Ten years ago today, I stumbled out of a hole in the middle of Afghanistan and into a world that would, for a while, be defined by my trauma.
In October 2008, I was kidnapped by a bunch of wannabe Taliban while I was reporting on the internally displaced Afghans that had set up camp on the outskirts of Kabul (a camp the size of which has nearly doubled since).
My kidnappers were disenfranchised young men who wanted to make a buck, either through ransom or by selling me to the real Taliban. I was stabbed and thrown down a hole in the ground. I was raped, abused and chained to myself, starved on a diet of sugar cookies and juice boxes.
After a month, I was marched from the hole blindfolded, a gun to my head, thinking I might be executed. It turned out I was being released because Afghan authorities had rounded up the family of the ringleader and thrown them all in jail.
I went home to Canada and tried to pretend none of it happened. I hated being the story, so I ignored my post-traumatic stress symptoms and went back to work.
What troubles me the most these days is how much more dangerous the world has become for journalists.
Fast forward 10 years, and so much has changed. I finally sought counselling for PTSD. I left my staff job to freelance because I felt sidelined at my network. I will admit to still having occasional nightmares. I can't be in small dark spaces. But what troubles me the most these days is how much more dangerous the world has become for journalists.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, nearly 900 journalists have been killed since I walked out of that hole with my life. It is a sobering scroll down a list of names, dates and countries. The cause of death is classified as either "murder," "crossfire" or "dangerous assignment."
Some of the names are familiar: Zabihullah Tammana (Afghanistan, crossfire) was my friend and collaborator. Michelle Lang (Afghanistan, crossfire) was a fellow Canadian colleague. Marie Colvin (Syria, crossfire) was legendary, now the subject of a feature film. Jamal Khashoggi (Saudi Arabia, murder) still shocks me to my core.
In April, I was in Kabul 2018 on assignment — my fourth trip back since I walked out of that hole — and the tension was palpable. Our security consultants were getting threat assessments on a daily — no, hourly — basis: warnings about suicide bombers driving around the city in a white Corolla, about possible attacks planned for the diplomatic area, and chatter about the Taliban or ISIS targeting voter registration centres (this one materialized one morning as we were driving past; more than 60 were killed).
The day we left, a suicide bomber on a motorcycle blew himself up not far from where we were staying, on a road behind the American embassy. As local journalists rushed to cover the aftermath, a second bomber detonated his explosives, killing nine of them, including Shah Marai, AFP's chief photographer in Afghanistan.It was the deadliest day for journalists in a country that understands all too well what a dangerous profession journalism has become.
Yet, none of this has stopped brave Afghans from continuing to tell their story to the world. On the contrary, it has inspired a whole generation of young people — many of them women — to pursue the truth, to hold power to account.
So when the American president — historically considered the leader of the free world — attacks the press, ejects reporters he doesn't like and calls the media the "enemy of the people," it emboldens those who would want to hurt journalists, be they terrorists, governments or anyone running from the truth, anywhere.
Every day, reporters around the world are risking their lives in pursuit of that truth, and to hold power to account. They risk being kidnapped, jailed or murdered for just doing their jobs. Being attacked with ignorant words from a bully pulpit with a presidential seal puts every journalist at greater risk. It's truly a whole new world — a traumatic one that is so much more dangerous than the one I barely escaped a decade ago.
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