Isn’t it time to get out?
Understandably I've fielded almost constant calls, emails, texts and Facebook messages over the last week, from friends and family worried about the sudden escalation of the activity of ISIS in Iraq. Some are reasonably well-versed in the difference between the autonomous region of Kurdistan, but still alarmed at the proximity of Mosul. Some have no clue and have seen a map showing Erbil nestled between Mosul and Kirkuk and drawn terrible conclusions. Mostly though, people have been concerned about any dangerous situation in which I might find myself or have asked a simple question - “Isn't it time to get out?”
And, as ever, I trot out the line that I feel safer here than I do in London, sugared with some extra reassuring words about the strength of the Peshmerga and the fantastic security. I've tried to keep people updated, especially during the early part of last week when ISIS insurgents seemed to be taking city after city, threatening Shiaa shrines and marching on to Baghdad. But I started to notice, as I sifted through different news sources and scoured Twitter, that as ever, the first casualty of war is truth. Naturally rumour and half-truths are to be expected of the open nature of social media, where the hysteria can support Winston Churchill's assertion that “a lie can get halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” I don't think people lie on purpose (if we discount the propagandists on all sides), but there is a certain social media cache to being the first to break the news. Sat in a bedroom in Duhok, hearing thunder, an excitable student might reasonably question whether that unseasonable weather was in fact artillery in the distance. Facebook updates tend to link to news media, which many might feel is a more reliable place to develop an understanding of what's going on. But I've read local and international press over the last few days that has made my blood boil at the inaccuracy, and they are no better than the social media commentators who are not trained journalists. That so many professionals are prepared to break speculation as stories and to hell with the consequences, is bitterly disappointing and in some cases dangerous. There is a responsibility that comes with reporting conflict that seems to have been skewed by social media – where once fact-checking was a keystone of responsible journalism, gullibility has crept in. As always, we should challenge everything that we read and hear.