Many of you have probably heard the tragic news that Anthony Shadid, the celebrated New York Times Middle East correspondent, died last week of an asthma attack while he was in Syria covering the uprising there. With his death, the region has lost one of its most dedicated and compassionate chroniclers. I got to know Anthony when I was doing dissertation research in Egypt; he came to a couple of dinner parties at my apartment in Cairo which were memorable mostly for the fascinating stories he told about people he’d met or experiences he’d had covering the region. I didn’t know him very well but one of the things which always struck me about him was just how far he was from the stereotype of the macho foreign correspondent, flak jacket in hand always eager to jump into the latest war zone. He had an unfailing generosity and humility reflected in his writings. He dedicated his life to trying to excavate the voices of ordinary people effaced by politics, violence and war, often at great personal risk and sacrifice. As a historian, I also appreciated his grasp of history. More than any other journalist covering the region he had a deep and profound sense of how memory, nostalgia and the weight of the past suffused both current conflicts in the region and everyday lives.
I think if he were here, Anthony would be deeply touched by the tributes and outpourings which have marked his passing and also a little embarrassed. He would be the first to remind all of us of his Middle Eastern counterparts in Iraq, in Egypt, in Palestine, Lebanon and Syria, in Libya and other places who have fallen in the line of duty and remained unnamed and unremembered in the Western press. Journalism has lost one of its most brilliant practitioners; the world has lost a brave and truly decent human being.
Allah yarhamak, ya Anthony.
Here are two of Anthony’s stories which I think reflect well who he was as a writer and a person: