Atwar Bahjat Tribute

International Press Freedom Awards

Atwar Bahjat
By Mohammad Krieshan

Al-Quds al-Arabi
March 1, 2006

There are no words to honestly describe the wicked nature of those murderers who abducted Atwar Bahjat and her two colleagues from among the crowd, killed them, and dumped their bodies, perforated from head to toe with bullets of treachery. No one can imagine, even in the ugliest and most terrifying scenario, that a man, regardless of his religion or sect, would treat a beautiful, cheerful, peaceful, and defenseless young woman with such brutality. This is a level of brutality impossible to tolerate even if committed by one’s fiercest and most malicious enemies, so how could one accept such cruelty from their own coreligionists? Neither do the simplest human values that bring us together -regardless of our religious background and origins- endorse such brutality, nor does the bond of family or conviction forgive such behavior.

Atwar was killed for her personality, as someone said, unlike many of her colleagues. She did not die in a bombing, or in a gun battle, or at a checkpoint. Indeed, he who asked for her meant to target her in person. Nothing, not anything could justify causing her harm, be it an issue with news reports she sent, opinions she expressed, or a TV station she worked for or another she joined, not to mention that the least humane considerations would never allow a normal person to attempt to assassinate her in such disgrace. Abducting and threatening her could have been an “adequate deterrent.” We do not approve of that tactic either, but still it cannot be compared to killing a woman who offended no one, and was the only sponsor to her mother and sister after her father had died.

When Atwar applied to work at Al-Jazeera’s new office in Baghdad, after the city had fallen in late May and early June of 2003, my colleague Tayseer Alouni and I happened to be the first to meet and encourage her. We felt she possessed overwhelming passion for a profession she first started in the press and pursued later in Iraqi television. Very quickly, Atwar proved herself, especially in that she, as a woman, was not deterred by the risks of daily news coverage of bloodshed in Iraq. She was always the first to volunteer to go to the scene of the story when explosions or clashes took place. I remember very well when she came to me once during the first days of the siege of Fallujah in April 2004, upset and grumbling that the office director had not sent her to cover turbulent developments there, but rather preferred to dispatch other male colleagues of hers. I tried in vain to calm her down by telling her that it was out of fear for her life that she was not dispatched and not because of any doubts about her competence.

This was precisely why Atwar lost patience after the office was shut down in August 2004. She could neither adapt to working with the newsroom in Doha nor on the special coverage in Jordan and Cairo. She had passion for Iraq, and the Iraqi map dangled from a necklace around her neck. For this passion, she returned yearning to Iraq, searching for fiery events as if she were a butterfly indifferent to being close to light that was definitely burning her. Or perhaps she thought her innocence, grace, and good relationship with all political factions would intercede for her at times of adversity. Even when she put on the hijab, I did not want to ask her about it, as I learned that this purely personal decision had perhaps involved caution against clashing with the general atmosphere that had become dominant throughout the country.

Atwar’s courage and bravery compel me to imagine her in her last hours arguing with her abductors and refuting their logic, but those with whom she dealt were the type of people who locked their minds and threw the key in the Tigris or the Euphrates, and so her arguments did not make a difference to them. Perhaps she even infuriated them more with her argument as her body beared witness, perforated with bullets of ignorance and grudge from head to toe.
Two days after she was martyred, a colleague at the newsroom told me that Atwar called her a day before the calamity took place, and sent wishes of peace to me… God’s peace be upon you, Atwar, now that you are before the Lord of Peace Himself.