James Foley: Reflections on a Tragic Death

James Foley became a household name because of his tragic death. Yes, thanks to his family and friends, people knew he had been taken hostage, but his name wasn’t on everyone’s lips. He came into the limelight because of his public beheading by ISIS. Sorry, ISIL. Sorry, IS.

Photo from Vice News article cited in this post.

James Foley was a real person and his death is a real tragedy. I had to do a little digging to find out something about his personality, but what I did find out made me like the guy. In Corresponding with James Foley, his fellow journalist Evan Hill writes:

His goal was the same as all of ours: to make it. It’s a comment on the vicissitudes of the journalism industry that a guy like Jim ever had to “pitch” a kid like me to get a story published on a blog that didn’t pay and had only a small readership, but that’s the way it was, and still is, and Jim approached it with the unflagging enthusiasm that seems to have been his trademark.

More than anything I had read before, those lines made him real to me, so I kept reading.

I had to smile when I read about how he lost his 13 month contract with Stars and Stripes in Afghanistan: “Two months later, Jim was forced to resign from Stars and Stripes after the military caught him with a small amount of marijuana.” It reminded me of when I was in Herat in 1971. When I went to a market stall to look at some trinkets, the woman behind the stall pulled out a block of hashish the size of a cow turd and offered to sell it to me. I just bought a small amount and a hash pipe and shared it with a few other backpackers.

Although Afghanistan was not caught up in war in 1971, the fact that I had been there and had shared “a small amount of marijuana” with others made James even more real to me. I could imagine randomly meeting him during my travels. From all accounts, he was an affable guy and I’m sure I would have liked him.

Another tribute to James Foley by a fellow freelance journalist appeared in Vice. In Our Jim: A Fellow Journalist Remembers James Foley, Clare Morgana Gillis writes:

Friends and colleagues urged not to post or watch video or stills from the propaganda film his executioners produced. I have watched it; I won’t talk about that here. Right away, journalists asked: How do we remember Jim? The only picture of Jim any of us want to see is him doing his job, and enjoying time with his loved ones.

I didn’t know him and would not have any insight into his life if it weren’t for the stories written by those who knew and loved him. The only James Foley I would know would be the propagandised Foley. The first photo I saw of him was the one of him dressed in an orange jumpsuit. Behind him, a man dressed in black wielded a knife. My first thought was, “That’s not real. It’s staged.” Little by little, the news trickled out. Yes, the “execution” probably was staged. First questions were asked on social and alternative media. Then they were reported in the mainstream press.

“THE VIDEO of a British jihadist beheading an American hostage was probably staged, with the actual murder taking place off-camera, according to forensic analysis” wrote Deborah Haynes in the Australian. The mainstream media doesn’t seem to be speculating about when James Foley was actually killed, but others question why the man in the photo doesn’t look like James Foley and some suggest he was killed much earlier and the fake beheading staged for propaganda purposes. Be that as it may, there is no question that Foley’s death is being used for propaganda purposes.

While it doesn’t diminish the real tragedy of his death in any way, James Foley is just one of  hundreds of journalists who have been killed in the Middle East and other “trouble spots” around the world. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) keeps tabs on the deaths of journalists. According to their data, 33 journalists have been killed in 2014. James Foley is at the top of the list. Further down are names of people we have never heard of like:

  • Simone Camilli, an Italian video journalist who was killed in Gaza when an unexploded missile blew up.
  • Rami Rayan, a Palestinian journalist who was killed in an Israeli bombardment of the market in the Shijaiyah neighborhood of Gaza.
  • Shan Dahar of Abb Tak Television, who was shot in the back outside a pharmacy near the Badah Press Club in Larkana, Pakistan.

All of these people deserve to be remembered in the same way James Foley is remembered by his friends and family. Their deaths are all tragic. Equally tragic is the fact that we don’t hear about them because their stories don’t serve a political or corporate agenda. All too often, these men and women who have a passion for uncovering the truth first-hand are used to obscure the truth by their paymasters.  We owe it to them to look beyond the headlines and try to see the world through their eyes.