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‘Hate Is Not What Humans Should Do': Slain Journalist Kenji Goto's Words Live On Online

Kenji Goto reporting outside Kobani, Syria, in 2014. Screenshot from SnapcastNews' YouTube account.

Kenji Goto reporting outside Kobani, Syria, in 2014. Screenshot from SnapcastNews’ YouTube account.

Freelance Japanese journalist Kenji Goto covered war and conflict in the Middle East and Africa before he was executed by ISIS in Syria on Jan. 30, 2015.

Prior to his capture and murder, Goto filled his website Independent Press with thoughts about his experiences reporting around the world. He wrote about a trip to the Sinai Peninsula in July 2014, a post that perhaps gives insight into why he worked as a journalist:

[To be or not to be]
世界各地で、なぜ、こうも衝突が絶えないのだろう?
その一方で、全世界中にに漂うグローバル化の疲れや失望-「私たちには正直わからない」「私たちだけは安全なはず・・・」「自分の家族が一番大事」といったある種開き直った意識。
“What can I do?”

“To be or not to be…”

Why are there so many conflicts in the world, and why can they not be stopped? On the other hand, I have new understanding about the jadedness and disappointment brought on by globalization.

For example, [when confronted by this harsh reality] most people become defensive and think “there are so many things that we really do not know about” or “we alone are in a safe place compared to the rest of the world…” or “my family is the most important thing to me.”

In situations like these, all I can ask is: “What can *I* do?”

Even before Japan’s Self Defense Force (JDF) was sent to Iraq to support the reconstruction of that country in January 2004, Goto started writing articles on his website from Iraq in November 2003.

Goto discussed why he thought it was important to work as a Japanese journalist in Iraq.

自衛隊を送っているというのに、国民はイラクの実情を知る機会がなくなっていく。材料がなくて、どうやって延長の是非や撤退するか否かの議論を進めていくのか?
イラクは現在進行形だ。「ベルリンの壁崩壊」のような一言で記される史実ではなく、日本の戦後と同じように、戦争-占領-復興(新国家建設)というひとつのサイクルだ。歴史が今生まれていっているのに、それを映像で記録しておきたい、書き記しておきたいと思わないのだろうか。われわれは、過去の記録映像を見て人間の歴史を考察したり、歴史から学んだり、感嘆したり、するのではないか。それが、われわれが後の時代に生きる子どもたちに残してあげられるものではないか。

After the government sent the JDF to Iraq, Japanese citizens did not have opportunity to know what is really happening here.

If we do not have information, how can we discuss whether the JDF should stay in Iraq or come back?

Iraq is changing. It is not as simple as the fall of the Berlin Wall. Iraq is instead in the process of the reconstruction of a new country under occupation.

When the history is being made, wouldn't you want to document images and write down what is happening?

When we explore history by examining images recorded in the past, we learn from history and are moved, aren't we? Isn’t this what we want to leave for future generations?

After civil war broke out in Syria in 2011, Goto travelled to that country to interview residents of the war zone. Goto wrote on his website:

街に残るスンニ派の住民と出会いました。
電気や水道を止められ、わき水をくみ、廃材やまきで火をおこし生活していました。
この男性は、妻や子どもを遠くの街に避難させ、家や家畜を守るために、ひとり街に残ったと言います。
「ヘリコプターがこない時に水をくむ。
畑仕事をしているだけなのに攻撃される。」
子供たちが国外に逃れ、家族がばらばらになってしまったと嘆く夫婦もいました。
「こんな生活、もう限界です。
皆追い出されて、息子たちは国外へ逃げました。」

I met some Sunni Muslims who still live in this city.

There is no electricity or water. To live here, the residents need to pump the groundwater and use scrap wood to make fire.

There's a man who remains here by himself because he wants to protect the family house and their livestock. He already asked his wife and children to take refuge in a city far away.

Another couple said that their family has been broken because their children had fled to other countries.

“When there are no government helicopters we pump the groundwater. When we worked in the farm, they attacked us.

We cannot tolerate this kind of life anymore. They will expel all of us from our country. Our children have already fled to other countries.”

