Murder took a heavy toll of journalists last year. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, by December 2009, 71 had been slain worldwide. The committee described the year as the deadliest in over four decades. The previous record of 67 journalists’ deaths was set in 1967, when violence was widespread in Iraq. The Nigerian reporter Bayo Ohu, for example, was shot at the front door of his house in a suburb of Lagos. Fellow reporters believe he was killed because he was investigating allegations of fraud in the government’s customs office. Still more recently, on Jan. 8, 2010, Valentín Valdés Espinosa was abducted and found the next morning bound and tortured in Saltillo, Mexico. He had been reporting on a Mexican army drug raid that led to the arrest of a cartel leader. Twenty-nine of the murders took place in a single incident in November in the Philippines, in a politically related ambush of local reporters. The deaths of some two dozen reporters are still under investigation as to whether they were linked to their reporting.
Besides murders, imprisonment also enters the report’s dark picture. As of Dec. 1, 2009, several governments were holding reporters, editors, bloggers and photojournalists behind bars, with China jailing 26, the most of any nation. Since then Iran has moved to the top of the list. As of February of this year, Iran’s government was holding at least 47 journalists, more than any other country since 1996, and the numbers of journalists jailed in China, Cuba, Eritrea and Myanmar remain high. The C.P.J.’s deputy director has appealed to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to speak out more forcefully on freedom of the press. Too many intrepid journalists have paid a high price for highlighting human rights abuses that otherwise would have remained hidden behind a blanket of impunity.
Women and Parents Needed
“We can hypothesize that a greater female presence, not at a subordinate level, would have been able to rip the veil of masculine secrecy that in the past often covered the denunciation of these misdeeds with silence,” wrote Lucetta Scaraffia, an Italian journalist and historian, in a hard-hitting article on sexual abuse by members of the clergy. “Women, in fact, both religious and lay, by nature would have been more likely to defend young people in cases of sexual abuse, allowing the church to avoid the grave damage brought by these sinful acts,” she wrote.
Many commentators (both men and women) have made similar observations since the abuse scandals broke in the United States in 2002. The surprise is that this article appeared in L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s semi-official newspaper. Germany and Ireland have lately been convulsed by clergy abuse scandals, and the Vatican is taking note. Scaraffia pointedly used the Italian word omertà, usually applied to the Mafia’s rigid code of silence, to describe the secrecy around abuse cases.
The L’Osservatore article explicitly called for more women in leadership roles in the church. The inclusion of lay men and women in decision-making roles in local dioceses, archdioceses and in the Vatican would be a way to combat the clerical culture that led to the abuse. Parents, in particular, would have been far less likely to downplay abuses against children. Groupthink is a danger for any organization, including the Catholic Church.
Tony Judt is a widely respected historian of Europe whose incisive political analysis appears regularly in The New York Review of Books. Postwar, his survey of Europe after World War II, demonstrates both scholarly rigor and clear writing, a rare combination of traits. Like any public intellectual worth reading, Judt can also be pugnacious and contrarian, and his criticism of Israel, in particular, has been unflinching.
Judt recently announced that he suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, a neurological disorder that has left him a quadriplegic. His essay “Night” for the New York Review (1/14) chronicled the quick onset of his illness and the “cockroach-like existence” he has been forced to endure in the hours he lies alone in bed, unable to sleep. Judt is unsentimental about his condition. “There is no saving grace in being confined to an iron suit, cold and unforgiving,” he writes. “The pleasures of mental agility are much overstated, inevitably…by those not exclusively dependent on them.”
Nonetheless, one can admire the agility of Judt’s mind without indulging in the romanticism he warns against. That nimble intelligence is on full display in a series of first-person reflections now appearing in the Review. Written with the assistance of an aide, who takes dictation, the series covers subjects as diverse as the “bedders” who tidied up after students at the University of Cambridge to the author’s time on a kibbutz in the 1960s. In each essay Judt trains his critical faculties on the circumstances of his own life. The results are remarkable: a memoir grounded in a lifetime of learning, a confession set to the rhythms of history.