Of these three, which is the odd man out: Steven Sotloff, James Foley, Muhanad Akidi?
They were all journalists murdered by Islamic State, the Sunni jihadists fighting in Iraq and Syria. But you have likely never heard of Mr. Akidi. Why not? Because he was an Iraqi Kurd, not an American.
It is hard not to detect more than a whiff of hypocrisy here, in a part of the world where the United States is often accused of hypocrisy. And the whiff is particularly rank when it comes from the media, which should hold itself to higher standards.
Only two online news outlets reported Akidi’s murder by Tuesday evening: The Russian news agency RIA Novosti and a small Belgian newspaper published in Flemish, De Standaard.
Akidi is the first Iraqi reporter whose death at the hands of IS has been officially confirmed, though a cameraman for a local TV station, Raad al-Azzawi, was killed last Friday according to his relatives, after refusing to work for IS in Tikrit.
Foreign journalists individually are exercised over Akidi’s death, as evinced by their copious Tweets on his fate. But they are not writing anything for their papers or broadcasting anything on their TV stations.
That may be because there is not much to say, actually; few if us know anything at all about our colleague Muhanad, other than that he was a Kurd and that he was kidnapped by IS forces in Mosul, in northern Iraq, two months ago.
But that means that for two months none of us bothered to try to find out anything about Akidi or what had happened to him.
Granted, he is just one of many Iraqi civilians caught up in this conflict. In September alone, over 1,100 Iraqis died of acts of terrorism or violence, according to the United Nations. Journalists aren’t special, in this sense. Iraq’s minorities – Christians, Yazidis, Kurds – can attest to the vengeful slaughter perpetrated by IS.
Moreover, the murders of Mr. Sotloff and Mr. Foley, who were abducted in Syria, not Iraq, were videotaped and uploaded for propaganda purposes, precisely because they were Americans and their deaths would shock and appall a Western audience. Their profession appears to have been less important than their nationality; IS has now started butchering Western aid workers.
It’s a long time since I covered the Middle East. But I am quite sure that many people there have just the same suspicions of Western intentions today as they ever did – that America and its allies only get involved to protect their own interests, not those of the locals.
A cynical journalist might say that is only to be expected. But even the most cynical journalist might hope that the Western “mainstream media” as we are often sneeringly called, would pay a little more attention to the locals.