a genuine sadness for the tragic fates of many journalists and civilians who have suffered in our countries. Individuals, who had been subjected to kidnapping, murder and torture, and yet were still unable to celebrate their freedom and homecoming back to their loved ones.

It will take a long time to find out (if ever) the motive behind Alan Johnston’s kidnapping, or the reasons for his release, which party was actually responsible for the abduction and which could be credited with his release.

It has been said that a fatwa [religious ruling] issued by a fundamentalist cleric had contributed to the correspondent’s release. The circulating information did not neglect to ascribe roles to several regional countries, including Syria, maintaining that they had contributed to his release.

It is a cruel tragedy that the lives and fates of people can be manipulated in this manner. Ill-fated are the journalists and civilians who have not been saved by ‘fatwas’ and who the oppositional nationalist policies could not save.

But back to Johnston; this man has undergone one of the most difficulty ordeals that a journalist can endure, and yet he seemed to be peaceful and calm. His statements were clear, coherent and insightful.

After four months in captivity and frequent death threats, the British reporter emerged as a deep thinker whose statements were rich with the essence of his experience whilst being devoid of any emotions  save the joy of returning back to life.

I could not help feeling a deep respect and admiration for the man after hearing the words and conclusions he expressed at the press conference. He did not fall into the trap of resorting to agitated emotions as a reaction to his ordeal  unlike many other journalists in our region who have suffered experiences that were less harsh than Johnston’s plight and yet emerged more edgy and extremist than the parties that had subjected them to violence.

In Lebanon, for example, the ongoing political crisis that has continued for over two years has resulted in embroiling many journalists and correspondents in crises. They have suffered at the hands of embittered groups who vent their anger with a particular sect or political party into assaults on journalists who are affiliated to opponent sectarian or political parties.

Contrastingly, Johnston’s statements during the press conference were mature and objective; it was clearly an effort on his part to refrain from referring to any party in a hostile or emotional manner, even towards his abductors.

Perhaps Johnston’s absence of emotions is a feature of professionalism in a profession that demands a tremendous effort to convince audiences that although media figures might be victimized sometimes, we still maintain an objective and neutral narration of the news.