Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 23 October 2014

Marie Colvin, a woman who gave her life to reveal man's inhumanity

I don't imagine many men will get this, but it was when I noticed the faded lip-liner marks on a photograph of war correspondent Marie Colvin, who was killed in a shelling attack in Syria on Wednesday, that I felt her loss right in my stomach.

Colvin was a fearless and formidable woman, committed to telling the world the truth about its atrocities - and its shameful reluctance to combat them - her whole working life. Channel 4 News anchor Jon Snow called her "the most courageous journalist I ever knew."

She spent most of her life going from one conflict to another, embedding herself in the eye of the storm in Chechnya, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka.

She lost an eye when she was ambushed by government soldiers in Sri Lanka and sported a big black eye patch for the rest of her life, an injury she later said unhesitatingly was 'worth it'.

She married three times but never had children; her relentless drive not just to report the facts of war, but to urge the powers that be to respond, was the beating heart of her existence.

I often felt she was too strong, too unbreakable, for me - so utterly normal and everyday a woman in comparison - to be able to understand her.

But when I noticed that trace of lip liner - not just lipstick, which every woman whacks on for formal occasions, but evidence of additional time taken in the search for glamour and that self-esteem top-up extra effort can bring - I suddenly felt I could relate to her just a tiny bit.

There was vulnerability behind that ferocious spirit, there was a woman I could not just admire, but feel for.

Since seeing that photograph I've researched Colvin's work more thoroughly, and though she still knocks me out with her resolve and audacity, I think it was her female, more empathetic approach to war journalism that made her such a stand-out.

Studies into the influence of female war reporters suggests that their increasing presence since the mid-70s encouraged a shift from an artillery and military-based focus to one more concerned with the impact of warfare on civilian victims.

What made Colvin's reports so powerful was their zoom-in on small human details, as well as her passionate appeal to international governments to act.

In her last BBC despatch from the besieged Syrian city of Homs she described watching doctors frantically work to save a baby who had been hit by shrapnel.

"His little tummy kept heaving until he died."

Later she told CNN of her hope that "that little baby will move more people to think why is nobody stopping this murder that is going on in Homs every day."

I was wrong to think of Colvin as a superhuman tour de force. Her intense impact was as much down to her emotional connection to the people around her as it was her bravery and intelligence.

In a message to a friend the night before she was killed, she admitted that she was still baffled and angry that the world could simply stand by as Homs burned.

"And I should be hardened by now," she wrote. "Feeling helpless. As well as cold! Will keep trying to get out the information."

What a fitting final testimony to an incredible woman those words give us.

Coming in the middle of the Leveson Inquiry into the tawdry escapades of our tabloid hacks to 'expose' Sienna Miller's new bikini, they could not be more haunting.

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