Photos: Wikimedia Commons
It will be exactly one year this month since the ‘Dame of Arab journalism,’ Shireen Abu Akleh, was murdered in cold blood by agents suspected to be from the Israeli secret service.
She was shot in the face in the Israeli-occupied West Bank city of Jenin while reporting for Aljazeera news network, and was just 51. Shireen, who gained the above sobriquet for her unbiased reporting, was known to the Palestinian people for her indefatigable spirit, and her doggedness in being able to objectively carry the Palestinian narrative to the entire world. But those forces of evil who hated journalism and its practitioners decided to snuff life out of her in such a bloodcurdling manner.
The ‘crime’ of this notable woman was that she was a journalist. On the very day she was bombed off, she had been clad in a notable protective vest that bore the inscription: ‘PRESS.’ She had also adorned a ‘Press’ helmet, so much so that anyone could have known that she was just a journalist, practicing the ethics of her profession, except of course, those who had an axe to grind.
One year after this gruesome murder, those who had perpetrated the crime are still at large. While the Palestinian authorities have taken the case to the International Criminal Court, alleging that at least forty-five (45) Palestine journalists had been killed so far, the Israeli government which had opted to investigate the murder itself, has maintained even for the umpteenth time, that “none of its soldiers would be tried for the killing.” I can only infer tentatively, that the Israeli authorities have erred in law here. The way justice and equity have it, is for the case to be given, not to the Israeli government, for obvious reason, but to an impartial arbiter to adjudicate on and give its findings and recommendations. This, the Israeli government must do, if it wants its avowed mantra of being “the only Democracy in the Middle East” to be taken seriously. They must cooperate with any third party, so chosen, and parley with their Palestinian counterpart to investigate this monstrous butchery, which, for all intents and purposes, was a cowardly attack on press freedom and a breach of international norms.
I still cannot fathom out why the wicked of the world and their ilk are scared of a free press. The unpalatable truth is that the free media is vital in society, because it serves as a mirror in which the public can see itself. The beauty of journalism is therefore, seen in its role to inform, educate and hold government accountable to its citizens. Unfortunately, it is this latter function that draws the ire of all tyrannical governments and their agents who would have wanted the watchdogs of society gagged, and the public, kept in perpetual ignorance for human rights abuse and absolute dictatorship to thrive.
The late Argentine novelist, Jorge Luis Borges, wrote many years ago, that “censorship is the mother of metaphor,” in that no state can restrain or censor journalism, as journalists (and writers) would always resort to subterfuge or alternative strategies to get their messages across. Recent events have demonstrated the reality of this statement: Between 1993 and 1998, the then Nigerian military dictator, General Sani Abacha, set his blood-thirsty secret agents on journalists, resulting in some of these brave professionals being driven underground, where they operated incognito and churned out a tsunami of stinging articles and exposé that haunted the uncreated conscience of the evil dictator to his disastrous end.
In addition to this, many of Latin American journalists and authors: Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabel Allende, Carlos Fuentes, Octavio Paz, Julio Cortazar, Jorge Borges, and so on, were exiled from their homelands due to the lack of freedoms and absolute dictatorships that reigned in their lands, but they remained irrepressible – even while abroad – and showed through their endearing masterpieces that suppressing ideas do not make them go away.
To those who killed Shireen Abu Akleh, let me reiterate that journalism is not a crime. Our role encompasses speaking truth to power, standing up for the millions unable to stand up for themselves and being a voice for the voiceless. These are sacred roles attributable to members of the Fourth Estate – and we just can’t shirk it.
Our hearts bleed for you, Shireen, but you remain victorious even in death. Your killers carried out their heinous acts to stop or contain free speech, but they forgot that journalism is the most effective vaccine against disinformation, and that killing the messenger does not necessarily asphyxiate the message.
Continue to rest in peace, good soul.
Martins Agbonlahor is a trained lawyer, journalist and author who lives in Greater Manchester, The United Kingdom.