From the Editors
I feel like I need to write the stories, he would say, or the stories will not get told. And so often Anthony Shadid did write the stories no one else would—the stories from Iraq, from Lebanon, from Libya, from Syria. In the end, he died on a dirt road in Syria, carried by a fellow journalist across the border to Turkey, like a fallen hero. To many, he was a hero, but he was also a beloved friend, a son who adored his parents, a father who lived for his children, a husband who beamed at mention of his wife. He always tried to balance that pull of the reporter to cover the story with the responsibility he had to those who loved him to just stay with us.
The line between the journalist who should somehow stay along a safe sideline and the people to whom these historic, often heart-wrenching events were occurring, blurred for Anthony. That is why he was one of the best reporters of our time. That is why he was in Syria today.
I am so grateful a friend called to tell me Anthony died—that I did not see it on twitter or on the news. I had gotten calls about Anthony before. He had been shot in Palestine. He had been kidnapped in Libya. He had ridden in cars to southern Lebanon in 2006, when even the driver had chided him for edging far too close to danger. But he always reminded us that he did not take unnecessary risks. Anthony was no maverick. He did not set out to be a war reporter. He just wanted to be a reporter covering the Middle East.
He was born in Oklahoma to an Arab-American family. He worked hard to become fluent in Arabic. He was much more than that. He was truly literate in Arabic. He could hum Um Kulthoum and recite al-Mutanabbi. Though he wrote in English, his prose had the cadence of the best Middle Eastern poets. He earned his knowledge through hard work, hours in classrooms and coffee shops across the Arab world, patiently listening to anyone willing to teach him.
Those of us who knew Anthony are well aware of how modest he was, how amazed he was by his achievements. But everything he did, he took seriously. In the late 1990s, he worked for a time in Los Angeles for the Associate Press. Taking a break from covering some wildfires, he rang to talk to me about the Iranian pop legend Googoosh. He was considering writing about her US tour and just wanted to be sure he grasped the nuances of her songs, the essence of what Googoosh represented to Iranians in exile. “Gotta go,” he said after a while, “these fires are just brutal.”
In 2000, he came to New York City for a few days. Together, we had arranged to interview the Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami for the Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP). I was a bit daunted by the prospect, and somehow having a credible, bona fide journalist working with me made me feel more secure. Through a colleague, we arranged to meet Kiarostami at a coffee shop in Greenwich Village. Kiarostami arrived on time, but then announced he was going for a walk and would return to talk with us later. "We blew it," Anthony whispered, as he watched the great director walk away; "he is not coming back." "He will return," I assured him. We sat in silence drinking espresso after espresso, Anthony shooting regretful glances toward the door from time to time. Then, Kiarostami quietly returned, kept his sunglasses on, and spoke with us for nearly an hour. We got the story for MERIP. I will always be proud to share a byline with Anthony Shadid.
As we headed back to my office at New York University (NYU), I asked Anthony how we might better bridge the worlds of academia and journalism. "Think of all those sections in the Sunday New York Times," he said. We need to work together to ensure coverage from the Middle East from all those angles—feature stories, business, culture—not just the front-page headlines.
In 2001, after a MERIP editorial meeting, we were walking to our favorite Adams Morgan dive to drink and dance after another typical marathon session working on the journal. I have an offer, Anthony told me, to write for the Boston Globe. After a stint in Boston acclimating to the newspaper, they would send him to the Middle East. The prospect caused tension in his marriage, but it was the job he had been working towards for much of his life.
He had just finished his first book, Legacy of the Prophet, and Anthony was thinking of asking Edward Said to read the manuscript. His personal connection to the great scholar was Wadie, Edward Said’s son, whom Anthony had met while they were both studying Arabic in Cairo. The two developed a lifelong friendship. Anthony asked me if it was too forward, too presumptuous to draw on those personal ties to ask for Edward Said’s help with his book. No, I insisted, Edward Said would not read the book if he did not want to. In the end, Anthony’s first book was published with this blurb by Said: "In the reductive and bellicose sensationalism that has disfigured the general American awareness of Islam, [Shadid’s] work is a stirring exception." Whenever I introduced Anthony at an event, I read that comment. Despite his long list of lofty accomplishments, he remained visibly proud of the praise from a scholar he so admired.
