In death as in life, Foley illuminated world's dark corners

  • Article by: AN EDITORIAL , Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
  • Updated: August 21, 2014 - 11:18 AM

Journalist braved the world's most dangerous places, giving his life to increase understanding.

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We’ll remember James Foley for how he lived, not for how he died. We’ll remember his courage, his principles and his empathy, especially his empathy for the oppressed in the Middle East.

Foley, a freelance journalist, worked in some of the world’s most dangerous places. Even after being held captive in Libya during that bloody conflict, he went to Syria because he was drawn to the stories that were the hardest to cover. It was a decision, tragically, that would cost him his life.

“He had deep courage,” his mother, Diane, said. “Jim wanted to witness, he wanted to be a witness to all of the suffering. He had an incredible heart. That’s why he went back.”

Foley, 40, was kidnapped in Syria in November 2012 and murdered this week by the terrorist group the Islamic State, also known as ISIL, apparently in retaliation for U.S. airstrikes in Iraq. The terrorists are holding another American journalist, Steven Joel Sotloff, and have threatened to kill him as well. Foley was a 1996 graduate of Marquette University in Milwaukee and spoke of the importance of his experiences at MU in a letter to the school published in the Journal Sentinel today.

Foley’s brutal murder was videotaped and sent to the world via the Internet and social media. Perhaps this depraved act will gain the terrorists a few more followers from among the radicals who have flooded the Middle East.

We know with certainty that the video shows his killers for what they are — genocidal nihilists who understand only the sword. This act should strengthen American resolve to help friendly governments in the region extract the cancer that is the Islamic State.

“ISIL speaks for no religion,” President Barack Obama said in a statement Wednesday. “No just God would stand for what they did yesterday, and for what they do every single day....They terrorize their neighbors and offer them nothing but an endless slavery to their empty vision and the collapse of any definition of civilized behavior.”

Obama’s judicious use of airstrikes, 84 so far, came after the Islamic State marauded across Iraq, indiscriminately killing, raping and enslaving innocent people. American air power has helped halt the terrorist advance. “The United States of America will continue to do what we must do to protect our people,” Obama promised. “We will be vigilant, and we will be relentless.”

Unfortunately, conditions in Iraq and Syria are desperate, and there are fewer journalists left in either country to report what’s happening. Syria is considered the most dangerous place in the world for reporters, the Committee to Protect Journalists says; the humanitarian crisis there has left more than 170,000 people dead and 9 million displaced. Foley was on a freelance assignment for the website GlobalPost, when he was abducted in northern Syria on Nov. 22, 2012.

During an appearance at Northwestern University the previous year, Foley talked about why it matters so much for journalists to go to the most dangerous places:

“It’s part of the problem with these conflicts....We’re not close enough to it. And if reporters, if we don’t try to get really close to what these guys — men, women, American (soldiers), now, with this Arab revolution, young Arab men, young Egyptians and Libyans — are experiencing, we don’t understand the world.”

James Foley helped us understand our world better. Our thoughts and prayers are with his many friends and his family.

 

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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