Jeffrey Goldberg writes: The extremists don’t need us anymore. Fourteen years ago, while I was staying at the Taliban madrasa [outside of Peshawar, in Pakistan], its administrators were launching a Web site. I remember being amused by this. I shouldn’t have been. There is no need for a middleman now. Journalists have been replaced by YouTube and Twitter. And when there is no need for us, we become targets.
Three years ago, Dexter [Filkins] and I both found ourselves in Pakistan again, staying in the same anonymous guesthouse in Islamabad, which seemed safer than any alternative. Especially after the killing of Osama bin Laden, when so many people in Pakistan were contemplating revenge, the large hotels had become irresistible targets for terrorists. They were also infested with agents of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate, the handmaiden of many of the terrorist groups.
I was reporting on the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons; Dexter was investigating the murder of a Pakistani journalist who was killed, apparently, by agents of the ISI. Both topics were dangerous territory, and we came under harassment. I was followed; Dexter’s phone was tapped. Each time I returned to the guesthouse, I could tell that strangers had been in my room. One day, I got a call from someone who identified himself as a reporter for a major Urdu daily newspaper. “We understand that you’re a prominent Zionist, and we want to write about you on the front page,” he said.
Such an article would have gotten me killed. The reporter’s call represented an invitation from the ISI to leave Pakistan right away. I knocked on Dexter’s door. He had been in the country for a month, and he seemed haunted. His room reminded me of Martin Sheen’s in the opening scene of Apocalypse Now. Time to go, I said. In the taxi to the airport, we discovered that Dexter’s visa had expired. We edited his passport with a Sharpie, while standing behind a tree outside the terminal. The ISI did not impede our departure.
Each unhappy place has its own rules. In Iran, Western reporters are often welcome, and sometimes arrested while performing their duties. In Gaza over the summer, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Palestinian branch, was both eager to help reporters inspect the damage done by Israeli air strikes, and rigorous about denying reporters access to the rocket crews launching attacks on Israeli civilians. In Lebanon, Hezbollah maintains a sophisticated media-relations operation designed in part to thwart independent reporting.
I no longer spend much time with Islamist groups. Today, even places that shouldn’t be dangerous for journalists are dangerous. Whole stretches of Muslim countries are becoming off-limits. This is a minor facet of a much larger calamity, but it has consequences: the problems of Afghanistan and Pakistan and Syria and Iraq are not going away; our ability to see these problems, however, is becoming progressively more circumscribed. [Continue reading…]