Recent Resources for Feminists
Franny Armstrong: Drowned Out Print E-mail

 

Spammer Films

Click above banner, and scroll down to lower RHS "Of course we feel like crying WATCH" to view DROWNED OUT,  75 mins, 2002. UK/ India, Dir: Franny Armstrong

Shot over three years by Director Franny Armstrong (McLibel), Drowned Out tells the true story of one family's inspired stand against the destruction of their land, homes and culture. The 75 minute no-budget, no-electricity, no-Hindi documentary has been seen by more than 14 million people.

Three choices. Move to the slums in the city, relocate to a barren resettlement site with no drinking water or stay at home and drown.


The people of Jalsindhi in central India must make a decision fast. In the next few weeks their village will disappear underwater as the giant Narmada Dam fills.

Bestselling author Arundhati Roy joins the fight against the dam and asks the difficult questions. Will the water go to poor farmers or to rich industrialists? What happened to the 16 million people displaced by fifty years of dam building? Why should I care?

Drowned Out follows the Jalsindhi villagers through hunger strikes, rallies, police brutality and a six year Supreme Court case. It stays with them as the dam fills and the river starts to rise.  
 
"At once angry, compassionate, disturbing and yet empowering, it makes for urgent and necessary viewing" - TIME OUT

"Heartbreaking" - SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

"Documentaries rarely, if ever, come better than this" - BERMUDA ROYAL GAZETTE

"Masterfully crafted" - ONEWORLD AWARDS JURY

"Quiet, fierce, beautiful" - NEW INTERNATIONALIST

"A real eye opener ... powerfully intimate" - FILM JOURNAL INTERNATIONAL

"A film of enormous heart, grit and insight, that is both taut political essay and enormously moving plea" - SAN FRANCISCO FILM FESTIVAL JURY

Muriel Spark: Feminist author, February 1 1918 - April 14 2006 Print E-mail

Sunday, April 16, 2006


Dame Muriel Spark at the Edinburgh International Book Festival 2004. Picture: Bill Henry via The Scotsman [scroll down for article]

Author Muriel Spark dies in Italy

Rome, Reuters: Nominated twice for the prestigious Booker Prize - in 1968 for Public Image and in 1981 for Loitering with Intent - Ms Spark won the Bram Stoker prize in 1987 for her biography of Mary Shelley.
 
Scottish-born novelist Muriel Spark, 88, died in Italy on Friday. She will be buried in Tuscany, an Italian official said.

Describing Ms Spark as an open person, Mayor Massimiliano Dindalini said, “She was both fascinating and down-to-earth at the same time. Her loss will be very difficult to overcome.”

Though Ms Spark wrote 24 novels, three biographies and several short stories, she is best known for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, a novel about a young teacher stirring thoughts of emancipation at an Edinburgh girls’ school before the second world war. The book was made into a critically-acclaimed film starring Maggie Smith in 1969.

Ms Spark died on Friday in Florence after battling health problems since last year. She was born in February 1918 in Edinburgh to a Jewish father and Anglican mother.

She married in 1937 and moved to Southern Rhodesia - now Zimbabwe - but the marriage did not last. During World War Two, she worked for the Foreign Office on anti-Nazi propaganda.

A self-styled “experimentalist”, Ms Spark was hailed as being far ahead of her times, both in her style of writing and the subjects she chose. She used sharp satire to expose the pettiness and vanity pervading all facets of life and death.

Her last novel, The Finishing School , was published in 2004.

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RU486 Wake-up call: Medical admission that Mifeprex FAR riskier than surgical abortion Print E-mail

Refer Feminist Research 1991:


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Sunday April 1 2006


HEALTH  [Read MORE]

Some Doctors Voice Worry Over Abortion Pills' Safety

By GARDINER HARRIS

Abortion rights advocates once hoped that RU-486 would prove at least as safe as surgical abortions and largely end the abortion wars by making access widely available and very private.

But in the wake of reports in March that two more women had died after taking abortion pills, some doctors say they are increasingly uneasy about prescribing them.

