It is the scale and scope of Syria that is so
shocking. Just when you think it can't get any worse it
does. Flattened neighbourhoods become shattered cities. Anguished
hospital scenes after an attack are a terrible testament to the
brutality of war.
And then you come upon the scene of a village
massacre, with charred bodies lying where people just
going about their day were burnt alive. The worst of all is seeing
people living under siege, unable to escape, as we saw in the
Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk just outside Damascus. The
depth of desperation and devastation was overwhelming. All wars
impose a terrible burden on civilians, but Syria's war is
Islamic State is a terrible misnomer. Its
supporters do not adhere to the true tenets of Islam. Its rule does
not amount to a state which cares for its people. Their savage
kidnappings, beheadings, and executions of Arabs and foreigners is
barbaric, and a violation of every known creed.
I've met many people from many walks of life,
and many nationalities, trying to do good in Syria. Some of their
actions are nothing less than heroic. Workers with non-governmental
aid agencies make risky journeys; volunteer doctors work in
impossible conditions; young freelance journalists put their lives
on the line to tell this story to the world.
UN officials often get criticised for spending
too much on their own security, and spending too much time in
government-controlled areas. But I've met many UN employees who've
put themselves in the line of fire to reach people in difficult,
dangerous areas, or to carry out missions which cross between
government and rebel-held areas.
I grew up in a small town in eastern Canada,
where religion is woven into people's lives. We grew up going to
church on Sundays, and sometimes during the week. The Catholic
Women's League and the Knights of Columbus helped with all the
rituals of life, from baptisms to funerals, and the Protestants had
similar community groups. Nuns taught in Catholic schools, we had
missionaries in my extended family, and my sister and I became
"altar boys" before it was approved by the Vatican. But my
generation also had all the usual rites of passage, including
under-age drinking, a sampling of mild drugs, and student
Ancestry matters, what's "bred in the bone". On
my father's side, my ancestry is Acadian, a French-speaking people
expelled by the British in 1755 from the eastern seaboard of what
is now Canada. My mother's family traces its roots back to Ireland.
And we also think we have a bit of the indigenous Migmaw culture. I
spend most of my time in places where history is not a forgotten
past - it is lived in the present. It is part of who we are.
After I completed my Master's degree at the University
of Toronto in Canada, I wanted to become a foreign
correspondent. I had no money and little experience, but I went to
Africa on a four-month volunteer placement with Canadian Crossroads
International, at a rural school in Ivory Coast, West Africa. When
it finished, I started writing my first freelance articles. I soon
found myself in the "right place, right time". The BBC was setting
up its first West Africa office, and needed some extra help - and
there I was. And here I am ever since.
I'm proud of every story that tells people
something they didn't know, or changes their mind about something
they do know.
The greatest frustrations are when you can't
visit a country because you can't get a visa, have been blocked by
some official or powerful person, or it's simply too dangerous.
I've never felt a conflict between what I believe is the
story on the ground and what my job with a public
broadcaster with global channels expects of me. I don't believe in
emotional broadcasting, but I do believe in empathy.
The best of journalism is "being there", on the
ground in the heat and dust, talking to people, face to face. The
most privileged moments are those where you know you are not just
reporting in the margins of history but right in the middle of it.
It's an incredible privilege to be able to tell those stories to
Britain and the world.
Studio presenting is also important, to bring
the threads of a story together with a bit more distance and a
relative calm - although studios can be fast-paced and
We live in the best of times and the worst of times for
journalists. We've never had such an array of technology
which allows us to broadcast from almost anywhere, as a story
happens. But, in some parts of the world, it's never been so
dangerous to be a journalist. In places, we are no longer on the
front line: we are the front line - kidnapped, killed, and targeted
in growing numbers. And there also places not at war where
intelligence services wage their own wars on media by extensive
surveillance, which can become threatening.
Journalism thrives when there are different voices with
different perspectives. It's important to hear all of
them, secular and religious. We all have beliefs and, for some
people, they are not rooted in religious texts. It's important for
the media to reflect this.
Religion, what people believe in, is a powerful
force. And it can be used for good and bad.
There are more and more stories that do demand an
understanding of religion. It's needed more than ever to
sharpen journalists' ability to discern when religious beliefs are
being manipulated for political or cultural ends. Stories like
female genital mutilation, abuses against women, and the growing
lure of the so-called Islamic State in many countries worldwide are
just a few examples.
I am a person of faith, and was brought up in a
Roman Catholic family. But my travels take me to countries of other
faiths and to people of no faith. When I lived in predominantly
Muslim countries, I occasionally went to the mosque with women
friends. In Jerusalem, I went to synagogues, churches, and mosques.
I think my beliefs draw on many great books and beliefs now.
In most places I have lived and worked as a
journalist, people put their faith in God and live by the
rituals and requirements of their religion. Traditions of great
hospitality draw on their faith, but also deep-seated cultural
norms. I have been honoured as treasured guest too many times to
The strong women of my family have been a great
influence on me, from grandmothers, to aunts, to my mother
The abuse of power, in too many places, is what
makes me angry.
I relax by walking, reading, swimming,
meditating, cooking, breaking bread with friends, going to art
galleries. The most restful place is to be by the sea, since I grew
up on a bay on the Atlantic Ocean.
I used to quote the Italian Marxist Antonio
Gramsci, who spoke of "optimism of the will and pessimism
of the intellect"; but now I quote Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who
speaks of being "a prisoner of hope". Wherever I go, I see people
in desperate conditions who've lost almost everything. The last
thing people lose is hope. It's not a life without it.
I can think of many close friends who would be perfect
companions [if I were locked in a church],but since it's a
church I think I would choose Archbishop Desmond Tutu. If time
dragged on, I would learn more about faith, about fighting for
everyone's rights. He would also make me laugh, and would sing and
dance in the aisles.
Lyse Doucet was this week given a Trustees Award by the
Sandford St Martin's Trust, which promotes excellence in religious