The mother of slain journalist James Foley says in an interview with NPR’s All Things Considered that the family did not want him to return to Syria after a brief trip back to the United States in 2011.
“We really did not want him to go back,” Diane Foley tells host Melissa Block. “I must be honest about that,” she says of her son, who was killed by Islamic State militants in Syria earlier this month.
“Jim’s multitalented, and he could have done so many other things. But he, I think, was drawn to some of the drama, some of the rawness of the conflict zones. He also really was very touched by the suffering of the civilians in the midst of it all,” she says.
“Jim was very interested in human rights and had grown into an incredibly compassionate man,” Foley says.
(GlobalPost, which Foley freelanced for, has published this remembrance of the journalist.)
Since the brutal, videotaped beheading, Diane Foley has spoken with fellow captives of her son who were released. Some spent as long as a year with him. One of them, Danish photojournalist Daniel Rye Ottosen, memorized a letter that James Foley dictated to him.
In it, the U.S. journalist recalls his happy childhood and how much he cared for his siblings, nephews and niece.
Ottosen and others have told Diane Foley how her son “brought some of his fun-loving spirit to that dark place,” she says.
“They played games and gave lectures to one another and hugged one another, tried to lift each other’s spirits,” she says.
“Jim had several degrees, and … I know [he] gave lectures on American literature,” she says. “Some of the [other captives] were gourmet cooks, gave cooking lectures. One of the others was teaching them how to sail,” she says. “So they helped each other in those ways.”
Foley says she understands that the question of paying a ransom for hostages, as some European nations have done, is a “very, very complex issue, but I agree and I know our country agrees that more has to be done to protect American journalists.
“Our country feels strongly that paying ransom encourages hostage-taking, and that certainly is a concern. And so I understand that, however I would hope we would have some way to quietly protect and negotiate for these brave young people,” Foley says.
The family is working out the details of a James W. Foley Foundation that would, among other things, help freelancers: “We want his legacy to continue. That’s our hope,” she says.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
And now a conversation with the mother of James Foley, the American journalist who was killed by Islamic State militants. This week the Foley family released a letter they had received from James in an usual way. They said all his letters had been confiscated by his captors. So he asked a fellow hostage, a Danish photojournalist who was about to be released, to commit a letter to memory. And when he was freed from captivity, Daniel Rye Ottosen called James Foley’s mother and dictated what he had memorized. James Foley’s mother, Diane Foley, joins me now from Boston. Diane, thanks so much for being with us. And of course, our deepest condolences on the loss of your son.
DIANE FOLEY: Thank you, Melissa.
BLOCK: I wonder if first you could describe what was in that letter and what it was that your son wanted you to know.
FOLEY: Well, Jim definitely wanted to tell us all how much he loved us and how much joy his little nephews and niece had given him – how much he loved his three younger brothers and only sister and just the wonderful memories that he had of his childhood and family life. So it was a true gift to receive this from Daniel. He was very dear to call us and memorize tiny details – names of our grandchildren and such. So it was a real gift to receive that.
BLOCK: I’m struck by how the letter from Jim end. Grammy, he says, please take your medicine. Take walks and keep dancing. I plan to take you out to margaritas when I get home.
FOLEY: Right, right. She’s brokenhearted, Melissa.
BLOCK: I’m sure.
FOLEY: She truly is. Yeah, as we all are. But she’s having a very difficult time with the loss of James. He was a very big hearted, loving, young man and particularly loved his grandmother.
BLOCK: You mentioned that the Danish journalist had spent quite a bit of time with James in captivity. When you spoke with him, were you able to get details – things that were important to you to know in any way?
FOLEY: Oh, yes. I had the opportunity to meet Daniel. And he was an extraordinary young man. And I’ve also had the opportunity to meet several Spanish and French journalists – all very good people, talented young men and who really bonded quite closely while in captivity. I mean, they were held together – several of them almost two years and Daniel a year – others a bit shorter. But they certainly were in close quarters and shared the sorrow and the joy of at least their company. There was a joy in the company of one another. They were not alone. And that’s a blessing.
BLOCK: What was important to you to hear from them – from these fellow hostages – about that time?
FOLEY: Well, you know, Melissa, it’s a real blessing to hear that Jim was obviously feeling our prayers – that he was not despondent but instead very hopeful and compassionate to those in captivity. He brought some of his fun-loving spirit to that dark place. They played games and gave lectures to one another and hugged one another, tried to lift each other’s spirits. I was very, you know, thankful to hear that Jim was one of those who had a tremendous amount of strength. So he was feeling our prayers. And he had some peace within him, thank god.
BLOCK: You said they were giving lectures to each other.
FOLEY: They were. They were.
BLOCK: What kind of things?
FOLEY: You know, Jim had several degrees and one of them was in history. And so I know Jim gave lectures on American literature. Some of the others were gourmet cooks – gave cooking lectures. One of the others was teaching them how to sail. They were very creative about what they did to keep their minds active and agile. And one of them was a gymnast. And he taught them calisthenics and how to keep strong. And so they helped each other in those ways, Melissa.
BLOCK: You were mentioning the accounts that came to you from some European hostages who had been released, apparently after their countries paid ransom – made some sort of arrangement with their captors. And your son, James’ brother Michael, has said in an interview with Yahoo! News that he feels there’s more that could’ve been done directly on Jim’s behalf. He said I really really hope that Jim’s death pushes us to take another look at our approach to terrorist and hostage negotiations. Do you agree with him on that? What would you want to see done?
FOLEY: You know, I agree. And I know our country agrees that more has to be done to protect American journalists. So I would hope that together we can find better ways. And I certainly would appeal for the safe return of Steven Sotloff, Austin Tice and several other unnamed Americans who are still held captive around the world.
BLOCK: Mmhmm. Michael’s statement seems to be indicating some concern about U.S. policy, which is not to pay ransom – not to negotiate with hostage takers.
FOLEY: That’s true. Our country feels strongly that paying ransom encourages hostage taking and that certainly is a concern. And so I understand that. However, I would hope we would have some way to quietly protect and negotiate for these brave young people. I believe our government did try hard to help them and at one point rescue them. So I do feel they tried. However, I would hope that in the future more can be done – and to protect them.
BLOCK: I wonder if we can think back just a bit further, Ms. Foley, ’cause your son, of course, had been held captive also in Libya back in 2011 – held captive for six weeks. And later he was speaking with journalism students. And he said this – he said when you survive something, it has a strange sort of force that you’re drawn back to. And I’ve been wondering, when he decided to go to Syria to report about a year later, if you understood why he would do that – if that made any sense to you as his mother?
FOLEY: Well, we really did not want him to go back. You know, I must be honest about that. But he, I think, was drawn to some of the drama, some of the, you know, rawness of the conflict zones. He also really was very touched by the suffering of the civilians in the midst of it all. I think he felt he’d had a very privileged childhood, if you will, and that he felt he needed to bear witness to the suffering of others.
BLOCK: Well, Diane Foley, thank you very much for talking with us. And again, our deepest condolences to you and your family.
FOLEY: God bless you. Thank you.
BLOCK: Diane Foley, whose son James was killed in Syria by Islamic State militants earlier this month. She also told me the family hopes to help support other journalists who are motivated by the same compassion that drove her son. She said we don’t want Jim’s death to be in vain. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.