Steven Sotloff was brave. As a journalist, he ventured into conflict zones and dark corners of the Middle East to tell the stories of people who often are too fearful to speak for themselves. He worked as a freelancer, without the security apparatus provided by major news organizations. He was abducted in Syria more than a year ago.
“Steve said it was scary over there. It was dangerous. It wasn’t safe to be over there. He knew it. He kept going back,” a college roommate, Emerson Lotzia Jr., told the New York Times.
On Tuesday the ISIS militant group released a video showing the beheading of the 31-year-old journalist. Stills from the video, which I will not watch, show Sotloff on his knees, hands bound, in the custody of a man in a dark robe and a black mask. Only his eyes are visible.
Who is that man? He speaks with a British accent and is believed to be the same person who executed another U.S. journalist, 40-year-old James Foley, also on video.
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Whatever his story, that man is a coward. He hides his face and executes defenseless prisoners. There is no cause, no misbegotten political or religious quest, that can paint his actions as anything less than the cold-blooded murder of innocents.
Neither is there is anything to be gained. The U.S. will not back off from any military action; indeed the slayings of the journalists argues for more. The Islamic world will not respect ISIS and its fantastical goal of setting itself up as a caliphate, or worldwide Islamic state. At best the group can only hope to recruit like-minded cowards and sociopaths.
People who knew Sotloff say he was funny, irreverent and smart. A self-described “stand-up philosopher from Miami,” he left the University of Central Florida after three years to learn Arabic and take up journalism. He loved the ordinary citizens of the Arab world, the people who bear the brunt of the violence and brokenness of those lands.
As for his gutless executioner, authorities in Britain and the U.S. are scrambling to learn his identity. His days are likely numbered. He has not lived bravely and will not die so, either.