Goto also described how Syrians tried to protect themselves:

政府軍は、戦車中心の地上戦から戦闘機による空爆に戦いの方法を大きく転換。兵士たちの姿は街から消え、基地の中から迫撃砲で周辺の町や村を攻撃する。24時間、東西南北で砲撃音や空爆の音が続く。
「一枚ではない」と揶揄される自由シリア軍。町や村あるいは家族や親戚といった小さな単位でグループを構成し、血の結束の強さと信仰心にもとづくまとまりの良さは政府軍とは違った独特の結束強さがある。しかし、彼らの戦いは「進軍する」というものではない。任務は、あくまでも自分の町や村を「守る」ことなのだ。

The government force changed their strategy from ground attacks using tanks to air strikes using bombs. As a result, the soldiers who used to be in the city disappeared, but the military bases attack villages and cities nearby with mortars.

The sounds of mortars and air strikes can be heard from everywhere 24 hours a day.

People make jokes about the Free Syrian Army: “They are difficult to deal with.” In the cities and villages, family members cling together.

These small groups bound strongly by the blood ties of and their belief have their special advantages compared to the government forces. However, what they fight for isn't domination but for protection of their own city or village.

In the war zone, Goto was forced to face the death of his own local friends, and he expressed how sad it made him feel:

なぜ、彼らは死ななくてはならなかったのか?希望の光射す未来と無限の才能を持っていたのに。これから好きな女性ができて、結婚して、子どもを産み、家族を持てる十分な機会があったはずなのに。戦いに疲れ果てた人たちは口々に言う。「死んだ者は幸いだ。もう苦しむ必要はなく、安らかに眠れる。生きている方がよっぽど悲惨で苦しい」と。皮肉だが、本音だ。[…]
そして、ハムザ。戦争孤児や貧しい家庭1,000世帯に、毎朝パンを届ける慈善団体を切り盛りする天才肌の若者だった。7月10日、空爆の犠牲になった。
彼らは、いつも笑顔でこちらの頼みを聞いてくれた。一緒にお茶を飲み、甘いお菓子を食べた。感謝のしるしに日本製の時計を、コンデジを、プレゼントした。戦時下では、プレゼントできること自体が嬉しいものだ。
世界各地の紛争地帯で、私の仕事を手伝ってくれた人たちが、もう何人亡くなっただろうか?
でも、私はまだ生きている。生きて自国に戻り、「伝える」仕事に集中することができる。
彼らが死ぬなどと真にイメージしたことは正直なかった。
鮮烈に蘇る(在腦帶中可以清楚回憶起)彼らの優しい笑顔。
ボー然としたところで、「なぜ?」と考えたところで、彼らはもう戻って来ない。
どうか、神様。彼らに安らかなる日々をお与えください。

Why must they be killed? They are supposed to have bright futures with hope and great potential. They should have had the opportunity to meet women, get married, have children and build a family.

These people who suffer from the war say, “The dead ones are the lucky ones. They do not have any pain any more. They can sleep peacefully now. Being alive is a horrible thing.” These words are ironic, but this is what they really think.[…]

And then there was Hamza, a young clever fellow who helped charity organizations deliver bread to about 1,000 war orphans and needy families. He was killed by air strikes on July 10. Every time when I asked him for help he always had a big smile on his face. We drank tea together and ate sweets together. To thank him, I gave him a watch made in Japan, a small digital camera, and other presents. During wartime, it is nice to have the opportunity to give presents to someone.

In the war zones, how many people who have helped me have been killed?

But I am still alive. I survive and go back to my country and focus on my work to tell people what is happening here.

I never thought that they would be killed.

Now I can still remember Hamza's smile clearly.

No matter how lost I am in reverie thinking about “why,” they will never come back.

God, please give them peace.

Witnessing so many sad stories, Goto said in a tweet in December 2010 that all he can do is to keep working as a journalist:

We need not shed tears when reporting on assignment. I just need to record what I see clearly: the stupidity and ugliness of humans, the injustice, the sadness, and the life-threatening conditions. However, pain is still pain, and it torments my soul. If I do not speak to myself, I cannot do this job anymore.

After Goto’s death, one of his tweets went on to be retweeted nearly 40,000 times in remembrance of his work in the Middle East and his belief in peace:

Close your eyes. Bear it. If we become angry and yell, we are doomed. This is like prayer. Hate is not what humans should do. Judgment lies with God. That is what I learned from my Arab brothers.

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