An act of hope

When things fall apart, can one hold on to optimism? For years, I have cited Isabel Allende to explain the purpose of writing in general and journalism in particular. In a short essay in Peace Review in 1993, she wrote: “I feel that writing is an act of hope, a sort of communion with our fellow men. The writer of goodwill carries a lamp to illuminate the dark corners. Only that, nothing more — a tiny beam of light to show some hidden aspect of reality, to help decipher and understand it and thus to initiate, if possible, a change in the conscience of some readers.”

Threat to freedom

A tweet from Muska Dastageer, a lecturer of peace and conflict resolution, political theory, and gender studies at the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul, Afghanistan, shook that belief. Her tweet read: “Everything we worked for, everything we believed in, is disappearing before our eyes.” It was a grim reminder that hard-won rights are not only vulnerable but perishable when there is a political tide of intolerance. Over the past two decades, multiple institutions and innumerable men and women invested their time and energy to create a free environment in Afghanistan. I was part of some of the editors’ meetings that tried to create media institutions in Afghanistan as it was trying hard to come out of the darkness brought in by the Taliban and its associates. I wonder whether my sense of optimism was a form of delusion.

One wonders how the international community has become blind to the developments in Afghanistan. It turned a blind eye to Rwanda, the Balkans, and Myanmar. I was shaken to the core when I read the report ‘Please pray for me’ in The Guardian in which a woman journalist documents how she is being hunted by the Taliban. She wrote: “Last week I was a news journalist. Today I can’t write under my own name or say where I am from or where I am. My whole life has been obliterated in just a few days. I am so scared and I don’t know what will happen to me. Will I ever go home? Will I see my parents again? Where will I go? The highway is blocked in both directions. How will I survive?”

Giving voice to the vulnerable

However, the brave women journalists reaffirm my optimism and give hope another lease of life. For instance, Zahra Joya, a 28-year-old reporter, launched Rukhshana Media in November 2020 to tell stories of Afghanistan’s women, written by Afghanistan’s women. Rukshana, a young Afghan woman, met with a tragic end. In 2015, she was accused of adultery and stoned to death.

The idea behind Rukshana Media is the idea behind any credible media organisation: to give voice to the vulnerable. In its short existence Rukshana Media has covered crucial subjects such as women’s reproductive health, domestic and sexual violence, and gender discrimination. Ms. Joya was tired of either Afghan men or the international media representing Afghan women. In an interview she said: “At Rukhshana Media, we are trying to define the story from the perspective of Afghan women.”

The fast-changing politico-military situation in Afghanistan is posing a major challenge to initiatives such as Rukshana Media. Ms. Joya is acutely aware of the fact that female journalists are at greater risk of assassination due to the issues they cover and their public role. Women journalists are increasingly using pseudonyms to conceal their identity but refuse to give up.

I was moved by Ms. Joya’s determination to continue with her journalism against all the odds. She told The Guardian recently that she would keep her media house going as long as she can. She said: “I see it as a source of hope for many women. Afghanistan may not have much but it is our voice [of the media], and we must preserve it.”

When I started the countdown series to my tenure as the Readers’ Editor I wanted to document the potential of journalism in transforming people’s lives. The agency to act against injustice can happen only when citizens have trustworthy and credible information. Journalists from Afghanistan are showing us that journalism continues to be an act of hope, which cannot be obliterated by any menacing force.

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Printable version | Oct 22, 2021 9:18:16 AM |

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