Marie Colvin's death: the West must now face facts in Syria
There is little excuse for governments to ignore the massacres that Colvin so eloquently recorded
MARIE COLVIN, 55, the Sunday Times journalist killed by a government shell this morning in Homs in Syria, was one of the outstanding correspondents of our time. She was deeply versed in the Middle East and the Arab street - which made her particularly suited to reporting the Arab Spring, its highly ambivalent consequences and the tornado of civil war in Syria.
Courageous and dedicated to the news business – almost to a fault – she would always go many hundreds of extra miles if need be to get the story. She diced with death, was lost almost missing in action on several occasions, and yet always came out more or less alive at the other end. Until today, that is.
There is something telling about where and how she died, and above all why she and her French colleague died – which Western governments must now face up to. She was killed in a makeshift media centre in the besieged city of Homs, bearing essential witness to the indiscriminate shelling and mayhem inflicted by the military regime on civilians, mothers and children, the old and sick.
The use of artillery, rockets and tanks firing their main armament weapons at flimsy apartment buildings is an atrocity, a crime against humanity, by any definition. That is what Marie and her colleagues like Paul Wood of the BBC have reported from Homs and many other amateur and professional reporters and witnesses have relayed from dozens of other towns and residential suburbs across Syria.
This cannot now be ducked by governments like Britain, France, Germany and the United States, who have laboured at the looms of political spin to explain why Syria is an exception and cannot be treated as other countries. France, Britain and the US and half a dozen allies were prepared to commit to war last spring in Libya on the need, as they saw it, to prevent the Gaddafi regime’s forces massacring insurgents and civilians in Benghazi.
Now that we are seeing an orchestrated massacre in Homs and other Syrian cities including Aleppo, Deraa, Hama and Damascus itself - recorded so eloquently by Marie Colvin and others - there seems little excuse for governments keeping their hand in their pockets.
This is Marie Colvin’s legacy.
But for a moment I am left to reflect on the reporter I knew as a colleague and friend for nearly 30 years. She was incredibly tough and dedicated – but also fun. She could appreciate the weird and ironic in our reporting world as well as any. She was courageous, sometimes almost maddeningly so, but there was always the deep laugh and ironic smile. My Jerusalem friend Armenian George always called her ‘Scoops Marie’, because he swore, "I can imagine her ditching a husband at the altar if she could get a scoop instead."
She was a terrific colleague and terrifically ballsy.
In many ways, in her charm, intelligence and drive, she was to our generation what Martha Gellhorn, celebrity travel and war journalist and sometime wife of Ernest Hemingway, was to hers. Marie, however, wore celebrity lightly – she had no side – and probably was more interested in the raw journalism of the business than Martha.
And she was a cat that had nine lives, with inflation. She was left for dead escaping with the rebels through the mountains in Chechnya. In Sri Lanka in 2001 she lost an eye when she was hit by shrapnel while investigating the cover-up of government atrocities to civilian villages.
In a way the eye patch she wore thereafter added to her understated elegance – it set off her handsome Irish features, making her like one of the better looking members of the cast of Pirates of the Caribbean.
Her death is sure to recharge arguments about reporters putting themselves in harm's way – which has crippled so much government thinking about supporting media in zones of war, violence and human distress. It shouldn't. Journalism, like war, is of its essence a risky enterprise.
It was the essence of Marie Colvin’s life and work - a life given to being the vital witness to great and terrible things, and making sure the world knew about it.