Anthony Shadid, who spent two decades covering conflicts and change in the Middle East and Africa as a correspondent for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and others, died yesterday while on assignment in Syria. Shadid suffered a severe asthma attack while making the treacherous border crossing between Syria and Turkey, after spending a week there gathering stories on the resistance to Bashar al-Assad's regime. Tyler Hicks, a Times photographer who was held captive with Shadid in Libya last year and was accompanying him on this trip, attempted to revive him, but was unsuccessful. Hicks informed the Times of Shadid's death and also brought his body back across the border to Turkey. Just 43 years old, he leaves behind a wife and two children.
Fellow journalists were shocked and saddened by the surprise news and shared a flood of grief and remembrances online. Most recalled him as both a talented colleague and a generous mentor, with many citing his acts of friendship and support for fellow reporters. He was hailed by more than one writer as the best journalist of his generation — "the best of the breed" — and one who looked beyond the obvious headlines to get real and moving stories from regular people. He had just as many fans in the places he covered as he did in America, and readers around the globe also shared their condolences. Here's just a sampling of some of the comments:
Rarely does a journalist die and the world is different, but without shadid we will know less, and settle for less nuanced, less human truth— Peter S. Goodman (@petersgoodman) February 17, 2012
Devastated by the loss of @anthonyshadid. Brilliant, kind, inspiring man. Knowing him meant learning from the best.— Lara Setrakian (@Lara) February 17, 2012
Anthony Shadid was the gold standard of journalism because of language skills, hard work, compassion & toughness. RIP.— Nicholas Kristof (@NickKristof) February 17, 2012
I can't believe it. Anthony Shadid is gone. His courage, intelligence, grace, fluency and determination to tell us the truth... unequaled.— Jay Rosen(@jayrosen_nyu) February 17, 2012
But most of all they cited his work. Shadid twice won the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting and was nominated again this year. He was not just a talented reporter with a keen understanding of the region, he was also an fantastic writer who eloquently shared the stories of those living through violent, changing times. Fellow Washington Post reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran wrote in his remembrance that "he found humanity amid the rubble, compassion in the tableau of violence."
Shadid reported from every hot zone in the Middle East; from the Palestinian territories to Iraq to Tunisia and, most recently, in every battleground of 2011's Arab Spring, often putting his own life on the line to do his job. Shadid survived a shooting on the streets of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank in 2003 and just last year was part of a group of four Times journalists (including Hicks) who were arrested in Libya by Muammar Qaddafi’s forces. They were held captive and beaten for six days before finally being released. He returned to Libya after Qaddafi's fall and Shadid's last story for the Times was an in-depth front-pager about the struggle for order among the rival militias trying to replace him.
Born in Oklahoma to a family of Lebanese descent, Shadid did not learn to speak Arabic until he was adult, but after gaining a degree in political science and journalism he immediately took on the Mid-East beat for the Associated Press, starting in 1990. He eventually moved to The Boston Globe and later The Washington Post, where he won his first Pulitzer in 2004. He also published three books, with the latest scheduled to be released in March.
"I did feel that Syria was so important, and that story wouldn’t be told otherwise, that it was worth taking risks for,”
“In Assad’s Syria, There Is No Imagination” Frontline, PBS, 2011
Deprived of a popular mandate, or even consent, Arab leaders have long searched for the instruments to show their power was an entitlement. Sometimes they are symbols, meant to convey legitimacy. Anwar Sadat mined the 1973 war ... He turned to Islam, casting himself as “The Believer President.” His successor, Hosni Mubarak, tedious and taciturn, saw the very notion of stability as legitimizing his rule. Bashar al-Assad’s father, Hafez al-Assad, looked far and wide, too. His rule was meant to seem eternal, as his images were omnipresent ... But his success relied not on his regime’s ability to end a volatile chapter of Syrian history that saw dozens of attempted coups over more than 20 years, or the modernization of infrastructure and education, or his service to the poor and rural, like him, who represented his base. It was his ability to inculcate a suffocating cult of personality, buttressed by fear, often the most visceral sort, the kind that once led Egyptians to quip that the only place where it was safe to open your mouth was the dentist’s office.
After Israeli air assaults on Lebanon, summer of 2006:
Some suffering cannot be covered in words. This had become my daily fare as reporter in the Middle East documenting war, its survivors and fatalities, and the many who seem a little of both. In the Lebanese town of Qana, where Israeli bombs caught their victims in the midst of a morning’s work, we saw the dead standing, sitting, looking around. The village, its voices and stories, plates and bowls, letters and words, its history, had been obliterated in a few extended moments that splintered a quiet morning.
"Restoring Names to War’s Unknown Casualties," The New York Times, 2010
In a blue plastic chair, he sat under harsh fluorescent lights and a clock that read 8:58 and 44 seconds, no longer keeping time. With deference and patience, he stared at the screen, each corpse bearing four digits and the word “majhoul,” or unknown:
No. 5060 passed, with a bullet to the right temple; 5061, with a bruised and bloated face; 5062 bore a tattoo that read, “Mother, where is happiness?” The eyes of 5071 were open, as if remembering what had happened to him.
“Go back,” Hamid asked the projectionist. No. 5061 returned to the screen. “That’s him,” he said, nodding grimly.
His mother followed him into the room, her weathered face framed in a black veil. “Show me my son!” she cried.
"A Boy Who Was 'Like a Flower", Washington Post, 2003 (Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting)
On a cold, concrete slab, a mosque caretaker washed the body of 14-year-old Arkan Daif for the last time.
With a cotton swab dipped in water, he ran his hand across Daif's olive corpse, dead for three hours but still glowing with life. He blotted the rose-red shrapnel wounds on the soft skin of Daif's right arm and right ankle with the poise of practice. Then he scrubbed his face scabbed with blood, left by a cavity torn in the back of Daif's skull.
The men in the Imam Ali mosque stood somberly waiting to bury a boy who, in the words of his father, was "like a flower." Haider Kathim, the caretaker, asked: "What's the sin of the children? What have they done?"
In the rituals of burial, the men and their families tried, futilely, to escape the questions that have enveloped so many lives here in fear and uncertainty. Beyond some neighbors, family, and a visitor, there were no witnesses; the funeral went unnoticed by a government that has eagerly escorted journalists to other wartime tragedies. Instead, Daif and two cousins were buried in the solitude of a dirt-poor, Shiite Muslim neighborhood near the city limits.
The boys were killed at 11 a.m. today when, as another relative recalled, "the sky exploded."