Silly me. I thought the "double standard" mentioned in a Globe and Mail editorial after the release of kidnapped CBC reporter Mellissa Fung might refer to all the security resources available to Western mainstream journalists, versus their absence among ordinary Afghans, such as schoolgirls blinded by acid in Kandahar. But that wasn’t it. Nor did it deal with poor security among Afghan journalists, including those who give crucial help to Westerners. Or the greater risk of independent journalists such as B.C.’s Beverly Giesbrecht, kidnapped this week in Pakistan, or Albertan Amanda Lindhout, held hostage in Somalia since August.

Instead, it was about whether a paper is right to suppress a story, as it did with Mellissa Fung’s abduction, to help save a life. "Some may accuse" us of a double standard, said the editorial, although I don’t think anyone did. Hey, journalists, it’s not all about your dilemmas.

Afghanistan’s attorney-general reported last February that, in the previous 10 months, they had recorded 130 kidnappings for ransom, which they considered "a fraction" of the real total. In Iraq, the other main venue of the "war on terror," the U.S. logged, for 2007, 1,500 kidnappings of foreigners or Americans; they don’t keep track of local kidnappings, which are considered "much more frequent." I’m glad Mellissa Fung got out, but the resources employed for her couldn’t possibly be extended to all these others, especially local people.

This security gap is a yawning abyss. After Wednesday’s acid attacks in Kandahar, and a separate suicide bombing that left six dead, Canada’s commander there said, "The vast majority are delighted that we’re here, trying to protect their citizens. … We risk our lives to bring a certain degree of peace and security when possible to those young schoolgirls." I’ve added italics since it’s pretty striking: Even in public, he won’t say we’re succeeding. And what counts isn’t our intentions, it’s those results, which may have amplified insecurity for most people, including the times we shoot civilians in cars or on bikes out of fear they’re suicide bombers, or call in air strikes on wedding parties.

After a while, it’s good riddance to us and our good intentions. A young woman attacked yesterday said, "We need security, this is the first thing." The Taliban in power were disliked but were tolerated for one reason: They brought more than a certain degree of security and stability after years of chaos. Those who augur a return to that situation will be blamed for it, all intentions aside.

Doing feel-good stories on a kidnapped and released Canadian reporter changes none of this, although you wouldn’t know it from the coverage. The CBC’s Susan Ormiston said Mellissa Fung "refused to give in to the darkness." On CTV, Lloyd Robertson called it "a remarkable tale of survival." CBC Radio’s Carole Off rescued a bit of media honour by pushing Canada’s ambassador about reports that Afghan authorities held and threatened family members of the kidnappers. She suggested that would spread further animosity. He squirmed, radio-phonically. Barack Obama, meanwhile, will celebrate his inauguration by ratcheting up violence in Afghanistan. The U.S. commander there has requested 20,000 more troops, which will still leave them with far fewer than the Soviets had when they were chased out. But it should be enough to bomb some more weddings.

Mellissa Fung says she most regrets not finishing a story on refugees that she was doing when kidnapped. But that’s a timeless tale that, at most, will spread sadness and despair among viewers without offering a clue about what caused it all or where to go now. The real story is exactly what happened to her: the dearth of security – which has only ever been aggravated by pouring more foreign troops into Afghanistan.



Rick Salutin

Rick Salutin is a Canadian novelist, playwright and critic. He is a strong advocate of left wing causes and writes a regular column in the Toronto Star.