THE BLOG

James Foley Did Not Die In Vain

ISTANBUL -- We've lost another one, a great one.

I never had the pleasure of crossing paths with journalist James Foley. He was kidnapped in Syria before I got the chance to meet him. And yesterday, his life was cut short in the most horrific of ways. An online video surfaced showing the widely feared extremist group known as the Islamic State behead him with a small knife.

I was at a friend's house in Istanbul with two other journalists when we got the news. At first we thought, "Maybe they're lying."

But then, standing in the kitchen in silence and scrolling through Twitter on my phone, I found a link to the video. I clicked to the very end, naively hoping it would cut out and Foley could still be alive. I was wrong.

Foley's brutal killing is a journalist's worst nightmare.

Many of my friends and colleagues knew Foley well, but my idea of who he was as a man can only come from their stories.

"He saved my life twice before I'd known him a full month," Clare Morgana Gillis, a journalist and friend of Foley who was kidnapped in Libya with him in 2011, wrote last year after he disappeared in Syria. Other people speak of his unassuming demeanor, his gentle kindness, his endless desire to push life's limits.

I did not know the James Foley they knew, and now I never will. But I do know his work. As a journalist, Foley was a tireless seeker of truth. His passion was obvious, his talent, remarkable.

A particular photo circulating on Twitter today shows a group of Syrian men holding a roughly translated banner commemorating Foley. Its last line really stuck with me: "Humanity is proud of James." If we remember anything about James, it should not be his brutal death or the terror his killers seek to instill, but this pride.

It's days like this, when tragedy hangs heavy, that I realize just how important -- and sometimes, fatal -- bearing witness can be. I've thought about the worst-case scenario many times while reporting in Gaza, Iraq, Egypt.

I cannot imagine how Foley's parents felt when they heard the news of his death, or saw the photos and video from his beheading. I often think of my own parents' reactions when faced with the possibility of a rocket attack, a suicide bomb or a mob sex assault. I take every precaution to minimize risks.

What happened to Foley is the unthinkable. But he is not gone: The memory of him, and those like him, drives me to be a better journalist, a better person.

His brutal killing is terrifying, yes. It's impossible not to think, "This could have been any of us."

But giving into fear is exactly what the Islamic State wants from us. It's a simple, effective weapon of war with which they've been driving out entire villages, drunk on blood-thirsty power.

In the wake of Foley's heavily publicized killing, I think it's essential to remember the people whose deaths and imprisonment rarely make headlines: the local journalists, fixers, translators, drivers, interviewees and hosts in places like Syria, Iraq, Gaza and elsewhere who have helped journalists like Foley, and like me, do our jobs. Without them, we would be utterly lost.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, roughly 20 journalists, both local and foreign, are currently missing in Syria -- like Steven Sotloff, who the Islamic State says it may kill, depending on America's next move in Iraq. And at least 69 journalists have died covering the conflict there.

Just last week in Gaza, the AP's Simon Camilli and his local Palestinian translator, Ali Shehda Abu Afash, were killed when an unexploded bomb, believed to have been dropped in an Israeli airstrike, went off.

And lest we forget, Al Jazeera journalists Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed are languishing in an Egyptian prison with sentences of seven to 10 years for merely doing their jobs. Meanwhile, foreign governments like that of the U.S. continue to provide arms and aid to the country that jailed them. The list goes on.

If the Islamic State, or any group or government for that matter, thinks intimidating, imprisoning and killing journalists will stop the truth from coming out, then they are sorely mistaken. James Foley did not die in vain.

Here are some of the reactions of journalists on Twitter to Foley's killing: