Joint Post with Sejal Hathi: Today’s Messengers and the Peace Frontier
I remember reading true stories as a kid about the era of kingdoms. In them, I remember kings often used to send their messengers to the rival kingdom to declare war, to threaten, and to capitulate. The unwritten, unenforced, but sacred rule was very simple: messengers were not to be hurt, detained, or even slightly touched. They were often the bearers of bad news, but also the first to bring peace.
I was invited to speak at the Opening Ceremony at the Just Peace Summit last night in NYC. As part of the ceremony, former 2008 Global Teen Leader and citizen journalist Mahmoud Jabari (see blog post from 2/28 about his story) was Skyped in from the West Bank. He told his story, his ambitions, and his reason for pursuing peace and conflict resolution journalism in a region so ridden with strife.
As the messengers of today, journalists have the unique ability to hear both sides of the story and paint as unbiased of a picture as possible. They must be able to assure to both parties, in a conflict, that their stories and views are being heard. They serve often as the first people from one side to listen to the other side. They exert immense power, and therefore extraordinary responsibility. They can prod the path to destruction, or help shape a new frontier of peace.
But what happens when either party transgresses the unwritten rule? This is a threat to any journalist but it was particularly interesting in Mahmoud’s case to understand how a pledged peacemaker would respond to-and reflect- his own victimization in his role as messenger. Mahmoud made two statements that intrigued me; to paraphrase: 1) he did not understand why the Israeli police imprisoned him and accused him of throwing stones, and yet 2) he chooses to and will still seek, champion, and embody peace through his journalism in the region. His words made me wonder, can we achieve impartiality if we have not yet forgiven? And can we forgive, if we do not yet understand? Mahmoud says we can, and he promises to in his own work as a journalist. But in any conflict, the exchange between messenger and belligerent must be reciprocal, the trust mutual. We will have to wait and see, therefore, if the world that Mahmoud paints with his words accepts the painter and the colors that he affords it.