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Voices of Hostages

June 5, 2014
Susan Dabbous.

Susan Dabbous.

Tonight there was an event at Dawawine, a relatively new cultural space in Beirut, where two journalists, Syrian-Italian Susan Dabbous and Swedish Magnus Falkehed, spoke about their respective experiences being kidnapped in Syria. NOW Lebanon reporter Alex Rowell moderated the discussion.

The evening was organized by the Samir Kassir Foundation, hosted by the SK Eyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom and supported by the European Union in Lebanon.

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Getting ready to start the discussion.

Both journalists had some really interesting things to say, from two different view points. Dabbous doesn’t consider herself a war journalist, though she had been covering the Syrian conflict since June 2011. She was kidnapped in northern Syria and held for 11 days. Falkehed was held longer, a month and a half, and in much more difficult conditions.

It was compelling to hear them talk about their captors and how they mentally stayed sane and focused. Dabbous talked about managing three ways of thinking: positive, negative and rational. Through every situation she faced, from when she and her team first began to be interrogated to when she was being released, she moved between these three, trying her best to invoke whichever one she felt would best serve her in that moment. Falkehed, who was kidnapped with Swedish photographer Niclas Hammarstrom, talked about how his partnership and their decidedness to be completely open with each other is something that really helped him. They supported each other, even through a failed escape attempt.

They talked about their emotional recovery. Moving on. Their feelings, after their abductions, toward covering Syria (both will not be returning any time soon). But what struck me most personally was when both Dabbous and Falkehed talked about the pain their loved ones endured, and how if they had known that this was going to happen to them beforehand, they wouldn’t have gone. The way Falkehed talked about his two little girls, and Dabbous talked about the love she has in her life, it really made me think of my own family and friends, and the risks so many journalists take.

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A person is so lucky if they have all this love in their lives, and journalists risk tremendously when they go into dangerous places to report. I think of the all of the missing journalists in Syria who have not been lucky enough to be found and released back to their families and friends. The four American journalists missing there now: James Foley, Austin Tice and two others whose familys’ wish not to be public.

What is it worth?

For Dabbous and Falkehed, the cost of what happened to them was too high. For their families and for themselves.

I think of Marie Colvin too, and her attitude toward her own life and covering stories in some of the world’s most dangerous places – the stories, and the people, always came first. In the fantastic book written by Paul Conroy, “Under the Wire – Marie Colvin’s Last Assignment,” who was with Colvin and Remy Ochlik in Baba Amr on their last assignment together when they were killed. Colvin had to go back, even after she had the opportunity to get out safely. I’m reading a biography of Martha Gellhorn right now (who, by the way, was someone Colvin was very inspired by), one of the first female war correspondents, and the stories came first for her, too. Wars need people to document them, or the world will forget out them. And even with coverage, we still see there isn’t enough being done in so many places.

To be sure, there is no right answer.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Diana McClure permalink
    June 7, 2014 6:32 pm

    Very moving. What an experience for you to be there! Diana

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