London, Asharq Al-Awsat- To quote from the late Arab poet Nizar Kabbani, “I will no longer read about history after today. My hands got burnt and my clothes covered in blood. We are entering our Stone Age… Everyday, we regress a thousand years.”
From the US journalist Daniel Pearl whose was murdered in Pakistan sometime between January and February 2002, according to media reports, to the British journalist Frank Garden who was critically injured while fellow photographer Simon Cumbers was killed in a gun attack on 6 th June 2004, to Karam Hussein, the Iraqi photographer shot dead in Mosul on 14 th October 2004, to Tayseer Alouni, al Jazeera television’s reporter, sentenced to seven years imprisonment for alleged links with al Qaeda, we find ourselves in a surreal situation. The above mentioned figures were all punished for engaging terrorism, in the form of well-known organizations, or even states that sponsor terrorism; several journalists were suspected of treason or spying while they were engaged in ordinary activities and some killed.
Yet, the threat of execution has not stopped others from continuing to engage with terrorism for a number of reasons. Many study terrorist cells for a book or documentary they are authoring. Some specialize in the ideology and actions of terrorists, such as Gardner who learnt Arabic. A few other journalists become embroiled with terrorist groups in their search for media exclusive, fame and international recognition. Indeed, the Italian journalist Giulia Sgrena who did not imagine terrorism in Iraq would target leftist individuals opposed to US policies, cover the fierce battles of Fallujah where she was kidnapped in on 4th February 2005 and later released.) Finally, other journalists are motivated by their sympathy or shared beliefs with the terrorists, such as Tayseer Alouni.
This comes at a time when the definition of terrorism is highly muddled, as a result of the attacks on September 11, 2001 which hurt the American pride and prompted to Washington to engage in a war against terror, starting with the attack on Afghanistan in October 2001 and the invasion of Iraq in 2003. In turn, this global war on terror produced a global justice under whose banner former dictators have stood trial, including former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and ex Chadian leader Hussein Habre. More recently, the UN probe into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri prompted the Security Council to pass a resolution against Syria .
On the other hand, the rise in the number of terrorist attacks has opened new horizons for academic and research centers to examine its underlying causes such as poverty and school curricula. In turn, this has lead to a more scholarly analysis beyond media images of blood and destruction, which centers on its intellectual, social, ideological, and even psychological roots.
It is important to note that the heavy price paid by some for engaging terrorism is not exclusive to the post-September 11 era when al Qaeda and other Islamic extremist groups in Pakistan, Indonesia and the Arab world grew, simply because terrorism has existed throughout history, under a number of disguises and for a variety of reasons., such as religious, ethnic, and cultural difference. The Irish Republican Army and the Khmer Rouge are but two examples. I should mention the exception al work of Dennis Murray and Gavin Eisler for their coverage of the IRA and David Hirst for his stance towards the Palestinian issue which earned him a censure from late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.
Tragedy is never far away for those engaging terrorism, as was illustrated by the case of US journalist Daniel Pearl who tired to negotiate with his captors but was decapitated in Karachi . His death was captured on video showcasing his kidnappers’ demands and political propaganda images, such as US President George W. Bush shaking hands with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the gruesome beheading. Terrorism has also been used as a bargaining tool in a well- rehearsed scenario featuring a kidnapping, an ultimatum and a flurry of diplomatic activity to ensure the hostage is released, as was the case with the French journalists and the Italian reporter caught in Iraq .
Those engaging terrorism may achieve their aims by getting closer to terrorist groups but, in the post September 11 world, they are playing with fire. Is a documentary or a book worth the risk of being killed or imprisoned, let alone the tragic effects on one’s family and loved ones?