Muhammad Idrees Ahmad is a lecturer in digital journalism at the University of Stirling, Scotland. (September 2018)

Follow Muhammad Idrees Ahmad on Twitter: @im_pulse.


Syria’s War on Screen: An Exchange

Ruined buildings in the village of Ma’arrat al-Nu’man after a weekslong regime offensive against rebel-held areas in Syria’s Idlib province, February 12, 2020

Idrees Ahmad: The author faults the filmmakers for only briefly condemning the jihadis. Their condemnation is, in fact, proportionate to their experience: the hospitals were being bombed by regime forces, not jihadis. Robert Worth: The filmmakers and their central characters could not have avoided coming into contact with rebel fighters; they would certainly have been aware of the abuses those fighters carried out and of the dungeons they operated. There are street scenes in both films, and plenty of footage of regime attacks, but no trace of the defenders. The filmmakers, in other words, made a deliberate choice to screen out certain inconvenient facts about their own daily lives and the cause they stood for.

Bellingcat and How Open Source Reinvented Investigative Journalism

Screengrab from a video analyzed by the BBC’s Africa Eye investigation of a summary execution carried out by government soldiers of two women villagers, suspected of links to Boko Haram, and their children, Cameroon, July 2018

Open Source Intelligence has enabled many forensic breakthroughs in recent years. Beginning in 2010, the open newsroom tool Storyful became a platform for collaborative investigation, laying the ground for this entirely new field of journalism. The most active and resourceful member of the original Storyful collective was the Leicester-based citizen journalist Eliot Higgins, who developed creative new methods to crack intractable cases, which he used in 2014 to found Bellingcat, an international collective of researchers, investigators, and citizen journalists that conducts investigations using the techniques he had pioneered. 

Syria’s Monumental Loss

Monumental Arch, Palmyra, Syria, 2003

Shortly after ISIS arrived in Palmyra, the regime launched air strikes on the city, heedless of its ancient monuments. A decade earlier, in 2003, the photographer Kevin Bubriski had been there, viewing the same sites through his Hasselblad lens. As if anticipating their fate, Bubriski preserved the beauty and grandeur of its various sites—including the Temple of Allat, the Valley of the Tombs, and the Monumental Arch—in exquisite black-and-white photographs that appear together for the first time in Legacy in Stone: Syria Before War. The book is a collection of arresting—and at times, haunting—photographs from three of Syria’s six UNESCO-designated world heritage sites. Five of these, including two captured in this volume, have since been partially or completely destroyed. 

How Assad Made Truth a Casualty of War

The journalist Paul Conroy and Marie Colvin, Syria, 2012

If reporting evidence of war crimes brought no consequences for the criminals, then truth had lost its value and journalists had become dispensable. By actively targeting media staff, the Assad regime also made it too dangerous for journalists to visit opposition-held areas. This has allowed it to conduct its subsequent rampages under a pall of uncertainty, assisted by its Western apologists. Was Marie Colvin’s sacrifice worthwhile? It is tempting to say no—that in an indifferent world, no story is worth dying for. But Colvin’s life is itself a rebuke to such pragmatism. Chris Martin’s documentary, Under the Wire, is a fitting tribute to that commitment to bear witness.