Friday, September 18, 2009

Learning From Munadi

Sultan M. Munadi. (Tyler Hicks/The New York Times)

On Saturday, Sept. 4, Sultan M. Munadi, an Afghan reporter and translator, and New York Times reporter Stephen Farrell were reporting from Afghanistan on a NATO bombing when the two were kidnapped by the Taliban.

Their captors took them here and there around the country for days. By Wednesday, Sept. 9, the plan was to move them into Pakistan.

But the plan was not executed. Before dawn Wednesday, British forces attempted to rescue Farrell and Munadi, who were at that time in a safe house. (Farrell has British and Irish citizenship.)

British aircraft appeared. The reporters and their captors ran out of the house and through surrounding fields. The captors ran elsewhere, and the reporters found themselves in "a long, narrrow room devoid of anything but walls and matting, which felt like a death trap," Farrell would say later, for a Sept. 10 New York Times article.

Times reporter Eric Schmitt carefully describes what happened next:
The two men waited a bit, then made their way out of the room into a courtyard. The [sic] lost eac other in the darkness for a moment, before linking back up. With Mr. Munadi leading, they scuttled along a narrow ledge along the outer wall of the compound. "We could see nothing more than a few feet in front of us," Mr. Farrell said. "We had no idea who was where, and there were bullets flying through the air."

After crouching and running for some 60 feet, the two men got to a corner. Mr. Munadi was about two feet ahead of Mr. Farrell, and walked out into the clearing saying in an accent, "Journaliste, journaliste." It was not clear whether he was assuring commandos that he was not a Talib, or assuring the Taliban that he was not with the commandos. There was a hail of bullets — unclear whether from friend or foe — and Mr. Munadi fell.

Mr. Farrell said he reared back from the gunfire and dived into a ditch. He waited a couple of minutes until he was clear which direction the British voices were coming from, then shouted, "British hostage! British hostage!" A few seconds later with hands raised high, he walked to the British troops and safety.
Later in the article, Schmitt writes that Farrell blamed himself for Munadi's death and quotes Farrell as saying, about Munadi, "He was trying to protect me up to the last minute. ... he moved out in front of me."

Farrell also said of Munadi, "He was three seconds away from safety. I thought we were safe. He just walked into a hail of bullets."

I read these words and cried. How dedicated to his work Munadi was! He sacrificed his life to save his fellow reporter.

In an article accompanying Schmitt's, David Rohde, a Times reporter who had been kidnapped by the Taliban but had managed to escape, writes that Munadi chose to leave the paper's Kabul bureau to establish a public service radio station. This, Rohde writes, was not "the easy path" — it was "a financially risky venture," and it was not "a stable, comparatively well-paid job for an Afghan," as the bureau gig was.

But Munadi did it anyway, because, Rohde writes, "he believed independent Afghan media were vital to stabilizing his country."

In other words, he was selfless. He thought little about his own personal well-being; he thought of others first. These characteristics, I believe, make him stand out as a reporter and, perhaps more importantly, as a person.

Please note that I am not trying to suggest that my fellow reporters and I should always be willing to give up our lives for the sake of journalism. Rather, I am trying to encourage avoidance of the opposite extreme: constant selfishness.

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