Sad news from Afghanistan

Screen Shot 2014-04-04 at 9.21.02 AMWe lost another amazing journalist today.

Anja Niedringhaus, 48, an acclaimed photographer for the Associated Press, died instantly after an Afghan policeman opened fire while they were sitting in their car in eastern Afghanistan, the AP said. Correspondent Kathy Gannon was wounded and is in stable condition in hospital.

“Anja and Kathy together have spent years in Afghanistan covering the conflict and the people there. Anja was a vibrant, dynamic journalist well-loved for her insightful photographs, her warm heart and joy for life. We are heartbroken at her loss,” said AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll.

Two days ago, Niedringhaus had tweeted about a tribute to another journalist, Sardar Ahmed, who was killed March 21 in the attack on the Serena Hotel.

I did not know Niedringhaus, though I am familiar with her incredible body of work. But I can imagine what kind of woman she was. Her fortitude. Her courage. Her convictions.

Just yesterday, I spoke on a panel at the University of Georgia about reporting on trauma. There was some discussion there about journalists in conflict zones. One student asked me how journalists deal with fear.

I did not have a good answer for her because the fear never goes away. It’s a matter of not dwelling on it and getting on with your work. But then, when news of tragedy comes, like today’s from Afghanistan, it’s difficult to remain composed.

Here’s to all my colleagues working at this very moment in places near and far where they are in harm’s way. They make me proud of my profession.

The little master makes history

A legend? An icon? 

In India, he is God.

And on Friday, God made India very proud. Even the prime minister said so.

The nation of 1 billion-plus erupted in celebration as cricketer Sachin Tendulkar scored his 100th international century.

Never mind the unveiling of the budget Friday. It was all Sachin on Indian television. 

Never mind it was a workday. Companies probably suffered huge losses.

Twitter exploded with kudos for the batsmen known as the little master. As did Facebook. And Bollywood.

“God’s special creation .. Sachin Tendulkar !!” tweeted megastar Amitabh Bachchan.

Journalist Barkha Dutt weighed in with this:

“Nice to see a nation steeped in negativity and self flagellation finally breaking free from it all and actually feeling good. Thanks 
Tendulkar reached the elusive 100th international century against Bangladesh in an Asia Cup match in Dhaka.

“It hasn`t sunk in but I have definitely lost about 50kg,” he said afterward. 

He began playing at the age of 16 and thrilled cricket fans for 23 years. That in itself was a feat. His first century was at Old Trafford in 1990. Last year he reached 99 and Indians watched each subsequent match with high hopes. They pinned everything on the man with the demure stature, mop of wavy hair and uncanny swing of the bat. 

They waited and waited. There was even a joke about the a chunk of India’s car accidents happening because  drivers were trying to catch a Tendulkar make his 100th on a roadside stall television.

But today, Tendulkar made history. 

As my Facebook friend Rajiv Chatterjee said:

“I know his stats look great and I know he has achieved feats which will probably never be repeated again. But that is not the real reason. The real reason is that he has shouldered the dreams of a billion for 22 years which is more than what any mere mortal can. In a country where a lot of people cannot afford a square meal a day, he has represented hope of better times. Every time we had a lot of reasons to cry, he has given us something to smile about. Religion in India has more often than not divided people than unifying it. But one thing has always been common … both Ram’s mother as well as Rahim’s wanted their sons to be exactly like Sachin Tendulkar. Years later, I will really look forward to telling my grand children that yes, I have seen God with my own eyes…he used to bat at no. 4 for India!”

Homs Rules

Bashar al-Assad and his father, Hafez.

On this day in 1971, Hafez Assad became president of Syria. More than 30 years later, the world is witnessing tragedy unfold in Syria at the hands of Assad’s son. 

Bashar al-Assad, whom many had believed would bring reform to Syria, is turning out to be made of the stuff of his father.

Journalists like Tom Friedman and Robert Fisk saw firsthand the carnage the elder Assad was responsible for in Hama, where a 1982 Muslim Brotherhood-rebellion was quashed by shelling entire neighborhoods. 

Now, Bashar al-Assad’s forces are targeting cities like Homs and Idlib, where Syrians have risen up in mass against tyranny.

In 1982, there were no instant images posted on Twitter and YouTube, no clandestine interviews conducted on mobile phones or Skype. Friedman journeyed to Hama after the massacre and gave this account:

“It was stunning. Whole swaths of buildings had, indeed, been destroyed and then professionally steamrolled into parking lots the size of football fields. If you kicked the ground, you’d come up with scraps of clothing, a tattered book, a shoe.”

Later he wrote a book and gave the massacre a name: “Hama Rules.” That is, there were no rules at all. Hafez Assad plunged to new lows to retain power.

Amnesty International said as many as 20,000 Syrians were killed in Hama. I wonder how high the death toll will rise in the current conflict. When will it end? How long will Bashar al-Assad keep killing his own people?

