Thursday, September 22, 2005

should be back home to my trusted web connection in a couple of days.

New York Times journalist killed in Basra
this is for the memory of Fakher haider, murdered in Basra on the 19th of September 2005.

19 September

I know you have smarty-smart journalists who tell you the most amazing stories from foreign lands and explain everything for you, but there are many cases where a journalist has just been parachuted into a country he knows nothing about and where he, as the Arabic saying goes, can’t tell the difference between a stick and a corncob. That’s when the journalist is only as good as his/her fixer. Before all you journos out there get indignant I know what I’m talking about because I was a fixer myself.

And for all those freshly parachuted journalists there can’t be a better gift from the skies than a passionate and knowledgeable fixer. This would be Fakher’s cue to make his entrance. Fakher al-Tamimi, Fixer extraordinaire, with a ready smile and a million stories to tell.

Today I heard of his assassination on the radio. The report said that he was kidnapped last night from his home and was found shot dead today. I met Fakher while I was a fixer for the New York Times, his English wasn’t yet up to speed then and I was sent down to Basra to translate for a new NY Times reporter who was working with Fakher. For me at the time he was like the Rolls Royce of fixers. He had endless reserves of enthusiasm and he made you feel he knew everyone in Basra’s phone directory personally and more importantly he cared about the stories being researched, he genuinely wanted these stories to be told and read by the outside world.

Fakher was special because he had decided that he was not going to waste good stories on journalists he deemed not up to the job. Since we both were of the same fixer rank - you have no idea how the caste system works in the world of the Foreign Correspondents - he told me about how he worries when he has given some information about a story he sees as important to someone who doesn’t seem interested.
The journalist I was translating for the first time I met him was deemed a bit bubbly and not really ready for a death and torture story so he offered a story about a librarian saving books from looters. The second time I met him I was working for another reporter which he deemed as worthy and he helped us find a secret cemetery where the Iraqi government was burying dead POWs from the Iraq-Iran war. On another occasion we were introduced through him to an ex-political prisoner just as colourful as Fakher.

When we weren’t working I would go walk with him around Basra and he would tell me about his insane drive up to Baghdad with an American journalist as the war was raging, his resolve to see Baghdad as it is getting rid of the dark cloud that was Saddam’s regime and his own struggles during the Shia uprising in 1990. It was these talks that made me realize just how sincere he was in his wish to show these foreign journalist as much as he could because he wanted people to know and see.

Seeing him do his thing, his inquisitiveness and curiosity is actually to see material for a great journalist being wasted on a fixing job. I guess if the NY Times didn’t deem it too dangerous to send reporters down to Basra he would never has his by-line. And it wasn’t only the NY Times who benefited from his services.
Fakher’s brutal murder is a loss of a great colleague and friend. Fakher Haider will be always remembered and greatly missed.
I can only hope that this sad event reminds people of the role of Iraqi staff in international news organizations. Remember that your Iraqi staff doesn’t have the luxury of taking the next flight out of the hell they live in, they are your contact people and they are the ones you, the foreign journalists, sometimes send out to areas you deem too dangerous for yourselves. The next time you want an insurgency story from your fixer just remember that you leave in a couple of weeks while your fixer stays.