Kidnapped And Other Dispatches by Alan Johnston

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Kidnapped And Other Dispatches by Alan Johnston

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Category: Politics and Society
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Conor Murphy
Reviewed by Conor Murphy
Summary: Johnston's style of understated reporting eschews polemic in favour of an attempt at understanding and it makes this collection of his dispatches and reflections on his kidnapping an interesting and, somehow, kindly read. Highly recommended, especially for those who want to read about world events, but at a more personal level.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 160 Date: November 2007
Publisher: Profile Books Ltd
ISBN: 978-1846681424

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You must remember Alan Johnston's kidnapping. He spent almost four months as the prisoner of the Army of Islam, a paramiliatry group in Gaza earlier this year. After a vigorous campaign by the BBC, worldwide condemnation, lots of diplomacy and, eventually, intervention by Hamas, once they had taken full control of the Gaza strip, he was released. Something about Johnston's abduction created a groundswell of support for this relatively obscure journalist. His elderly father made a heart-stoppingly fine and dignified television appearance, nobody had a bad word to say about him - even the extremists on either side of the Middle Eastern debate - and the obviously genuine solidarity - our own correspondent - at the BBC all came together to make his eventual release a truly celebratory event. I shed a tear, I don't know about you.

In this collection of dispatches from the Middle East, Afghanistan and Central Asia, Johnston includes reflections on his kidnapping and the transcript of a lengthy interview he had with Tony Grant. As befits a radio correspondent, the writing is sharp and concise, yet highly descriptive. Johnston paints strong images, and so we can imagine the rabbit warrens of streets in Gaza, fraught with danger from many different groups. We can understand his reactions to incarceration, because they are brief, bald, and honest. We can regret the demolition of the Buddhas of Bamiyan by the Taliban and marvel over the steppes of Mongolia. I got a strong feeling that I was being offered an emotional understanding and connection with these subjects, rather than a complex and sophisticated knowledge of the ins and outs of the tortuous politics.

I'm by no means a fan of the BBC's Middle East reporting. Most of the time it makes me want to throw something at the television or radio as its propagandised language makes a mockery of objectivity. But there are always honourable exceptions, and even before reading Kidnapped there was something about Johnston's gentle voice and clear blue gaze that exempted him. Reading this collection, I see why. Personal impressions are to the fore, and in them are the reflections of the personal impressions of the lives of the people on whom he reports. Politics fills the background, but it stays there. And I think this makes Johnston's reports equally informative and equally affecting to all, not just those in sympathy with one side or another. It's the sort of reporting we probably need a lot more of.

Johnston says that he thinks most people probably only face one or two truly substantial moments in our lives and it's the manner in which we face them by which we are not only judged by other but by which we judge ourselves. It seems to me that he's faced his with a great deal of credit.

My thanks to the nice people at Profile for sending the book.

An intensely personal view of the Israeli occupation can be found in Raja Shehadeh's Palestinian Walks.

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