Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Posts Tagged ‘Pakistan

Splitting the Baby

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This is about how reportage and interviewing connect. And this reference to King Solomon points to one of storytelling’s ancient problems.

I’ve just listened to Malala Yousafzai speak boldly against the Taliban attack on her last October. Their shooting of her may have been in line with their religious and political priorities to keep women subjugated according to their interpretation of Islam. But it backfired severely in a world that is becoming more intolerant of any culture that suppresses any part of its population that could be helping to lift it instead. As I listened to BBC reporters interview three ten year old girls; two in a Pakistani school for girls, and one making mud bricks at a family home though, I thought about the responsibility of journalism.

Journalism says the truth must be visible for all to see and verify, even if that means exposing the people with the most to lose to the people who want most to insure they lose it. Those two girls, identified by their real names, are in danger now, as far as I can tell. The third, making mud bricks, far from a school and other girls, is no threat to religious fundamentalism.

Should the girls in school be afraid for their lives? That’s a lot to ask of ten year olds. But the adults should certainly be. The world has rallied around Malala Yousafzai and has made her into a symbol of the emancipation of girls and women from radical sects and muslim extremists. Take note however, that on Pakistani social media, Ms. Yousafzai is being criticized for being a “Drama Queen” and reflecting unfavorably upon Islam. These things said about an innocent women who took a bullet to her head after she dared to speak out about the right of girls to go to school. So even if these groups don’t dominate Pakistan – the country with the highest percentage of girls not in school – their views certainly seem to.

Does that make Pakistan a pyrrah? It’s a debatable questions, especially if its citizens are looking at Octomom, or Girls Gone Wild videos and asking themselves, “Is this what Western freedom does to women?” But it doesn’t justify murder or torture. It doesn’t mean that they then have the right to rape and kill and mutilate females who refuse the polar opposite mold.  And an equally important question for this post; does that mean Western media should point out girls trying to attain both personal freedom and national pride despite these practitioners of tribalism only to be raped or killed or mutilated into subjugation? The amazing thing about political freedom is the right of choice. As stupid and demeaning as a behavior may be, a free society allows it as long as it isn’t doing harm to yourself or someone else, and as long as it isn’t so revolting that people eventually can’t stand it anymore. But the threshold for revulsion can be high in free societies.

I will forever be torn over journalism’s ironic necessity to tell the story with full attribution and disclosure of someone who, more than anything, needs anonymity to survive. I understand without it, anyone can claim any set of circumstances is true, and thus, manipulate an audience without proper facts. I understand a cause celeb can bring many people out of the shadows and give their own experience voice. And I understand that some people tell their stories while accepting their fate that they may become martyrs for their causes. But in many cases, our need to be exactly sure of who these people are only puts huge fluorescent targets on their backs, with their only comfort being that the fickle West might remember their cause even if it doesn’t remember the life they lost because of it.

Written by Interviewer

July 13, 2013 at 21:54

“Foreign” Policy

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This has nothing to do with interviews.  I’ll always try to make that disclamer in advance of a general rant.

The announcement this morning about North Korea’s successful test of a high yield, small sized nuclear weapon sent the diplomatic community worldwide into a tizzy.  It was “shocking” and a “violation” of warnings against pursuit of a weapons program by the international community.  “The Game is Changed” as one commenter said on one of the morning talk shows.


In 2005, when Barack Obama was making his debut as guest speaker at the Democratic National Convention, North Korea had just made it’s first test of a nuclear device.  It was what was called at the time “a fizzle.”  Tom Clancy fans know that means it was a bomb that didn’t blow up the way it was supposed to.

Pundits and strategic analysts at the time ridiculed the North Koreans, saying their program was “decades” away from anything of consequence.  Yet, the world was still reverberating from the news that a Pakistani engineer had sold nuclear secrets to Iran, and North Korea on how to build and deliver better bombs.  He was made a hero at home despite howls from the West to try and punish him for providing material support to terrorist regimes.

Then, there were all of those test launches by the North Koreans.  Their announcement of their development of a long range ballistic missile that might reach California.  Their test firing of a missile over Japan.  And a second nuclear test.

And now, a successful test.  Suddenly, it’s a crisis only seven years after the first warning, and only 19 years after President Clinton tried to veer the North Koreans away from heavy water to light water reactors and their much earlier thrust toward the bomb.   Suddenly, the North Koreans have the clout they have as relentlessly pursued as have the Iranians and the Pakistanis before them.  These regimes believe that only when they have the potential to deliver nuclear bombs do they get the respect they say they deserve and our foreign policy proves them right.  Yet, in the course leading up to their development, our government, for some reason, seemed powerless to stop them.

I understand the whole “sovereignty of nations” thing.  For us in the West, it’s an extension of the supremacy of the individual as is described in our Constitution.  It’s what the charter of the United Nations is based on … if sovereign nations can run roughshod over other sovereign nations, regardless of whether they’re international pariahs, then no nation is safe and by extension, at least here in the US, no individual is safe either.  The whole “internal affairs” argument countries use to keep other countries out of their murderous affairs breaks down if a higher moral imperative starts getting thrown around since, you never know when somebody might use the same arguement against your government.  The refusal of the United States to be a participant in the International Criminal Court and thus, subject to the valuation of governments it may consider less legitimate is an excellent example of that concern.

But now the most unstable regime on Earth is starting to look like the savviest – the jester with a gun.  The government that was berated and held at arms length as too smelly to be admitted to the table of “civilized” countries now has a working nuclear weapons program.  As the West hand ranged, lost inside of its own sturm and drang, the North Koreans puttered along like the little reactor that could.  And unless the Chinese, who by the way, don’t necessarily like the equivalent of a crazy person sleeping in their basement; unless they use whatever clout they have to tamp down North Korea’s lust for power and respect, they’ll be just as nervous and miserable as the rest of us.

Why no Stuxnet for Pyongyang?  Didn’t they have centrifuges too?  I mean, for them to get this far (further than the Iranians, apparently), didn’t they need have to have had a bunch of them spinning for years already?  But not a peep in the media.  Why not?

Foreign policy.  It certainly is.

Written by Interviewer

February 12, 2013 at 23:50