I just watched a baby die. I am shaking and my face and neck are soaked with tears. While I watch the baby die in a makeshift clinic in Homs, Marie Colvin speaks to a CNN reporter in the besieged Syria city. It was a quiet death, which makes it so much worse. It is an image which will keep me awake tonight, but because Marie was murdered in her efforts to show the world, I think we all need to see the images. A mother was forced to watch her baby die, why should I close my eyes?
The child is just one of 28,000 men, women and children, cold and starving, who are being brutally shelled and mortared in their houses by Assad’s troops, in the city of Homs. Marie Colvin, war correspondent for the Sunday Times, was killed there today. She was still in Syria – the only journalist for a British newspaper still in the sieged city – because she put frontline reporting before her own life.
I am in no position to provide an obituary here for Marie. I didn’t know her, I hadn’t worked with her (though I know people who did, which always makes one feel morbidly proud for some reason, to have some small connection to those valiantly killed), but I worshipped her as a journalist because she is the image of what I would like to be as a writer.
Marie’s writing resonates because it isn’t about the big scoop. She told the human narrative of war. Never hyperbolic, sensationalised or victim-worshipping, she wrote what she saw and you knew it was real because she was there, among the people, experiencing the horrors for herself.
In her final report, she talks of ‘the widows’ basement’:
“A baby born in the basement last week looked as shellshocked as her mother, Fatima, 19, who fled there when her family’s single-storey house was obliterated. “We survived by a miracle,” she whispers. Fatima is so traumatised that she cannot breastfeed, so the baby has been fed only sugar and water; there is no formula milk.”
Marie was clearly drawn to those who would otherwise be invisible. Especially the women. Women like Noor, a frightened 20 year old widow whose children were surviving on sugar and water after her husband was torn apart by a mortar shell while out searching for food.
Some will call her foolhardy for her actions. As Marie asks herself, “what is bravery and what is bravado?”. But her final Sunday Times report on the desperation of the citizens of Homs shows the compelling need to tell the stories of the people who cannot themselves tell the world. For those silenced by oppression, she gave them a voice. Because frankly, she thought it was cowardly not to.
I hope her death renews a faith in journalism. Because it is all too easy to sling mud at so called ‘hacks’ who work for papers we are not politically affiliated with. But the fact is, for every dishonest journalist, there are brave, compassionate ones who die to report the stories of the disenfranchised. There are also those who support the reporters; drivers, translators, sound engineers and more whose deaths are not honoured. With citizen journalism gaining such an important role in conflict reporting, I hope news agencies will begin to provide the support needed to those risking their lives to show us the ugly truth.
Read Marie Colvin’s final report from Homs.