The mainstream media don’t want you to say Serena Shim’s name.
We live in a world where we are taught deference to money, power and fame. The price of that deference is self-censorship, acquiescence, conformity and therefore complicity.
But there is a breed of people who refuse to sell their humanity for the baubles of power and who instead rise to speak truth to and about it.
Their common characteristics are courage and a willingness to accept personal jeopardy and sacrifice in the service of others and of the greater good.
We call them by many names: whistleblowers, journalists, activists, visionaries, pioneers.
It is said that every truth goes through four stages. At first it is ignored. Then it is ridiculed. Then it is vehemently opposed but ultimately it is accepted.
No truth-teller better exemplifies this progression than the American journalist Serena Shim.
The once controversial truths that cost Serena her life are now accepted as common knowledge by the very mainstream media who refused to embrace them or support her when she was risking her life in service to her profession and to the world.
The loss of Serena is impossible to quantify. The personal cost to her family who lost their sister, daughter, mother is horrendous but the cost to humankind is also profound.
Truth-tellers are the guardians of democracy. When we sit by idly as we lose them, it is to the detriment of ourselves.
Serena’s story has inspired a new generation of journalists all around the world: in this way, she continues to serve.
Although Serena has been stolen from us, countless others are rising to take her place.
This time, we must protect them.
This time, we must speak with them.
Two years on from Shim’s untimely death, the pain is still fresh and the wound of her passing still open.
This has been exacerbated by the mountain of disinformation swirling around Serena’s final days, the failure of the American government to acknowledge her killing, their refusal to investigate it and the official disregard for her family’s attempts to achieve justice for Serena.
Our of respect for the significance of her work, Serena has been honoured in the Arab American National Museum, which is affiliated with the Smithsonian. However, there has been a general academic neglect of her case by organisations that are supposed to protect and advocate for journalists as well as an almost blanket silence among the corporate US mainstream media.
Early coverage by Press TV and Russia Today, who had references to Shim’s killing in a number of their shows, and who also queried the State Department directly at a White House briefing, have been unsuccessful in securing any meaningful response from the US government.
The injustice has led thousands of people the world over to attempt to investigate her death, themselves.
Many alternative and independent media outlets have also picked up the torch.
As public awareness of Serena Shim continues to grow, the day may yet come where she achieves the acknowledgement and accolades that she deserves for her commitment to truth and her sacrifice.
This week I had the honour of interviewing Serena Shim’s mother, Judith Poe.
I asked about what the grassroots efforts and initiative of people on social media have meant to her family; about Serena’s legacy and what they are really hoping to achieve going forward. We also talked about the ever-changing geopolitical situation in Turkey, how life is for people who are still on the ground there and what justice could really look like, in the case of the political murder of Serena Shim.
Judith, you are the mother of a heroic truth-teller and OpSerenaShim has really lionised your daughter’s courage and her life. How does it feel to know that people all over the world look up to Serena?
It should be a given that she should take her place in history. The world should look up to her as she was a role model for women and children and had more strength than most that I know. Hopefully the next generation of journalism will have her integrity as the current status quo does not. To me that’s not something we should have had to fight for. It should have been headlines throughout the world. It should have been known.
Serena made a conscious decision to become a journalist. She used journalism as her vehicle to help people. Just because Serena was on assignment for PressTV, the establishment portrayed the truth she reported – that a US & Nato ally was arming, funding and providing sanctuary to ISIS – as a conspiracy theory. Recently it has become well established fact. If she hadn’t been with PressTV the truth never would have become known. The mainstream media covering up the circumstances of her death is indicative of precisely why she worked with PressTV. She had the smarts, the looks, the presence, she could have gone anywhere. But she knew that the mainstream outlets would not report the truth. She often complained that editors were editing the truth and in fact hiding the truth, across the board.
We knew her whole life that the world would one day come to know her, that she would make a difference in the world. We had thought she would enter government but she bulldozed into journalism when she realised that was her vehicle to do good for the people – to be the voice of the people.
In what ways have you seen the movement to seek justice for Serena Shim grow, since her passing?
Everything about the movement to bring awareness to Serena’s work, to her life, to her murder is through Anonymous. All credit goes to Anonymous. Even the reporters that have done reports about her, did that as a result of Anonymous bringing her story to light. There is more awareness of her murder now than when she was murdered. I get more contacts now of condolences, from people who never realised prior who she was or why she was murdered. I probably get 20 condolences a day of people saying “I just heard, I just realised…” I get contacted by freelance journalists and independent media. We get a lot of people in the States and a lot of support from Christians and from Jewish people who feel deeply impacted by Serena’s life.
What are the specific objectives that you would like to achieve with the campaign?
For her work to continue. While we would like her murderers to be brought to justice, Operation Serena Shim is a movement and it is not solely directed at finding out who killed her because I believe that there are many nations that have blood on their hands. It’s for other journalists to have the integrity that she had – to realise that you have to speak the truth although sometimes there are consequences and yes, she paid the ultimate price.
Turkey just seems crazy now. In 2012 there were over 100 journalists in prison there – the number now may be into the thousands. What is the key contributing factor to the decline in press freedoms in Turkey?
Now it’s worse, but even in 2012 Serena Shim reported that Turkey was the biggest prison camp for journalists. In my opinion we’re not waiting for World War III, we’re in World War III. War is business and business is good. The world is at war. This is not just a Middle Eastern problem. That’s what everyone is focusing on, but this is a global war.
Do you think the past treatment of journalists was a direct enabler of the purges of civil society that are now occurring there?
Yes, because we allowed it to happen so it has only escalated.
What is the general feeling among Serena’s friends and colleagues? In what ways were their lives affected by her death?
Serena’s story was considered taboo amongst journalists. Fear turns journalists into sheep. There were some exceptions. It has been said that Lebanese journalist Helen Thomas knocked on the door and Serena Shim picked up the torch and ran with it. Now Helen Thomas is looking directly at Serena Shim in the Arab American Museum – two American journalists from Detroit.
There has been a ton of disinformation circulated about Serena’s death – much of it by those who are likely responsible for it. What are the key myths surrounding her passing that you would like cleared up?
There is no truth period as to how she died. She did not die in the car accident and they were not hit by a cement truck. Serena’s driver sustained only a broken nose from the airbag and has stated that it was an 18-wheeler that ran them down.
What can those reading this article do to honour the life of Serena Shim?
Do your duty for humanity the same as she did. We’re at war, do your part. How is it going to end? When is the evil going to end? How did we reach a point where there is more evil than good in the world? How did we reach a point where the fear is so instilled in the masses that they have become dysfunctional and blinded? You can only play deaf, blind and stupid for so long.
I’m a firm believer that the self-induced coma is something that people have to come out of themselves. It’s the fear that has been instilled in people that has got us to this point. Speak out even if you are scared. Even though there are reasons to be scared. If we didn’t do things because we were scared, none of us would do anything! There wouldn’t even be the few of us that do a little something! People are controlled by fear. Knowledge is power. I don’t want to give a lot of cliches but we shouldn’t have to fear repercussions for telling the truth. We shouldn’t fear speaking out or becoming whistleblowers.
The story of Serena Shim’s life is a book as yet unwritten, a feature film as yet unscreened. It is impossible for me to present the full picture in this format, or do justice to it.
Serena is the voice of conscience sitting on the shoulder of every real journalist. Fortifying our courage at every turn.
We can each only do justice to her story, by living our own.
By digging deep and when it really counts, finding that little piece of Serena in all of us.
By Suzie Dawson