It was a weekend day in New York and I had just gotten out of the shower. My colleague from NYU rang to say he had just read a report on the NYT website that Anthony Shadid had been shot in Ramallah. "But it is not your friend Anthony Shadid," my colleague said trying to reassure me, "because he is not in Ramallah, right?" But Anthony was in Ramallah, where there were stories to be told. I made some phone calls and somehow managed to get a hold of Anthony’s cell phone and rang him.
He answered from his hospital bed in Jerusalem. Since he had been shot in the shoulder, it hurt to hold the phone so he laid it on his pillow; we talked for about an hour. He had been interviewing Yasser Arafat in his Ramallah compound, then under siege. It was late in the afternoon but there was still light out. Anthony was wearing a bulletproof vest clearly marked “PRESS” and was walking in the middle of the street, alongside his handler. This is what they had been told to do, so they would not be mistaken for anything other than journalists. A sniper had shot him in the neck. The bullet barely missed his spinal chord, going across and exiting from his shoulder. He fell to the ground, and as he watched the blood pour out of him, he thought of his daughter Laila—fearing he would never see her again. He kept repeating, “I am a journalist, an American journalist” as he was surrounded by soldiers. One soldier finally fell to his knees and gave him CPR. Anthony was finally carried to an ambulance and driven to a hospital in Jerusalem. Later, some soldiers came into his room with guns pointed at him, he told me—in clear violation of the Geneva Convention, he pointed out—demanding that he put his hands up in the air. “I cannot raise my hands," he told them, "cause you fucking shot me.” They looked at him, lying there wounded, and decided to leave him be. Even now, in his obituaries, we read that he was shot in Ramallah—not who shot him or why.
Anthony then went to work for the Washington Post. His beat was the Islamic world. He told us he would be a roving journalist covering stories across the globe. But with the US occupation of Iraq, he became more of a war reporter. As President Bush warned of an impending attack, many journalists either left Iraq or became embedded. Anthony had worked many years in order to cover the Middle East, and he was not going to leave the biggest story of his career untold. Anthony insisted on staying and remained unembedded, covering the impact of the war on the Iraqi people. “He wrote poetry on deadline,” said Steve Fainaru who worked with him at the Post.
In 2004, Anthony won the Pulitzer for International Reporting. He was cited for "his extraordinary ability to capture, at personal peril, the voices and emotions of Iraqis as their country was invaded, their leader toppled and their way of life upended." What made Anthony’s reporting so vivid was his ability to empathize with suffering people, to listen carefully as they told their stories, and to convey the devastation of the war for Iraqis when too many chose to look the other way. “I did not want the Pentagon to write this story like a screenplay, with expert scene-setting, and the temptation, irresistible in conflict, to manipulate reality,” he said. "Readers needed to understand how American weapons were fired but just as importantly, where our bombs landed. This war, from the American perspective, might have had democratic aims, but it was still war, horrific—a panorama of terror and grief." His book, Night Draws Near: Iraq’s People in the Shadow of America’s War, will remain a classic of our generation, the story of a war that left a broken country in its wake.
I last saw my friend Anthony on 12 April 2010; by then, he was writing for the New York Times, and happily married. He had come to Brown University to speak about his forthcoming book and gave a lecture entitled, “Stones Without People: Loss and Nostalgia in Lebanon, Iraq, and the Middle East.” The day before, his lovely wife Nada had given birth to their son Malik. That morning, he got a call letting him know he had won his second Pulitzer. He could not stop smiling and his eyes fluttered with sheer joy. The Associated Press took pictures of Anthony at Brown that day. It is so heartbreaking that some of the photos of that day have been used for his obituaries in the press.
At one point during his visit, we stopped by our home in Providence so Anthony could grab a snack and relax for a bit before his lecture. He bonded with Binker the dog and wanted a tour of the whole house. The time he had spent rebuilding his ancestral home in Marjayoun in Lebanon had made him more attuned to design, the idiosyncrasies of old homes. He admired an old chest of drawers we had picked up at an antique shop in Massachusetts. I should do more, he said, with my apartment in Boston. The idea of a home was precious for Anthony. In Marjayoun, he had discovered two old olive trees in his grandmother’s garden. He had planted a third one alongside them. In the shadows of his family’s past, he was building a home for his Nada, his Malik, his Laila. They now have those stones, those trees, and all those stories.
No one told a story like Anthony Shadid. I write this not as a piece of scholarship; I am too heartbroken to draw any profound conclusions. I write simply as a way to handle my sadness, my utter disbelief that he is gone—as a remembrance of some of the stories Anthony shared with his friends. Little Malik turns two this April; may he grow up to know how much his dad meant to us all.
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