Regretfully, another report of violence in Iraq doesn't surprise us. But when this brutality hits close to home it gives us pause, and it should. We are taken out of our protective mental cocoons and made to think, to think and consider those who face daily danger while assisting others regain basic necessities of life; to pause and pray for their safety and success.
There is a second army in Iraq that we read and hear of only occasionally. It is a courageous group of workers striving to rebuild a country. Despite the danger, they are at work to restore a judicial system, guide the crafting of a new constitution, rebuild an electrical system, train police, refurbish schools and supply them with basic materials, reconstruct and upgrade water systems and oil pipelines, and repair and supply hospitals. Some are driving trucks filled with supplies, teaching, advising, feeding, or working to bring a measure of sanity to people surrounded by violence and brutality.
This army of workers faces down danger every day. Contractors estimate a third of their costs involve providing security for their workers, and the death toll for security guards is high. While salaries may be high, many of these workers are responding to a more basic compulsion to bring aid and order to the people of Iraq regardless of the violence that surrounds them. For many people in Iraq, these workers are their link to hope.
And the only reason we could possibly know any of this is that included in this army of workers are journalists - men and women striving to help the rest of the world understand what is truly going on in the midst of the confusion of daily bombing and violence. Terrorism and corruption depend on darkness, ignorance, and intimidation in their battle against progress and order. On the most basic level, the journalist records events - but his or her work goes far deeper than this. Their observations, contacts, and investigation also uncover corruption, venality, dysfunction, or malfeasance. This uncovering is an essential step in nurturing Iraq's progress. But the reporter's work goes further than this. Journalists also highlight the people and programs that are effectively changing people's lives. Reporting on what is working is as essential as uncovering what is malfunctioning if people are to evaluate any situation intelligently.
Information is essential to progress. Journalists are committed to helping us understand what is going on in Iraq and every other area of the world. The journalist's work is a key factor in the "healing of the nations." Often it is the journalist that brings us face to face with the people of the world. We can read about and debate a policy without any sense of its human dimension. The effective reporter serves as a bridge enabling us to see how abstract policy actually touches families and daily life - for good or ill.
Over the past month Steven Vincent supplied this paper with reports from Basra that served to bring a measure of clarity to events in that part of Iraq. On Tuesday he was murdered after stopping to exchange currency. Hisinterpreter, Nouraya Itais Wadi, was gravely wounded as well. Beside providing reports for us, he also maintained a website ( redzoneblog.com ) and wrote pieces for The New York Times and National Review. He was working on a book exploring the history of Basra.
The world is indebted to people like Steven Vincent. We are indebted to the entire army of workers who outface the daily threat of danger to restore life, to rebuild, to give others the same basic services along with the taste of freedom and opportunity that most of us take as a matter of course. This selfless courage, this drive to help one's neighbor, is a force that will outlast the primitive barbarity trying to cow a population. There is a spirit that works powerfully in men and women to push forward regardless of the danger involved. These individuals deserve our persistent prayers.
• Richard Bergenheim is editor of the Monitor.