"None of these women should be dying; it's shocking," said Dr. Peter Bours, an abortion provider in Portland, Ore., who is rethinking whether to offer pill-based, or medical, abortions.

Dr. Warren Hern, a provider in Denver, said the latest reports demonstrated that abortions by RU-486, or Mifeprex, were far riskier than surgical ones. "I think surgery should be the procedure of choice," Dr. Hern said. Pills, he said, "are a lousy way to perform an abortion."

When followed up by another drug, misoprostol, Mifeprex induces a miscarriage that generally occurs within two weeks. To some women, this process seems more natural than surgery, and the expulsion of the fetus often takes place at home, which some also prefer.

But the number of women who have died in the United States after taking Mifeprex has now reached six, according to reports received by the Food and Drug Administration; another has died in Canada.

The drug has been used in more than 560,000 abortions in this country, so the reported risk of death is a bit more than one in 100,000. Some deaths may have gone unreported, meaning the real risk may be even higher.

By contrast, the reported risk of death associated with surgical abortion is one in a million, according to studies ­ one-tenth as high.

Quite apart from death, women who undergo medical abortions suffer an increase in complications, some doctors say. A 1999 study of 377 women found that those who took the pills suffered significantly higher levels of pain, nausea, vomiting and worrisome bleeding than those who underwent surgical abortions.

Pill-based abortions are also 5 to 10 times as likely to fail as surgical ones, and those that do fail require a follow-up surgical procedure in women whose pregnancies by then may have advanced significantly. Generally, the later a woman undergoes an abortion, the greater the risks.

The causes of the two most recent deaths are unknown, but all five previous fatalities resulted from infections with an unusually virulent bacterium called Clostridium sordellii.

F.D.A. officials said that there was neither a definitive link between the infections and RU-486 nor any concrete evidence that the drug increased the risk of infection beyond that found in women who underwent surgical abortions, suffered natural miscarriages or gave birth.

Dr. Cynthia Summers, a spokeswoman for Mifeprex's manufacturer, Danco Laboratories, said a comparison of the risks of medical and surgical abortion was unfair because, she said, reports of problems with surgical procedures were poorly collected.

And Dr. Vanessa Cullins, vice president for medical affairs at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the nation's largest abortion provider, said, "Both surgical and medication abortion are extremely safe and effective procedures."

The two kinds of abortion "have comparable risks with the exception of what we have recently seen as it relates to septic fatalities," Dr. Cullins said.

Experts debate whether the method of administration has played a role in the deaths. When the F.D.A. approved Mifeprex in 2000, officials instructed doctors to give it and misoprostol orally. But Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers soon started instructing women to insert misoprostol vaginally at home two to three days after taking Mifeprex. This method allowed women to take lower doses of misoprostol and meant fewer office visits for abortion providers.

All five women who died of infections had inserted misoprostol vaginally, Dr. Cullins said. In France, where no deaths have been reported, the oral method of administration is still standard. Planned Parenthood announced on March 17 that it would go back to giving misoprostol orally.

Opponents of abortion have long argued that RU-486 is not safe and should be withdrawn. Some abortion rights advocates now concede that their counterparts are somewhat right.

"The complications associated with RU-486 far exceed the complications of surgical abortion," said Dr. Damon Stutes, a provider in Reno, Nev., who refuses to offer pill-based abortions. Dr. Stutes, whose clinic has been bombed, said he was uneasy about agreeing with abortion opponents on anything.

"But the truth is the truth," he said.

Still, Dr. Stutes and some other physicians interviewed did not call for Mifeprex's removal from the market, since the drug may be the only option available to women in some rural areas. But women who have a choice should be steered toward surgical abortions, these doctors said.

"One needs to tell patients that the medical procedure, even though it seems more natural, may be more likely to result in death," said Dr. Phillip G. Stubblefield, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Boston University.

