EBC: How much do you feel Hezbollah’s presence during the course of your reporting through the day? Do you sense that you’re being watched?
MKS: I wouldn’t say that I feel that we’re being watched, although at times I have felt that. I feel that they’re around. I feel that they see us much better than we can see them, and sometimes we have come across them, I’ve come across them — some Hezbollah fighters, some of the militiamen, [and] I’ve been able to chat with them.
But you see, of course, the thing about Hezbollah that I think is often misunderstood is that it’s not just an army, it’s a massive political party and it’s a massive social welfare network. So when you think about Hezbollah, you kind of think of them on different planes. I mean, you see Hezbollah security officials, for example, who have walkie-talkies and tend to go around on motor scooters, and you see Hezbollah clerics, and you see Hezbollah fighters, who when I’ve gone close to the border, I’ve come across some Hezbollah fighters. But of course they’re not all the same thing. But — and I have to say — they haven’t really interfered with my work, although I’ve heard stories that other journalists have told of being bothered by Hezbollah in one capacity or the other.
EBC: This year you’ve covered the sinking of a huge Egyptian ferry, the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra and its aftermath, and abductions in Iraq. How did working on those stories prepare you to cover the Lebanon conflict?
MKS: Well, I think the most helpful thing in preparing to cover the Lebanon conflict was actually covering Lebanon, and the work that I’ve done here in Lebanon in the past, so that I didn’t come in cold to this conflict — that I had spent a lot of time here before, and traveled around the country, and covered other kinds of stories here. I covered the assassination of Rafik Hariri last year, and the massive protests, and the withdrawal of the Syrian troops. And I’ve dealt with Hezbollah before, so none of that was new material, so that really did help. But I think covering the Middle East, you do probably get more death and destruction than perhaps other beats. And so I think the years of that do help prepare you for this kind of a story.
EBC: In your Lebanon stories you’ve often been able to capture detailed and evocative public vignettes — a mass burial in Tyre, say, or residents reacting to the flattening of an apartment building. Is that kind of immediacy what you wish you could get reporting in Iraq these days?
MKS: I think yes … my own opinion about war reporting is that it’s sometimes at its strongest when it’s at its most personal and close-focused, when you can just give people an idea of what’s happened on one street, and what’s happened to one person — that that’s much more comprehensible than trying to paint a big picture, which we also try to do, but I think sometimes the most effective things are what you’ve witnessed yourself, or what you’ve been able to hear from other people. And I think in Iraq we are still able to do that to a certain extent, but we’re certainly not able to do that as well as we could three years ago by any stretch of the imagination. But there is a real sense of confinement in the Baghdad reporting now, and I think that it makes the public suffer.