Follow Friday: @combatjourno, live-tweeting battle in Afghanistan
In 2012, Afghan journalist Mustafa Kazemi (@combatjourno) made global headlines when he live-tweeted a fire-fight between Afghan authorities and Taliban insurgents at a hotel outside Kabul. The method may not have been anything new, but its use by a war correspondent in the heat of battle was. Kazemi told Crikey that live-tweeting remains his preferred method of reporting the ongoing conflict in his country.
“Reading a long article or even opening a link is nowadays somehow boring for the reader,” Kazemi said, “especially when they can read about what’s happening in the world without ever leaving their timeline.
“This method of reporting may have existed before I started using Twitter five years ago,” he said, “but I was not aware of it. When I first went out to live-tweet an incident, I didn’t know that it was going to become a common way of reporting the war.”
“An article is a summary of incidents that have already happened and that has been put together after the fact,” he said. “This can be interesting for some readers, while others prefer the instant awareness afforded by a live-tweeted report.”
“Both are valid forms of journalism and both have their positive and negative points. An article is often more professional and considered than social media coverage. But it also gives editors an opportunity to censor certain information if required or if they are forced to. Live coverage is safe from this.”
Kazemi said that he tried not to overthink things before going into combat. It was easier just to “grab some body armour, a couple of cell phones and some water and rush to the scene,” he said.
“Trying to prepare yourself mentally for combat can actually get you killed,” he said. “Being overly concerned with your safety becomes a distraction. A journalist who goes out and covers incidents from one day to the next should know how to cover himself while still being able to use his phone to write updates.”
The 28-year-old was born in Kabul during the Soviet war in Afghanistan, “when Kabul was hammered with Luna and Scud rockets and hundreds of people were dying daily.”
“My father was expelled from Kabul by the Soviet-backed regime when I was one year old,” he said. “I grew up in south-western Afghanistan, in Nimruz province, and attended a few years of school there until the Taliban took over and all the schools were closed.” The Taliban later forced the family to leave Nimruz province on religious grounds.
If there is anyone to thank for Kazemi’s vocation — as well as for the fact that he reports in English — it is undoubtedly his father.
“My father, who’s a medical doctor, taught me and my younger brother English from about the time that I was seven or eight,” he said. “I didn’t receive any professional tutoring. After the Taliban fell, I finished school, joined the United Nations as a national staff member, entered the military, and eventually received a scholarship and a college degree from India. Since graduation, I’ve been a journalist.”
The experience of living under the Taliban continues to have a profound effect on Kazemi, who has recently begun to explore his feelings in ‘Taliban Memories’, a series of articles on his blog. The pieces make for some harrowing reading. In one, Kazemi remembers how Taliban mullahs at his madrasa would inspect the boys’ genitalia to ensure that their pubic area was shaved. In another, he tells of witnessing Taliban justice first-hand:
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