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Journalist Theo Padnos Recounts Years as Syrian Prisoner in Documentary “Theo Who Lived”

Director David Schisgall says Padnos' story is a rare eyewitness account of life inside a jihadi group by an outsider with a deep understanding of the region's language and culture

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In this photo taken Tuesday Aug. 30, 2016, Theo Padnos poses at the family's house in remote Reading, Vt. In 2012, journalist, Padnos slipped into Syria to cover its unfolding civil war and was promptly kidnapped by members of an al-Qaida branch. Image source: VOA
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reelance journalist Theo Padnos in 2012 slipped into Syria to cover its unfolding civil war and was promptly kidnapped by members of an al-Qaida branch.

The group held the Massachusetts native for nearly two years before releasing him in August 2014 as they were convinced he was a CIA agent because he spoke Arabic.

Now, Padnos is retracing his journey in “Theo Who Lived,” a documentary being screened Sept. 30 in Cambridge. Its theatrical premiere is in New York City on Oct. 7, followed by a wider release.

Padnos, 47, who has been living in Paris and Vermont, tells the Associated Press he’s grateful to have survived.

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The ordeal not only changed his outlook on life but also gave him perspective on the Syrian conflict that he feels is important to share.

Padnos is working on a nonfiction book, a play and a novel drawing on his experience. He wrote about his captivity for the New York Times Magazine shortly after his release and is trying to continue writing about the region as a journalist.

” I had a real spiritual voyage, which was terrifying for me and my family at the time,” Padnos said from his family’s vacation home in Vermont. ” But looking back, this is what life gave me and I’d like to take what I learned and turn it into some positive benefit.”

The film follows Padnos as he returns to places in Turkey and Israel that figured prominently in his 22-month capture. The film crew never set foot in Syria. Padnos reflects on his captivity on sets emulating his tiny prison cell and the room where he was subjected to torture and beatings.

Along the Turkey-Syria border, he recalls the moment when his traveling companions instruct him to dash across the field and hop the razor wire fence separating them from Syria.

It’s a moment Padnos says he’d replay in his mind for months after.

The trio of men had claimed they were providing supplies to the Free Syrian Army and offered to take him across the border with them. But they were actually affiliated with al-Qaida. They staged a fake interview, beat him and took him hostage shortly after crossing the border.

” This is where I threw my life away. It’s like a precipice that I walked up to and I actually jumped,” Padnos says in the film. ” Now I’m back in a safe place and I’m thinking why did I ever jump?”

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Padnos also details a series of failed escapes, including one in which cellmate and American photojournalist Matthew Schrier managed to sneak out through a narrow prison window but Padnos could not.

Padnos’ mother, Nancy Curtis, who is interviewed in the documentary, says she still has mixed emotions about her son’s release. During the ordeal, she became close to the parents of other Americans kidnapped by extremists overseas. Many of them were not as fortunate as her family, she says.

Curtis and other family members, working with the U.S. and Qatari governments, successfully arranged for Padnos’ release just days after the Islamic State beheaded New Hampshire journalist James Foley in a video. The family maintains that no ransom was paid.

” I always clung to the hope that he’d come home,” Curtis said. ” But I also don’t feel great joy and happiness. Probably anyone who has had a solider in the war who came home but knows others that didn’t have similar emotions.”

Director David Schisgall says Padnos’ story is a rare eyewitness account of life inside a jihadi group by an outsider with a deep understanding of the region’s language and culture.

Having spent years prior studying Arabic and Islam in Yemen and Syria, Padnos was able to build trust and friendships with some of his captors.

Near the end of his captivity, he was given greater freedoms and even traveled personally with the then-high commander of al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaida affiliate in Syria.

“The real intimacy he developed with his captors was remarkable,” Schisgall said. ” It’s a very important message for Americans to see these people fighting as complicated individuals who are both very dangerous but also very human.” (VOA)

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15 Facts To Know About Arnab Goswami and Republic TV

. Since last year, Arnab has been running his own TV channel by the name of Republic TV which was much awaited by the viewers.

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Arnab Goswami started his career in 1994 with ‘The Telegraph’ as a journalist. Wikimedia Commons
Arnab Goswami started his career in 1994 with ‘The Telegraph’ as a journalist. Wikimedia Commons

NEW DELHI: Arnab Goswami is a well-known name, who has revolutionized the way Indian media practices journalism. Many people call him as a grammar Nazis and for some, he stands out to be an intellectual person. Arnab Goswami is a person, who is isolated and loved at the same time.