Dr. Stubblefield speculated that women who had inserted misoprostol vaginally might have accidentally dragged the pill across the skin near the anus, inserting bacteria that then flourished. But Dr. Mitchell Creinin, director of the division of gynecologic specialties at the University of Pittsburgh, said the method of drug administration had nothing to do with the deaths. Miscarriages, both induced and natural, can lead to infections, he said.
DifferenTakes #39: Population-Environment Programs: Problematic Assumptions Print E-mail


 

DifferenTakes is an investigative series of issue papers, published by the Population and Development Program at Hampshire College, providing alternative information and analysis on a wide range of reproductive rights, population, environment and social justice issues.

We are pleased to send you our latest issue, "Population-Environment Programs: Problematic Assumptions and Contradictory Approaches" by James Oldham.  This issue looks at how assumptions about the connection between population growth and environmental degradation can lead to the creation of programs that pose potential risks to the needs of local communities as well as women's health and autonomy.

This issue was based on a larger study titled, "Rethinking the Link: A Critical Review of Population-Environment Programs."  To read the full study, please go to http://popdev.hampshire.edu/news.php.

- Betsy Hartmann and Amy Oliver
Co-editors, DifferenTakes

* Available in pdf FORMAT

Population-Environment Programs: Problematic Assumptions and Contradictory Approaches

by James Oldham
A Publication of the Population and Development Program at Hampshire College • No.39 • Spring 2006

Over the last ten to fifteen years a new type of integrated conservation project has evolved that links reproductive health and family planning services with natural resource management and biodiversity conservation. Such programs represent a small but significant trend in both the conservation and the population fields.

Although integrated approaches for addressing population and environment issues date back at least to the 1960s, the promotion of pre-planned Population-Environment (PE) projects is newer. PE linkages are being promoted by leading actors in the population field such as Population Action International and Population Reference Bureau. PE programs are being implemented by major conservation organizations including Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) and Conservation International (CI). Funding has come in large part from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and a few private foundations. The presence of funders committed to this specific form of integrated conservation and development work has led to the creation of projects explicitly designed around theories of natural linkages between these two sectors.

PE projects are promoted as an opportunity to provide reproductive health services to isolated rural populations[1] and as a people-friendly approach to conservation­an alternative to a “fences and fines” approach that excludes local people from the natural resources on which their livelihoods depend.[2] Integration of family planning with natural resource conservation activities is said to produce synergies that will increase programs’ effectiveness and sustainability both because “environmental factors and health consequences overlap directly” and because the linking of population and environmental work “provide[s] economies of scale and scope.”[3] Other advantages claimed for integrated PE projects include facilitated entry into communities, opportunities to address a range of needs of hard-to-reach populations, increased involvement of men in reproductive health and of women in natural resource management, improvements to women’s overall condition, reduced costs, and possibilities for reducing population pressures on the environment.[4]

Although the goal of extended access to reproductive health care and family planning and the goal of making conservation projects address human needs are both important, the current attempt to link the two in community-based projects raises important concerns. First, the assumptions made to justify these links tend to blame environmental degradation on poor communities and specifically on poor women’s fertility. Second, the narrow focus on reproductive health tends to obscure the broader health needs of rural populations in the global south.

Malthusian Narratives
Much of the PE literature tries to emphasize the social and human health benefits of integrated programs rather than focusing on environmental justifications. Yet many of the same authors and organizations also disseminate a vision of population threats to the environment on a global scale where the emphasis is on high and fast growing populations in and around biodiversity hotspots of the global south.[5] Most organizations carrying out community-based PE programs also acknowledge that one important objective is to reduce population pressure on the environment. For example, CI describes a global problem of population threatening key areas of ecological concern: “The regions of the planet undergoing the most severe environmental degradation are the same as those experiencing the most rapid human population growth.”[6] This concern is then addressed locally: “Since 2001, Conservation International (CI) has been working in the Selva Lacandona of Mexico­one of the richest biodiversity hotspots in the world­to reduce human population pressure on natural resources.”[7]

These generalized assumptions about population impacts on the natural environment are too simplistic. A significant body of research demonstrates that human populations can actually enrich biodiversity and ecological complexity through their interactions with the environment. In one example, banning local people from a bird sanctuary in Bharatpur, India led to the decline in populations of key bird species.[8] Studies in parts of Kenya[9] and Java[10] have documented that growing populations have increased capacity for environmental remediation, resulting in enhanced biodiversity. Similar trends have been found in countries as diverse as Nepal, Guinea, and China.[11] Although such outcomes depend on many variables, these examples highlight the unreliability of broad generalizations about linkages between population and environment.

