James Foley’s death is so utterly distressing. In the BBC’s interview with him from a few years ago he said, “There’s extreme violence, but there’s a will to find who these people really are.” This was one of the things that really struck me together with his desire to tell untold stories. Just heartbreaking to read the reports.
It seems to me that finding out who these people really are is essential if we are to move forward in a proper manner. Thank God for journalists who are determined enough to get close to people and uncover truth and help us see the world from beyond our own limited perspective.
Finding out “who these people are” requires us to get close to people we would rather not and talking with them – actions which under the present circumstances seem abhorrent. We find it more convenient to relate to categories – terrorists, Americans, journalists, Isis – but when I read about James and see his agonised parents in the papers I don’t relate to a journalist or an American, but more appropriately someone’s son.
Seeing people as categories like “the poor”, for example, is perhaps adopted for expedient reasons. Marketeers create market segments to enable better focus for targeted campaigns and will encourage us to identify with lifestyle groups to dehumanising effect. Politicians also find the communication challenge much easier if we talk about “middle England” or “people on benefits”. Terrorists perhaps only know “the West” or “America”.
But communication and relationship can’t be separated and difficult as it is we must celebrate and respect those journalists who strive to get close to people whom we would really prefer to categorise.
We must hear their stories and get to know who they really are – even if we do decide to bomb them.