On ISIS, war, and journalism


Right now, because of the actions of ISIS and the ongoing civil conflict, it is more important than ever that we have independent, unbiased reporting from Syria. But it has never been more difficult.

The Committee to Protect Journalists estimates there are twenty journalists being held in Syria by ISIS. Twenty journalists who sought to uncover the brutal realities of the most turbulent, dangerous region of the world. Twenty people who dedicated themselves to the service of society, the protection of free will and human dignity. Twenty lives held hostage at the hands of pure evil.

So far, ISIS has stolen the lives of two of the innocent journalists they captured. Their merciless knives murdered reporters James Foley and Steven Sotloff in beheadings that were posted on YouTube.  ISIS claims that the beheadings were done in retaliation for US military intervention in Iraq, even forcing Foley to say that America is the “real killer” in the video of his murder. Seconds before his death, he can be heard pleading with his killers, saying “I wish I could have the hope for freedom to see my family once again.”  It is impossible to imagine the monstrous mind that could condone such a brutal murder.

Now, because of their savage tactics, many major news sources have withdrawn their journalists from the region – particularly from Syria, the current site of many ISIS operations. The consequences of this withdrawal are immense, as without journalists, we are limited in what we know of the events in the nation, one tormented by the brutalities of war and devastated by ceaseless conflict.

We have grown up in a time of war. As children, we saw bombs exploding on television and pictures of troops and tanks in the newspaper every day. Though frightening, this documented information was vitally important to our awareness of what was happening where we were fighting.

But now, rather than getting our information from independent journalists, we must rely on government authorities to supply our knowledge of the war, a dangerously hazardous reality. When the United States began launching airstrikes into Syrian territory, the US Navy released videos of the bombs flying off their ships and over the sea, like massive firecrackers floating through the sky. But although we know what it looks like for the bombs to fly, do we have any knowledge of what it looks like when they land?

In a video discovered on Facebook, we see the most devastating realities of the war: a Syrian town crushed to rubble, homes destroyed, lives lost, all due to one of the American airstrikes. This video, discovered and released by Reuters, came from an area that was not in ISIS territory. Yet on the same day that this video was discovered, the Pentagon said in a press conference that the first round of airstrikes in Syrian territory were “very successful.” If being very successful means destroying the lives of innocent citizens, then mission accomplished.

This is why we need journalists in Syria and throughout the Middle East: to protect the lives of those who are forgotten. War can often seem like a battle only among the rulers, a sort of competition that happens only on a purely diplomatic level. But war’s most devastating effects fall on the people who lose their lives because of it – the brave soldiers, the common people, the innocent civilian.

The people in that video, whose homes were destroyed, did not ask to be the victims of a war that is beyond their control. But they didn’t have a choice.


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