by Genevieve Long
Last year I was planning to go and visit a very dear friend who lives in Islamabad, Pakistan. I have not seen her in years and long to sit at the same table again with this friend, and tell each other the many stories we have gathered in the time we have been apart. Friendship travels across time and distance and can sometimes shine on our shortcomings and bring them to light. Sometimes it can inspire us to things we never imagined. This particular friendship has brought all of this to me, and more. It always has.
I never made it to Pakistan last year. I grew afraid of what I did not know about the country, it’s people and history, the language and customs. Most of all I grew afraid of becoming a victim of violence of some kind. It takes a strong mind in the America of today to resist the tide of sentiment and misunderstandings about Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran. It takes wanting to know more than wanting to be afraid. It takes a willingness to listen and understand, even if the end result is disagreeing.
As a journalist, part of my motivation in going to Pakistan was to report on the news happening there. Only months earlier I had reported on the reponse of the Pakistani community in New York and U.S. lawyers who were protesting the crippling of the Pakistani judiciary, the loss of civil freedoms, the silencing of the press. I was fascinated by the acerbic wit that the Pakistani community in New York was using to assess the situation. They seemed eager to talk amongst themselves, but unmotivated to reach out to the western world and help them understand. They were on the streets, protesting in front of the U.N. and at Columbia University having sharp debates. Yet it seemed that few Americans were listening closely enough to truly understand what was being said.
I regretted not going to Pakistan, instead reporting on a much less daunting story in Central America. But that regret has come in handy ever since. I started to read about and study not only Pakistan’s political history–but Iraq and Afghanistan’s as well. I started to ask questions of journalists who have lived and worked in those areas. I started to question my assumptions. The answer, at the bottom of all my fear, is that I still hope to go to Pakistan. But after learning more, I also hope to go to Afghanistan, and maybe even Iraq.
When I interviewed several veteran foreign correspondents recently for an article about the challenges of reporting in Iraq and Afghanistan, I was humbled by the sheer audacity with which they do their jobs. Yet they see it all as stories that must be, need to be, told.
Those who criticize the media for getting the story wrong in Iraq and Afghanistan, or for not covering the war up close enough, should take a good hard look at what they don’t know. And then they should turn to the work of the brave journalists who are reporting the stories there and give thanks.