The execution of yet another journalist, Steven Sotloff, by the terror group ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) demonstrates human behavior at its most vile. Sotloff, an Israeli citizen, and James Foley, an American beheaded two weeks ago, were innocents simply doing their jobs.
ISIS has promised more execution-style deaths of hostages if the U.S. continues to attack ISIS targets in Iraq as Islamic State extremists continue their rampage across a swath of Iraq and Syria with the intent of creating a caliphate — a nation ruled by sharia law — in the region. American air strikes have slowed that advance.
President Obama said the use of intimidation would only strengthen the resolve of America and others to stamp out what appears to be the most extreme version of Islamic terrorism seen in the Middle East. Adherents to Islam have been quick to decry the ISIS efforts, including other Islamic militants.
ISIS has conducted a reign of terror in ethic communities, with the apparent intent of destroying supply lines and wiping out unsympathetic populations, including ethnic groups.
Sotloff and Foley, were well aware of the risk of being journalists in Iraq. After dedicated careers of securing and disseminating news stories about life in the region, both have now become the subjects of headline and tragic stories themselves.
If professional journalists were ever immune to dangers in places like modern-day Iraq — a big if — they no longer are. Perhaps international outrage over the deaths of innocents like them is greater than reaction to deaths of military troops. It appears that ISIS believes this to be true.
Now that this terror group has made clear its strategy, media outlets will be under pressure to withdraw Mideast correspondents or at least try to increase security for them and their counterparts in other places. Individual journalists need to take for granted that ISIS could well target them as hostages and as pawns in the intimidation campaign.
Now it is clear that they risk losing their lives brutally.
Some outlets will withdraw journalists. Others will see the necessity of securing reliable news and will instead urge safety and caution if at all possible for field correspondents. But it is no more likely that journalists will voluntarily vacate their assigned locations than it is for soldiers to abandon their military posts.
To be sure, dangers to combatants are much greater than to field journalists. But most soldiers and most field correspondents have a deep commitment to make a difference in their respective service — each in his/her own way.
Bill Webb is editor of Word & Way.