How many people personally knew the French photographer Remi Ochlik or the American journalist Marie Colvin, who were killed in Syria last week? Conversely, how many people knew Rami al-Sayed, who was killed last week in Homs and was bestowed the title of "the photographer of the revolution" from Baba Amr?
In the nightmare called Homs, it seems no one really knows the number of people killed, just as no one knows exactly how many Syrians were killed since the start of the uprising. And no one knows the journalists that provide us with information.
Only a small part of the evidence of Bashar Assad's brutal crackdown comes from Western journalists, who are backed by Western powers that know how to protect their interests. Most of the information – and in some cases all of it – comes from young Syrians who risk their lives, and use tiny video cameras to film the scattered body parts in the alleys, the premature babies who suffocated in hospitals and the bodies of those killed. They transfer the images to a distribution center in Lebanon, and from there they are spread around the globe.
No one – except for neighbors, friends and loved ones – knows their name. But their daily work is what drives – albeit slowly – the international institutions, the White House and even the Arab League into action. None of them are journalists. Each one of them knows compassion is not the name of the game in Homs or in Idlib, in Daraa or in Hama. None of them are looking for a byline, and all of them know that if they die – it will be an anonymous death.
Only their family and friends will lay flowers on their graves, if it's at all possible to have them buried. The lifespan of a celebrity Syrian journalist is short. Dozens of Iraqi journalists who were killed knew this, as did Turkish journalists who were incarcerated or are standing trial.
Why is the darkness of anonymity suddenly illuminated by the death of two Western journalists that was featured in the main headlines of Western papers? Why them and not al-Sayed? How come France blamed Syria for Remi Ochlik's death, yet it is almost certain that no French or British journalist is able to correctly pronounce al-Sayed's name, or the names of some of the cities that were bombed?
There is nothing new here, nothing we did not know already. When one of "ours" is killed – a Westerner, a white person, a woman – all hell breaks loose. Suddenly it becomes "our war," the Syrian regime is firing "at us," Assad's forces kill "us." All of a sudden it becomes important for us to listen to the victim's last words once again, to touch those who knew him or her intimately. They are us. She is more important than him, naturally, because she is a woman with an eye patch. She is our Moshe Dayan. He, in a day or two, will be "the French photographer," and in less than a week they will be part of the statistics published by Reporters Without Borders.
Meanwhile, the Syrian al-Sayeds will continue to do their work. After all, they will lose nothing – no one knew their before their death, and no one will know them after they are killed. It's their war. We're here for the thrill.
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