New York: The International Women’s Media Foundation awarded its “courage in journalism awards” on Tuesday to women who risk their lives covering the news.
One award was given to six Iraqi women who work in the McClatchy Newspapers bureau in Baghdad, a job so dangerous that they cannot take the chance of being photographed, not even in the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel on Park Avenue. The women are Shatha al Awsy, Zaineb Obeid, Huda Ahmed, Ban Adil Sarhan, Alaa Majeed, and Sahar Issa.
Speaking for the six, Issa had a powerful message. An ambitious reporter, Issa’s eldest son was caught in a crossfire in late 2005; he was shot and killed instantly. Issa has also faced going to the morgue to claim the body of a nephew who was killed in a market bombing. She found his body in two pieces. Issa continues to report from McClatchy’s Baghdad bureau.
“To be a journalist in violence-ridden Iraq today, ladies and gentlemen, is not a matter lightly undertaken. Every path is strewn with danger, every checkpoint, every question a direct threat.
“Every interview we conduct may be our last. So much is happening in Iraq. So much that is questionable. So much that we, as journalists, try to fathom and portray to the people who care to know.
“In every society there is good and bad. Laws regulate the conduct of the society. My country is now lawless. Innocent blood is shed every day, seemingly without purpose. Hundreds of thousands have been killed for seemingly no reason. It is our responsibility to do our utmost to acquire the answers, to dig them up with our bare hands if we must.
“But that knowledge comes at a dear price, for since the war started, four and half years ago, an average of about one reporter and media assistant killed every week is something we have to live with.
“We live double lives. None of our friends or relatives know what we do. My children must lie about my profession. They cannot under any circumstance boast of my accomplishments, and neither can I. Every morning, as I leave my home, I look back with a heavy heart, for I may not see it again — today may be the day that the eyes of an enemy will see me for what I am, a journalist, rather than the appropriately bewildered elderly lady who goes to look after ailing parents, across the river every day. Not for a moment can I let down my guard.
“I smile as I give my children hugs and send them off to school; it’s only after they turn their backs to me that my eyes fill to overflowing with the knowledge that they are just as much at risk as I am.
“So why continue? Why not put down my proverbial pen and sit back? It’s because I’m tired of being branded a terrorist: tired that a human life lost in my county is no loss at all. This is not the future I envision for my children. They are not terrorists, and their lives are not valueless. I have pledged my life — and much, much more, in an effort to open a window through which the good people in the international community may look in and see us for what we are, ordinary human beings with ordinary aspirations, and not what we have been portrayed to be.
“Allow me, ladies and gentlemen, allow me to reach out. Help us to build bridges of understanding and acceptance. Even though the war has cast a dark shadow upon your nation and mine — it is never too late.”
Text courtesy: The New York Times