Madagascar and the Philippines provide two important examples of the role Malthusian narratives play in the promotion of linked PE projects and of the limitations and dangers of such narratives. Conservationists value Madagascar for its biodiversity, unusual ecosystems, and large numbers of endemic animals and plants. It is the site of a number of PE programs due to the perception of close links between population growth, agricultural practices and deforestation. Advocates for population programs link the tripling of Madagascar’s population in the second half of the 20th century to the current environmental situation where the country’s forests are less than 20 percent of their original size. They describe a rapidly multiplying population of poor farmers who are burning Madagascar’s tropical forests and threatening the biodiversity that the forests support.[12]

Although both population growth and agricultural practices are implicated in the deforestation of Madagascar, the omission of other key facts contributes to a tendency to blame the growing numbers, and the behaviors, of poor subsistence farmers for forest loss. The major period of deforestation in Madagascar began with colonization at the end of the 19th century. Forest loss in the first half of 20th century was equal to or higher than that during the latter half of the century, yet it took place when population density was low and population growth limited by malnutrition and famine, disease, and labor conscription. In fact, government policies and economic and political inequalities, rather than human fertility, were the major causes of forest destruction, through the promotion of coffee and other export crops; colonial tax policies that stimulated migration and land clearing; and privatization of common lands for extractive concessions.[13]

The Philippines, another island nation with rapid population growth and internationally recognized biodiversity hotspots, is also held up as an example of the challenges human populations pose for environmental and natural resource management. Save the Children’s PESCO-Dev project[14] and PATH Foundation Philippines’ IPOPCORM initiative[15] are PE initiatives that combine reproductive health with coastal management. Both projects began with the premise that population growth is an important cause of environmental degradation, so they have emphasized family planning as a complement to natural resource management. In contrast, the Center for Empowerment and Resource Development (CERD)’s coastal management efforts began not with a particular vision of the links between population and environment, but rather a commitment to coastal communities’ “control, use and management of the sea and its resources.”[16]

CERD’s research highlighted a series of complex, interlocking issues influencing both environmental and human health. These included the privatization of public lands and eviction of fishing communities; illegal quarrying of coral and sand; the cutting of mangroves to make way for private resorts and fishponds; the intrusion of large corporate fishing vessels into areas previously reserved for subsistence fishing; and the lack of political and economic power of subsistence fisherfolk.[17] This rights-based approach gives a fuller understanding of the interlocking environmental and social challenges and provides local people more options for addressing them. It also frees women to make reproductive health and family planning decisions solely on the basis of personal health and individual needs rather than as part of a conservation strategy.

Women’s Health
Advocates for linking family planning services to conservation or development projects make the argument that such linkages are developed in response to community health needs.[18] It is not clear, however, that the majority of current projects are really responding to locally perceived needs. Whereas earlier conservation projects incorporated health care as a motivator to engage communities,[19] now PE projects are being initiated according to a vision that prioritizes reproductive health and family planning from the outset.

When NGOs arrive with predetermined agendas, the danger is that these will be imposed on local communities, irrespective of local interest. An example of this is a PE project carried out in Manicoré, Brazil by Management Sciences for Health, where reproductive health classes, rather than responding to local demand, were actually a requirement for participation in a handicraft project aimed at women’s economic empowerment.[20]

Although the Manicoré example may be an exception, as long as Malthusian narratives are part of program visions they are likely to be communicated to, and potentially imposed upon, target communities. PE programs frequently use “information, education, and communication” (IEC) campaigns and “social marketing” practices that have the potential to create pressures within the target community for individuals to participate in family planning and other activities. One example is the “Champion Community Voahary Salama competition” in Madagascar, where communities identify goals for vaccination, family planning, and the adoption of agricultural techniques[21] and “participatory monitoring” is used to determine whether a community has reached “champion status.”[22] CI[23] and other NGOs have also adopted this model, described as “community target setting, monitoring and celebration.”[24] This mix of externally supplied education and information with “community” goal setting for, and monitoring of, individual behaviors, raises important questions about the nature of participatory PE programs and even the concept of voluntary family planning.