I wish I were able to be there, to bear witness to acts that should not be happening in 2012. I do my best to tell the story on with the reporting of brave network correspondents, producers and cameramen. But I fear we are dealing with “Homs Rules.” A different time, different people but a son that seems just as determined to crush his opponents as was his father.

Iran’s first Oscar

Perhaps I should have gone to see “The Artist” Saturday night. After all, it won the Oscar for best picture last night. But I saw “A Separation” instead.

It was an incredibly well-acted film dealing with a broken marriage that weaves trouble through the lives of ordinary people. It is about class divisions, family relationships, the power of religion and hope in every heart for a better life.

Only this film is Iranian. Set in Tehran, Westerners got a rare glimpse into the living rooms of Iranians dealing with the same kinds of problems we find at home, save the far-reaching tentacles of the Islamic regime.

Iranians stayed up late to watch the Oscars on illegal satellite feeds, enormously proud of the first Iranian film to win an Oscar (best foreign language film).

The timing could not have been better, I thought, as director Asghar Farhadi held up his golden statue. “At a time when talk of war, intimidation and aggression is exchanged between politicians, the name of their country, Iran, is spoken here through her glorious culture, a rich and ancient culture that has been hidden under the heavy dust of politics,” he said.

I read this morning that even Israelis were flocking to see “A Separation.” Iranians are their arch-enemies and bellicose talk of late has led to speculation that Israel may launch a pre-emptive strike against Iran to stop its nuclear progress.

But ultimately, Israelis saw in the movie Iranians who were just like themselves. That spoke volumes for the universality of “A Separation.” People everywhere ultimately cope with the same problems — the ones that make us not American or Israeli or Iranian, but the ones that make us human.

“A Separation” is not always easy to watch. It was especially hard for me to look at the scenes of a man stricken with Alzheimer’s. I could see my own Baba.

But if you have not seen this movie, go soon to a theater near you. Ayatollahs and nuclear bombs aside, Iran has delivered a rare gem.

“A Separation” supplies no answers and is subtitled: “The Truth Divides.” But Iran is a country that remains largely unknown to Americans. Farhadi’s film, I believe, takes a few of the veils off.

Journalism and courage

Marie Colvin lost an eye in Sri Lanka.
She was killed in Syria.

Today, journalists are mourning the deaths of two of their own.Marie Colvin of London’sSunday Times and French journalist Remi Olchik were killed Wednesday in thebesieged Syrian city of Homs.

Their deaths came a few days after we learnedNew York Times reporter Anthony Shadid died of an asthma attack, also in Syria.
Remi Olchlik was also killed in Homs.

They were courageous. Brave in the actionsthey took and even braver in what they told the world about atrocities andinjurites they witnessed firsthand.

They are worthy of headlines and deserving of tribute.

Chandrika Rai and his family were
 bludgeoned to death in India.

So are journalists of lesser name who put their lives on the lineevery day reporting from their own countries.

The Committee to Protect Journalists reported this week thatIndian journalist Chandrika Rai , his wife and two teenage children werebludgeoned to death in their home in Umaria in the state of Madhya Pradesh.Rai, 42, worked for Hindi-language dailies and was investigating illegal coalmining in Umaria.

The committee quoted Shalabh Bhadoria, president of a MadhyaPradesh press freedoms group, who said that Rai’s death could be connected tothe kidnapping of a local official’s son. Rai apparently, had contradicted agovernment official’s claim that the two kidnapping suspects were not guilty.

The committee has asked for an investigation. Local journalistswore black arm bands this week in remembrance.

We hearof cases like Chandrika’s all too often. Journalists who go missing. Or are founddecapitated. 

Theytake enormous risks to tell the story. And unlike foreign journalists, localreporters do not have the luxury of “getting out” after they get thestory. They must remain in their communities and be ready to suffer theconsequences.

Kudos tomy colleagues across the world who take such risks every day of their lives.They are committed and passionate about what they do. On this awful day oftragedy, I salute them all.

Indianjournalist Barkha Dutt said on Twitter said this morning:  “For all those who sit at their computers& pass easy judgment Marie Colvins death in Syria grim reminder of courageneeded to go out there”

I secondthat thought.

A new Guiness record!

Thomas Oliver and Melissa Turner
were part of the record-setting crowd.

I just read that the Tybee Island polar bear plunge on New Year’s Day officially broke a Guinness World Record.

“Guinness World Record now credits the Jan. 1 event as the largest ever gathering of people wearing swim caps,” reported the Savannah Morning News. “In all, 2,049 New Year’s beach-goers sported caps for the event, which also served as a fundraiser for the Tybee Post Theater — whom Guinness lists as the official record holder.”

Congratulations to my friends Thomas Oliver, Melissa Turner and Jill Vejnoska for taking the plunge that day and sporting their swim caps.

I am thrilled I was on hand to witness such a historic event.