Categories
Foreign policy

Government as Superman?

Photo: woodwalker/wikimedia commons
Photo: woodwalker/wikimedia commons

In late July, Shane Bauer, Josh Fattal and Sarah Shourd set out for a hike in the mountainous border region between Iraq and Iran. The three hikers had been warned not to hike in this area, as the border between the two countries is not clearly marked. The hikers went anyway – and they were promptly detained by Iranian border guards when they unintentionally crossed into Iran.

The trio’s recklessness played into the hands of the Iranian government. The three Americans have become a kind of cheap trump card for Tehran, which claims that the hikers are ‘spies’ sent by the reviled US. The incident gave the Iranian government a convenient pretext to distract from domestic problems and divert popular attention toward a common outside enemy.

Meanwhile, there is the story of the adventurous British yachting couple, Paul and Rachel Chandler, who set out on a dangerous voyage in the pirate-infested waters of East Africa. They had also been warned. The manager of the yacht club in the Seychelles from where the Chandlers disembarked had strongly advised them against undertaking their planned journey to the African mainland due to pirate activity. They went anyway. And the pirates caught them.

For the pirates, the two Brits are a valuable prize – they are citizens of a wealthy country in exchange for whom a lucrative ransom can be expected.

Adventure tourism is in vogue. Perhaps life has become too predictable, too mundane, too pedestrian inside the protected cocoon of western consumer societies. So at least in our spare time, some of us like to go for the real adventure and smell real danger.

But what if something goes wrong? What if you get caught or kidnapped?

No worries. Your government will do everything within its power to bail you out.

Categories
Uncategorized Journalism Security

The Media – a Hostage’s Friend or Foe?

The story of The New York Times journalist David Rohde’s escape from his captors in Afghanistan raises interesting questions about the role of the media in hostage takings. As has been widely reported, the major media outlets displayed a high level of solidarity by keeping mum about Rohde’s capture for 7 months. By resisting their natural urge to report the hostage taking of one of their peers, the international journalism corps honored the request of Rohde’s family and The New York Times not to make the story public.

Some commentators refer to this “media blackout” as a mere case of “professional courtesy.” They point out the double-standard of journalists seeming to be more concerned about a hostage’s safety when the victim is a member of their own profession. At the same time, they freely report on the hostage taking of aid workers, soldiers, or tourists.

The intriguing question here is, however, did this “media blackout” strategy work in Rohde’s case? We have no way of answering this question. After all, Rohde did not get released. He escaped his captors.