A related concern regarding PE projects in remote rural areas is that the implementing organizations’ population agenda, combined with limited resources, may lead to services being offered based on what’s doable and effective rather than on what’s most appropriate for women’s health. Evidence from some projects suggests that the drive to get some family planning services to remote areas has indeed led to choices regarding birth control technologies based on logistical and budgetary factors rather than on the needs, desires, and medical situation of the women and men involved.

Health concerns are raised by an emphasis in some PE projects on long-acting contraceptives. As a description of one project explains, “Depo-Provera is offered as a simple, secure, long-term, easily reversible, culturally acceptable method of family planning.”[25] However, the health risks of long-acting contraceptives such as Depo-Provera,[26] and the need for proper screening and follow-up of users, raise questions about the appropriateness of these contraceptives in remote rural areas.

Finally, although “healthy communities” and “healthy families” are part of the titles and language of many PE projects, contributions to health care frequently are limited to narrow family planning services. For example, although an objective of the CI project in Mexico’s Lacandona Forest included the provision of “information and training to improve maternal and child health, and reduce associated mortality rates,” activities carried out under this heading appear to have been much more limited: classes for medical workers in reproductive health and family planning, and provision of contraceptives.[27] Voahary Salama’s integrated PHE program in Madagascar has addressed a wider range of health issues including family planning, immunization, maternal and child nutrition, diarrheal disease prevention, and prevention of malaria and other infectious diseases in conjunction with work to promote reforestation and introduce new agricultural techniques.[28] Yet even this broader focus emphasizes health of mothers and children under five rather than all members of a community.

Conclusions
While integrated approaches to conservation offer real opportunities to treat local people as partners and meet human needs and conservation goals simultaneously, the specific and narrow focus on links between population and environment undercuts many of the benefits of the integrated approach and creates its own problems. PE programs promote the idea that strengthening and empowering local communities are key to both improving lives and meeting conservation goals, yet this urge to take a pro-human approach is undermined by the Malthusian narratives that underpin PE projects. The provision of reproductive health and family planning services in remote rural areas needs to be rights-based, not justified through dubious linkages between population and environmental degradation.

One of the justifications for PE projects is that they respond to the needs of women in the communities being served. However, a priori assumptions can lead to narrow interpretations of local health needs and a bias in favor of particular interventions. Local health needs will only be met if projects are guided by genuine participatory processes not limited by the population or conservation agendas of funders or implementing organizations.

This issue of DifferenTakes is based on a larger study titled “Rethinking the Link: A Critical Review of Population-Environment Programs,” which can be found at

James Oldham is founder and director of Las Lianas Resource Center, an organization that partners with indigenous communities in the Amazon region of South America in work for cultural autonomy and environmental protection.

References

[1] Vogel, C.G., and Engelman, R. (1999). Forging the Link: Emerging accounts of population and environment work in communities. Washington, DC: Population Action International. p.22.

[2] Zinn, F. and MacKie-Mason, J. (1999, Fall). “University of Michigan Population Fellows Programs.” PECS News. 1(1), 4-5. (Woodrow Wilson Center, Environmental Change and Security Project).

[3] Kleinau, E. and Talbot, J. (2003, Spring). “When the whole is greater than the sum of its parts: Integrated indicators for population-environment programs.” PECS News. Issue 8. (Woodrow Wilson Center, Environmental Change and Security Project). p.10.

[4] Vogel and Engelman. op. cit. pp.5-6.

[5] See, for example, Cincotta, R. P. and Engelman, R. (2000). Nature’s Place. Washington, DC: Population Action International.

