Israel's obscene crime is all the worse for having targeted one who, by all accounts, shone a light in the lives of all who knew her. Here in Bangladesh, and possibly for much of the non-Arab world (she was on Al Jazeera's Arabic service), this light eluded us. I feel like I may have seen some of her work, but this may be just due to her beautiful, honest face, the kind that pulls you in and makes you feel like you know her, even if you don't.
Not knowing Arabic, there hasn't been much scope to try and know her through her work, and that has been particularly difficult with the realisation of what a giant this woman was. Hearing the testimonies, reading the tributes, seeing the reactions coming particularly from the Arab world, including the diasporas in different corners of the globe, I find it difficult to think of another journalist, one other journalist, in our lifetime who through her work meant so much, in so many ways, to so many.
She was of course a trailblazer, a pioneer, that much is easy to gather. Synonymous with the story and mission of Al Jazeera itself. Particularly the younger generation of Arabs, they describe her as "iconic", "inspirational", they describe their "childhood echoing with the voice of Shireen Abu Akleh" (how about that?). They anointed her "the Voice of Palestine", "the Daughter of Jerusalem."
Of course the journalists in particular absolutely adore her. We know the impact of Al Jazeera in the Arab world. Even today it is the only news network that has dared to venture into really independent reporting as a mantra. If there is a journalism boom in the Arab world today, that has led to people like Ayman Mohyeldin and Mehdi Hasan starting to become household names in even the US, it is because of them. And she was its brightest star. You can imagine why almost every young journalist in the Arab world would idolise her.
One described standing in front of the mirror with a brush, repeating her 'famous' closing words to camera: 'Shireen Abu Akleh, AL Jazeera, Ramallah'. Almost none of them can speak today without breaking down. Many of them also have their stories of how they learned from her, of her kindness and generosity. Alongside iconic, inspirational, brilliant and trailblazing, some of the reports on her death describe her as 'beloved journalist Shireen Abu Akleh'. How many people get that?
Her funeral, and I'd rather not think of what the IDF did again now, but yes the funeral is being described as the biggest in recent memory - the horde of attendees stretched for 40 kilometres. In the Arab world, they describe her as a 'fixture' in their homes, cafes, offices and wherever else they may have gathered. Without being there, Shireen was part of their conversations, their thoughts, their days, their nights. They prayed for her, without knowing her. You didn't have to know her personally to mourn her, as the Palestinian ambassador in Dhaka wrote. But of course they all knew her. And she knew them.
Muzna Shihabi, a friend, described her impact thus: "She is a reference in the Arab world. Everyone in the street would stop and salute her for her courage and determination and unique way of telling the stories of Palestinians. Arabs cannot go to Palestine. Shireen took them there."
She took them there. And I wish I had known her. But even the little bit now that I do, is illuminating on just how meaningful a life can be.
Rest in Peace, and Power, and Love, Shireen Abu Akleh.
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