As a journalist, Steven Sotloff 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.
“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.
James Foley certainly knew of the risks. Also a freelance journalist, he was imprisoned for six weeks in a Libyan jail in 2011. Even after that, he went back.
“Why do firemen keep going back to blazing homes?” John Foley, the journalist’s father, has said to reporters. “This was his passion. He was motivated by what he thought was doing the right thing.
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Both Foley and Sotloff were abducted in Syria and ended up in the murderous hands of the militant group Islamic State. These brave men are now dead, their slayings revealed to the world in recent weeks in videos made public by their killers.
To watch those videos would indulge the murderers in their sickness. It is enough to know that both hostages were shown on their knees, hands bound, in the custody of a man in a dark robe and a black mask.
Who is that man? He speaks English with a British accent. Some news organizations have named him as Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary, a 24-year-old former rapper who left his family’s upscale London home last year to join the militants. On social media, he has displayed a gruesome penchant for posing with severed heads.
Whoever that man is, whatever his story, he 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 other 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 the terrorist group and its delusional goal of setting itself up as a caliphate, or universal Muslim state.
At best the group can only hope to recruit like-minded cowards and sociopaths. Well-armed Islamic State militants have been shown reveling in the executions of thousands of Syrians and Iraqis. The civilized world must unite to disarm them, though ending the group’s appeal to angry and disaffected young Muslims is a much harder task.
Foley and Sotloff deserve a place of honor. They forsook creature comforts, family ties and safety to report from the world’s most dangerous places, where cases of unimaginable brutality are mitigated only by the courage and kindness displayed by citizens who have the misfortune to be in harm’s way.
Foley, 40, grew up in New Hampshire and made his way to journalism after spending time in the Teach for America program in Phoenix and teaching literacy to inmates in a boot camp program in Chicago.
“Jim had a thirst for adventure and an insatiable curiosity about the world,” his boyhood friend, Daniel Johnson, told The Washington Post. Johnson, a poet, wrote a sad, beautiful elegy over the months that Foley was in captivity, and made it public this week.
People who knew Sotloff, 31, 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. His last tweet before he disappeared was about the Miami Heat basketball team.
Sotloff and Foley lived valuable, courageous lives and should not have been cruelly used by vile killers.
As for their gutless executioner, the man in the black mask, his days are surely numbered. He has not lived bravely and will not die so either.
To reach Barbara Shelly, call 816-234-4594 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.