[6] Conservation International (CI). (2005). Conservation programs: Population and environment. Retrieved 11 September, 2005, from http://www.conservation.org/xp/CIWEB/programs/population/.

[7] Conservation International (CI). (2005). Meeting population and conservation needs in Mexico’s Selva Lacandona: Interim report to the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. Grant #2003-25653. May 1- December 31, 2004. p.1.

[8] Guha, R. (1997). “The authoritarian biologist and the arrogance of anti-humanism: wildlife conservation in the Third World.” The Ecologist 27(1), 14-20.

[9] Tiffen, M., Mortimore, M., and Gichuki, F. (1993). More people, less erosion: environmental recovery in Kenya. Chichester: John Wiley.

[10] Sayer, J.A. (1995). Science and international nature conservation. Jakarta: Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) Occasional Paper No. 4.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Cincotta and Engelman. op. cit. p.66.

[13] Jarosz, L. (1993). “Defining and explaining tropical deforestation: shifting cultivation and population growth in colonial Madagascar (1896-1940).” Economic Geography. 69 (4), 366-379.

[14] Layng, R. (2002/2003, Winter). “Strengthening formative environmental research through the inclusion of population variables.” Population-Environment Fellows Newsletter. (Population-Environment Fellows Program, University of Michigan.)

[15] Path Foundation Philippines, Inc. (2005). Integrated population and coastal resource management (IPOPCORM). Retrieved 11 September, 2005, from http://www.pfpi.org/ipopcorm.html.

[16] Melgar, M & Rodriguez, M. (1995) Formation of CRM council for the CBCRM of Pagapas Bay, Western Batangas. Rome: UN FAO. Retrieved 11 September, 2005, from http://www.geocities.com/cbcrm_rc/CBCRMLibrary/CaseStudies/melgar.htm.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Vogel and Engelman. op. cit. p.9.

[19] Margoluis, R., Myers, S., Allen, J., Roca, J., Melnyk, M., & Swanson, J. (2001). An ounce of prevention: Making the link between health and conservation. Washington, DC: Biodiversity Support Program. p.6.

[20] Feldacker, C. (2004, Spring). “Serving the stewards: Improving reproductive health and protecting the Amazon rainforest.” PECS News. Issue 9. (Woodrow Wilson Center, Environmental Change and Security Project).

[21] Kleinau and Talbot. op. cit. p.12.

[22] Kleinau, E., Randriamananjara, O., & Rosensweig, F. (2005). Healthy people in a healthy environment: Impact of an integrated population, health, environment program in Madagascar. Final Report (Draft). p.36.

[23] Conservation International (CI). (2004). Healthy families, healthy forests: Combining reproductive health with biodiversity protection for effective programming. Year 2 (FY04) annual results report. Associate Grant No. GPH-G-00-02 under Leader Associates Cooperative Agreement No. LAG-A-00-00-00046-00. p.14.

[24] Kleinau et al. op. cit. p.7.

[25] Population Action International (PAI). (2005). Community-based population and environment: CBPE Projects Database. Retrieved 7 April, 2005, from http://www.populationaction.org/resources/data_and_graphs/cbpe/index.php

[26] For an overview of the health risks of Depo-Provera see Oliver, A. & Dukhanova, D. (2005, Spring). “Depo-Provera: Old concerns, new risks.” DifferenTakes 38. (Population and Development Program, Hampshire College). http://popdev.hampshire.edu/projects/dt/dt32.php.

[27] Conservation International (CI). (2004a). Meeting population and conservation needs in Mexico’s Selva Lacandona: Final report to the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. Grant #2000-13045.

