Category Archives: Media

War Reporting

Last week, it was revealed that Dexter Filkins is leaving the New York Times  for the New Yorker.  Obviously, its a massive loss for the New York times.  But for the readers? This means that Mr. Filkins will have more time and room to produce the kind of profound stories that he has done more often than any reporter of our time.
Here is a fine example of the kind beautiful writing that Mr. Filkins has given us so often and we hope to see more of. George Packer wrote about this on his New Yorker blog. Mr. Filkins is describing how he felt immediately after seeing a solider get killed:
And at that moment, you think about how the word of his death will travel; how it will depart Iraq or Afghanistan and move across the ocean and into the United States and into the town where he lives, Corinth, Miss., say, or Benwood, W.Va., and into the houses and the hearts of the people who love him most in the world. And at that moment, standing there, looking down on the dead man, you can wonder only what the family will do when the terrible news finally arrives, how they will resist it and wrestle with it and suffer from it, and how they will cope and how they will remember.
— Dexter Filkins’s introduction to Ashley Gilbertson’s book of photograps

From Ashley Gilbertson's photographs of dead soldiers's bedrooms, published in NYT

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Women Self-Immolation

A screenshot from Lynsey Addario's video

In yesterday’s New York Times, Alissa Rubin and Lynsey Addario published a moving piece on the plight of women in Afghanistan, especially in western province of Herat.  In recent years, the number of women self-immolation are growing rapidly in that part of the country.  Ms. Rubin wrote:

The hospital here is the only medical center in Afghanistan that specifically treats victims of burning, a common form of suicide in this region, partly because the tools to do it are so readily available. Through early October, 75 women arrived with burns — most self-inflicted, others only made to look that way. That is up nearly 30 percent from last year.

But the numbers say less than the stories of the patients.

It is shameful here to admit to troubles at home, and mental illness often goes undiagnosed or untreated. Ms. Zada, the hospital staff said, probably suffered from depression. The choices for Afghan women are extraordinarily restricted: Their family is their fate. There is little chance for education, little choice about whom a woman marries, no choice at all about her role in her own house. Her primary job is to serve her husband’s family. Outside that world, she is an outcast.”

There are two issues that Ms. Rubin does not raise. One, that self-immolation is sadly becoming so wide-spread that it is taking root in a folk-culture. I was in Herat this past summer, and I got the chance to interview a couple burned victims. The fact that they did not consider any other options– both in terms seeking help or of taking their lives in a less painful way– shows how self-immolation is taking its place in the public psyche as the only option available for these women. You might say: what are the options available for the? The fact that there really aren’t any options confirms self-immolation as the only option. If not countered through public-awareness campaigns, this will become a hauntingly dangerous issue.

Another issue that is at the heart of the problem, yet Ms. Rubin does not go in full detail to flesh out, is the economic side. One of the Doctors in Ms. Addario’s video repeatedly says that these issues stem from economic problems, but his language skills limits him to really explain this in detail. The sense that I got over the summer in Herat was that  the main economic issue is the large dowries. The value of these dowries are growing exponentially, putting the future groom under tremendous strain. The groom ends up spending years in Iran or Pakistan laboring to meet the dowry demands placed by his in-laws. By the time he marries his bride, he already has a deeply rooted grudge against her. On top of that, having paid so much money for her, he feels like he has bought her and he has the right to treat her in any way he wants.


Election Coverage: Why the Negativity, NYT?

At the least, the interest in the democratic process is still well and alive

The elections deserve a much longer piece and I will get to that as soon as I get a chance. First impressions: it was not as bad as it could have/would have been. The turn out seemed decent, the number of security incidents not considerable (within the context). As for irregularities, yes as expected. The extent? initial reports do not indicate large scale, systematic fraud.

As Jed Ober, the chief of staff in Afghanistan of Democracy International, whose observers kept a watch in 15 provinces, told Al-Jazeera

“We have not witnessed any type of systematic irregularities,” he said. “We have seen a pretty predictable process so far with nothing that we think affects the process. We are pretty optimistic about the process.”

But we can only be certain once the counting unfolds and the observers reports come in.

The issue that I briefly want to raise here is the difference in the coverage of the elections in the international media, particularly the US and Europe Media. Giants such as the New York Times approached the elections with a very grim look. Their feature stories, of the election eve as well as election day, were written by Elisabeth Bumiller with Rod Nordland or Alissa Rubin. Both stories began as “Marja, Afghanistan.” It makes one question why the New York times chose to see a nationwide election through such narrow, troubled window? All the articles focused on was the small turnout, the fear of rockets, and the gloominess of the overall picture. The Times’s At-War blog too, ran only entries by Ms. Bumiler from Marja. One can only speculate the reasons for such a narrow-scope of coverage.

While there is no doubt that the elections faced some of those challenges to an extent, but to boil it down to just that is unfair to the 150,000 international and 300,000 Afghan forces who worked tirelessly to ensure the security of the vote in the face of tremendous threats. It is also not fair to the 4 million who turned up to vote despite having the bitter taste of last year still in their mouth.

European outlets were a little milder in their approach, leaving some window of optimism. The BBC, for example, raised as many concerns as the New York Times. But it was open to the possibility of a decent turn out, and an election with a relatively low degree of fraud. The Guardian too, was harsh. And so it should be. But Jon Boone was kind enough to mention the possibility of success in one his headlines.

Just for kicks. Not really sure what the source is. a friend shared it.