The family of slain US journalist Steven Sotloff paid moving tribute to the reporter on Wednesday, remembering a gentle soul with a fondness for junk food and golf who was fiercely committed to giving “a voice to those who had none.”
The 31-year-old had been drawn to reporting from the world’s conflict zones because he was unable to “turn his back on the suffering pervading the world,” a family spokesman said, after Sotloff’s father briefly appeared holding a photo of his son, declining to speak to media.
Sotloff’s horrific killing by the Islamic State was shown in a video that emerged on Tuesday, just weeks after fellow journalist James Foley was killed by the group in near-identical circumstances.
A dual Israeli-US citizen, Sotloff was remembered in Israel by people who had worked with the young journalist during his time in the Jewish State and while reporting around the Middle East.
Sotloff family spokesman Barak Barfi said in the statement that the reporter had been attracted to Syria through a fascination with the Arab world.
“He was no war junkie, he did not want to be a modern-day Lawrence of Arabia: he merely wanted to give voice to those who had none,” Barfi said.
“From the Libyan doctor who struggled with psychological services to children ravaged by war to the Syrian plumber who risked his life by crossing regime lines to purchase medicine, their story was Steve’s story.
“He ultimately sacrificed his life to bring their story to the world,” added Barfi, insisting that Sotloff was “no hero.”
“Like all of us, he was a mere man who tried to find good concealed in a world of darkness and if it did not exist he tried to create it.”
Sotloff was kidnapped in Syria in 2013 and held hostage until his beheading. When friends learned of his capture, they began a frantic effort to have any reference to his Jewish identity or work in Israel removed from websites around the world in the hopes that it would increase his odds of surviving, Ynet reported.
Barfi, an Arabic scholar and research fellow at the New America Foundation think tank in Washington, launched a personal condemnation of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
“Woe to you. You said the month of Ramadan is the month of mercy,” he said, speaking in Arabic. “Where is your mercy?”
“God does not love the aggressor,” he continued and then challenged Baghadi to a debate on Islamic morality.
“I am ready to debate you with kind preachings,” Barfi said. “I have no sword in my hand and I am ready for your answer.”
Sotloff, a self-styled “stand-up philosopher from Miami,” who wrote for Time, the Christian Science Monitor, Foreign Policy and World Affairs Journal, had always found time for family despite his workload.
“He had a fondness for junk food he could not overcome and despite his busy schedule, he always found time to Skype his father to talk about his latest golf game,” Barfi said.
“He was appreciated by all who met his sincerity and kindness. Steve had a gentle soul that this world will be without, but his spirit will endure in our hearts.
“This week, we mourn, but we will emerge from this ordeal. Our village is strong. We will not allow our enemies to hold us hostage with the sole weapons they possess: fear,” he said.
A former Islamic State prisoner who said he was held along with Sotloff, told the Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth that the reporter tried to adhere to some Jewish traditions, even while keeping his heritage secret from his Islamist captors.
On Yom Kippur, the unnamed ex-hostage said, he managed to fast.
“He said to them that he is sick and doesn’t want to eat, despite the fact that they served us eggs that day,” he said.
The source also said that Sotloff would covertly pray toward Jerusalem by observing which way the Muslims were facing during prayer (Mecca, southeast of Syria, where he was held) and changing the direction slightly.