[28] Kleinau et al. op. cit.df
Atwar Bahjat: Courageous journalist seeking truth in Iraq, 1976 - February 22, 2006 Print E-mail

February 26 2006

Published on Sunday, February 26, 2006 by the Sunday Times /UK

Atwar Bahjat: Death of a Fighter for Truth

 

by Hala Jaber
As one of Iraq’s most gifted journalists, Atwar Bahjat covered many funerals, capturing the grief, indignation and fury of countless mourners struggling to comprehend their country’s descent into sectarian conflict.
Yesterday her own funeral made news when the procession through Baghdad was attacked, first by a gunman and then by a bomber. Three people died, all members of the security forces, compounding the anguish and bewilderment of Atwar’s family and friends at her killing last Wednesday.
The only solace for those of us who knew her came from our memories of a brave woman who fought a fierce battle for something she believed in: the truth.
I last saw Atwar a few weeks ago in Iraq. She was her usual smiling self, beautifully dressed in one of the colourful headscarves that she loved to wear. Her brow furrowed only when she talked about the disintegration of Iraq. Chronicling its collapse for the al-Arabiya news channel had become her mission in life.
She invited me to lunch, as she always did. As ever, I declined. Iraq has become such a dangerous place for journalists from the western media that I could not justify the risk of driving to her home. To die covering a story would be one thing. To die — or even to be kidnapped — on my way to lunch just would not be acceptable.
I first met Atwar in the southern Iraqi city of Najaf. We were the only two Arab women journalists there and immediately struck up a friendship. Her contacts book was placed at my disposal.
We giggled about how the clerics ordered her to shroud herself in black and remove any sign of make-up when in Najaf’s holy shrine.
Atwar refused to accept their strictures, arguing that the colour in her scarf should not matter as long as she was decently covered. Her argument prevailed and she earned the respect of those who until then had seen her only on television.
Atwar’s was a famous face in the Arab world. Her modern Islamic attire in pale pinks, blues and greens became her hallmark and her celebrity drew viewers. She did not just report the news; her reporting went to the core of the issues that have convulsed Iraq and confronted the extremists with the results of their actions.
Not everyone liked what they saw. Death threats drove Atwar away to Qatar but she could not settle. She believed that her place was in Iraq.
She returned to a new home in a different district where she believed the risks would be lower. She convinced herself that being an Iraqi Muslim woman working for an Arab organisation conferred some immunity from danger.
I know that feeling. But the cruel fate that Atwar met last week showed that we Arabs are in just as much danger.
On Thursday morning when I logged on to the news from Iraq, Atwar’s face was staring out of the screen with details of her murder.
Nothing prepares one for such a moment — for the feelings of despair, helplessness and even guilt for being alive, combined with a terrible fear of dying in a similar way.
For the first few minutes Atwar’s smile flashed in my mind, alternating with visions of body bags, bullet-ridden bodies and beheadings — the nightmares I banish when I am back from Iraq in the safety of my home in London.
For the next hour I read every item I could find about her death, searching in vain for any clue that might explain it. I needed to make sense of it, yet all I could think was that I had declined her invitations to lunch.
The bleak facts were that Atwar had driven to her native Samarra after the destruction of its Shi’ite shrine but found her route blocked by security checkpoints. Wearing a green coat and matching headscarf, she made two live broadcasts from just outside the city.
Her third broadcast, just after 6pm, was her last and her make-up failed to conceal her strain. Not only was she tired; she was telling colleagues she was worried that she could not get into the city, night was falling and she was a long way from home.
A small, hostile crowd gathered. Then two gunmen arrived in a pick-up truck. She appealed to the crowd for help but the gunmen dispersed them by firing into the air.
Soon afterwards more shots were heard. Atwar’s body and those of her camerman and sound man were found next to their van. The green coat was ripped by two bullets in the back. She also took two to the head. She was 30 years old.
Why do journalists like Atwar continue to report from Iraq, where 64 of us have been killed in three years? It is not for money; nor is it for the adrenaline “highs” that so-called war junkies are supposedly hooked on.
For Atwar, covering Iraq had become a moral obligation. Journalists have become the eyes, ears and voices of millions of Iraqis.
Half Sunni and half Shi’ite, Atwar’s dedication to impartial reporting made her enemies on both sides of Iraq’s sectarian divide: she could never satisfy one without infuriating the other.
If only her enemies had paid more heed to the symbol of unity that she always wore around her neck — a golden locket in the shape of Iraq.
© 2006 Times Newspapers Ltd.
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