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What we need is to love without getting tired. Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies. Be the living expression of God's kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile. Go home and love your family. We will be judged by "I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was naked and you clothed me.

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I was homeless, and you took me in. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty -- it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There's a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God. To mind one's own business. Not to want to manage other people's affairs. To avoid curiosity. I will leave the reader to ponder this ecclesiastical argument, archly delivered by a young man who may in succeeding years have sought martyrdom and discovered the truth, or otherwise, of his argument.

Nor I imagine, do those of our profession who are killed in the line of journalistic duty think through eternity before bravely setting off on their last story. A few of them I have known. This was more important to them than the risks.

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Brave people all. Journalism has its martyrs, too. You try to stay alive. That is the one and only all-consuming objective.

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Every year, when I return to Ireland for Christmas, I say to myself — thanks be to God, I made it through another year, untouched and still in one piece. And always I say how lucky I am. Occasionally, like so many of my colleagues, I find myself so close to the chap with the scythe that I am almost too frightened to write. He was right. Ed Cody, an American colleague of mine during the early stages of the Lebanese civil war, said that the fun of journalism in the Middle East is that every day you could have a new adventure.

Ed was in my car when we drove down to the coastal town of Damour during an Israeli air raid on a neighbouring Palestinian guerrilla base. A Palestinian anti-aircraft gun, of pitiful Second World War vintage, was being fired from a truck right beside our moving car, its empty cartridge cases bouncing off our windscreen. And I still remember the extraordinary thought that suffused my mind, presumably to stop myself being overcome with fear.

Which, of course, is how to get yourself killed. I have banished that kind of conjecture from my mind ever since. But you cannot escape it altogether. I was in Lebanon one winter when a journalist called me from London, told me she had been offered an assignment in Baghdad because it was about to be bombed by the Americans, and asked whether I thought it wise for her to report from Iraq. This was awful. If I said yes and she was killed, I would have a hand in her death. But if I said no, I would be harming her career and her free choice to be a journalist in a war, a spoilsport at the very least.

So I said that this question was hers — and hers only — to decide.

And off she went to Baghdad and reported brilliantly. And happily survived. I once asked the great Lebanese historian and speaker of ancient Hebrew Kamal Salibi, an old and trusted friend, if he believed in life after death. He always delivered his lectures with the frightening articulation of a clergyman, high-pitched voice, precise, unanswerable.

We are dust. Mercifully, he just missed the Satanic birth of Isis. But for some years he exiled himself from Beirut because he feared for his life. Someone had reminded the Lebanese that Salibi was Arabic for crusader.

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Its pornographic film of decapitations, drownings, mass executions and slow immolation by fire represented more than a nightmare — even for those who lived thousands of miles from the Middle East. It presented us with the intimacy of suffering. There was no justification, argument or excuse for these crimes.

Its members were, and are, vicious automatons. They have the emotions of an anti-aircraft missile or a drone — and here we touch rather untidily, indeed with deep concern, upon our own technology of death. The more detached we are from the act of killing, the easier it is to kill. When US bomber pilots fire-bombed Tokyo in the Second World War, the only thing that upset them was that — even though they were in the air — they could smell roasting flesh. We created this monstrous deviation from humanity.


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Before the Anglo-US occupation was a year old, I found piles of cassette tapes on sale outside a mosque in the Iraqi city of Fallujah. I bought several and took them back to my hotel in Baghdad. They showed dozens of scenes — all real, most of them apparently of Russian soldiers captured by Islamist militants in Chechnya.

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Each soldier was led into a room. A masked or hooded Islamist stood behind him. We like to think that anger or insane fury drive us to murder most foul. But this is not so. Or the military machine. We are no longer killed. We are not executed. We are mechanically destroyed because we ceased to be humans to our murderers long before we died. A computer warns that Hal is turning off their life systems. And a warning klaxon sounds. And there lies the most frightening moment.

I am against all parallels or comparisons with the Second World War. But if our present-day technology had been available to the mass-murdering Nazis, would there not have been a set of computer terminals outside the gas chambers to tell the SS when it was safe for them to open the doors. There would surely have been screens.

Life functions critical.