For past many years, Arnab was the front face of Times Now and was handling the role of an anchor in a live debate show. It was the time when people started following him due to his blunt questions and courageous approach. Now, since last year, Arnab has been running his own TV channel by the name of Republic TV and was much awaited by the viewers.

Let’s take a look at some of the interesting facts related to Arnab Goswami and Republic TV:

1. Arnab Goswami started his career in 1994 with ‘The Telegraph’ as a journalist. He worked there for less than a year then shifted to Delhi and joined NDTV 24X7 in TV News Broadcast. Later down the lane, Arnab joined NDTV’s core team as a news editor.

Arnab Goswami is a person, who is isolated and loved at the same time. Wikimedia Commons
Arnab Goswami is a person, who is isolated and loved at the same time. Wikimedia Commons

2. Arnab Goswami has the distinction of having a degree from Oxford University. After completing his schooling, Arnab took up BA (Hons.) in Sociology from the Hindu College of Delhi University. Then in 1994, he concluded his Masters in Social Anthropology from St. Antony’s College, Oxford University. Due to his outstanding intellect, he was granted as a Felix Scholar in Oxford. Arnab was also honored with the position of Visiting D C Pavate Fellow at the International Studies Department at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge University.

3. Soon after the September 11 attacks in 2001, Arnab came up with his first book, “Combating Terrorism: The Legal Challenge.” Here he summed up all the legal issues in framing laws against terrorists and terrorism. Other aspects included the legal solution for terrorism. Arnab also compared India’s anti-terrorism laws with those in the West, specifically the United Kingdom.

4. Arnab Goswami belongs to a political family. His father, Manoranjan Goswami is a retired army officer and a BJP member. Manoranjan has contested as a BJP candidate in the Indian general election, from Guwahati. His Paternal Grandfather, Rajani Kanta Goswami was a lawyer and Congress leader.  And his Maternal Grandfather, Gauri Sankar Bhattacharya was a communist and leader of the opposition for many years in Assam. So, we can count his attributes of political knowledge well.

Republic TV becomes the first Indian news channel to Livestream Star India’s Hotstar. Wikimedia Commons
Republic TV becomes the first Indian news channel to Livestream Star India’s Hotstar. Wikimedia Commons

5. Being a journalist, Arnab’s First Ever TV Interview was with Congress leader, Sonia Gandhi. His this interview got him accolades for bringing the otherwise reticent Sonia Gandhi for an interview on TV.

6. Arnab’s role model is a famed musician, Shri Bhupen Hazarika. He is a legend in Assam and is known for his multicultural identity. Arnab was very much fond of Hazarika songs. Once, Arnab himself went to Calcutta, just to just to experience a thrill of the singer’s deep-throated voice.

7. Arnab Goswami has posed for the cover of Good Times magazine in September 2012 edition.  Good Times is a lifestyle magazine from the Northeast and covers the lifestyle taste of different regions.

8. Arnab was always a big fan of BBC and CNN. He wanted to run in the footsteps of these renowned channels. Once, he even quoted in an interview with Good Times, “I do dream that at some time in the future, our country will have a channel like BBC or CNN which is going to be broadcast to the world and if such an opportunity arises, I would certainly like to play a role in it.”

9. According to IndiaToday’s report, Arnab Goswami has Ranked 46th in the Mighty Power List. He was chosen on the basis of his debate topics on social causes like corruption, misgovernance, and terror. On the list, he ranked ahead of Arvind Kejriwal and many others.

10. After working at Times Now for 10 years, he resigned in 2016 and started his own TV channel, Republic TV.

11. Arnab himself is the managing director and co-founder of the Republic TV which was launched in 2017. The channel’s website (republicworld.com) also went live on the same day.

Arnab is the managing director and co-founder of the Republic TV. Republic TV
Arnab is the managing director and co-founder of the Republic TV. Republic TV

12. Republic TV became the first Indian news channel to Livestream Star India’s Hotstar.

13. S. Sundaram is the CFO of Republic TV. He was the former CFO of Times Now and joined Arnab after he released the channel.

14. Interestingly, Republic TV is a FREE TO AIR channel. It means that the channel is covered in the basic channel package and cable operators have to air it for free.

15. Arnab Goswami received the Ramnath Goenka Award for Journalist of the Year in 2010.

 

In the span of almost two decades, Arnab Goswami has already added a lot of feathers to his hat. But many a time, he has also been at the receiving end of People, who criticize him for his adamant way of speaking and not letting others speak on his debate shows. Also, he is been known for passing out his personal judgments in many cases, which is certainly not a healthy journalist practice.