For two hours, I sat in the same room as Nagieb Khaja, listening to him speak about his experiences as a Danish journalist in Afghanistan and Syria. Lately, I have been adopting quite an interest in journalism (even going so far as to add it as a double major), so being able to hear from such a widely-renowned journalist was very exciting for me.
He first explained to us why journalism matters and the different reasons people have for it:
- To become educated or enlightened
- To be the “watchdog”
- To amplify the quieter voices
- To control all of the other powers
For Nagieb, none of these reasons were why he thought journalism was important. For him, he wanted to deliver the right information, not just the information that was convenient for someone to hear. He wanted to provide everyone with the true and raw facts and realities of both sides of conflict, versus just cheering on his side.
This didn’t come easily for him. He worked to become embedded with the Taliban in Afghanistan multiple times; the first time, his colleague flushed his footage and the second time was a completely different story.
Nagieb was kidnapped by the Taliban when trying to embed with them. He was held captive for a week. A bag was put over his head, he was asked to kneel on the ground, and was left wondering if he was going to be killed, all of this happening multiple times a day. Eventually, one of the members of the group helped him escape, saving his life as he knew it.
Along with him telling us about his experiences, he showed us some clips from his documentaries that he created while he was an embed, showing the true reality of what the conflict consisted of. The people weren’t professional soldiers; they were average civilians who felt that the Taliban cause was important, whether it was because the government had killed one of their loved ones or had harmed them in some way.
Nagieb didn’t only show us the gruesome and terrifying sides of violent conflict. He also took time to explain to us about the work that some groups do to counter the extreme violence, rather than participating in it. One of the groups was called the White Helmets. The White Helmets would chase bombs and do their best to rescue those in the debris, taking no sides as to who they were saving.
When listening to the news, we hear groups like the Taliban regarded as highly-trained guerrilla militarists and terrorists. While I’m not supporting the actions of these groups, Nagieb Khaja helped us to see the pain and toil that these people have gone through, pulling them into these groups. They have lost children, mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters. It’s not something to which I can relate, so being able to talk with Nageib Khaja and see a different side of this highly-discussed conflict was incredibly interesting to me.
While I know this post is very scattered, it really portrays how I felt after hearing about his life. He took journalism to a level that constantly put his life at risk and still continues to pursue these stories everyday.
At DIS, I am constantly offered these opportunities and I am grateful for it everyday. These kinds of experiences outside of the classroom have really enriched my time here in Copenhagen and I am excited for what’s to come!