Anthony Shadid was not a household name in the United States. Most readers of
newspapers likely do not notice the byline on a news article, unless the writer
is a regular columnist or the piece is deemed offensive or
Shadid, however, was solid, straightforward and committed
to exposing what is really taking place in the Arab world today. New York Times
readers, and others, already miss him.
His premature death, at age 43,
while on assignment in Syria, was a shocker. For someone who regularly read his
dispatches with anticipation, I was deeply saddened. It is a tragedy for his
family, for the Times
, for his readers, and ultimately for those Arabs, Syrians
in particular, who have depended on Shadid’s determination to tell their
stories. His reportage summoned empathy for the victims of the Bashar Assad
regime, the most bloodthirsty of today’s Arab leaders.
Yet, as I shared
this disturbing news with others, many, not recognizing him, did not react with
similar sorrow. Too bad, for we will be less informed about the unfolding
tragedies across the Arab world.
Moreover, Shadid’s untimely passing came
in the same week as the death of Whitney Houston captivated Americans and
dominated media coverage.
Hard for a journalist with two Pulitzer prizes
to compete with an entertainment or sports celebrity.
I never had the
chance to meet Shadid. Perhaps we could have found time during the planned
speaking tour for his new book, House of Stone
, about his ancestral home in
Lebanon. We could have met for coffee, or hosted him, as we’ve done with other
reporters, for a breakfast briefing with knowledgeable, inquisitive
American Jews at AJC headquarters.
The opportunity to meet American
foreign correspondents, especially ones based in the Middle East, to hear their
perspectives on the region and the challenges they face in daily reporting is
valuable. We would have learned directly the exceptional advantages Shadid
brought to his journalism mission. Passionate reporting was his
He was one of the few American journalists fluent in Arabic.
Another is the Times
correspondent currently based at the UN, Neil MacFarquhar,
who previously covered the entire Arab world from his perch in Cairo, and
continues to visit the region for reporting.
The Middle East is too big
for a single, skilled, journalist. MacFarquhar grew up in Libya. Shadid was born
in Oklahoma City to Lebanese immigrants.
American reporters with
firsthand experience in the Arab world are more comfortable with the culture and
thinking of those societies. They should be sensitive to the nuances of
political discussions and developments. Shadid’s insights have been critical to
helping Americans understand the fast-moving events in what has been a highly
tumultuous and uncertain period, popularly called the “Arab Spring,” but has
increasingly seemed much darker, an “Arab Winter.” Foreign correspondents,
especially those sent into war zones, are a special breed, but due to budget
cuts they are declining in numbers. Apart from newswire services, few American
media outlets maintain bureaus around the world. The Times
is one of the
And the dangers to those practicing the craft are real. Shadid
traversed the region fearlessly, covering the Iraq war, on to Libya, where he
was kidnapped and abused, and then to the heart of bestiality, Syria, though he
managed to successfully enter and leave that country surreptitiously several
times, without harm. It was a severe asthma attack, not Assad’s bullets, that
felled Shadid last week.
In the past year others have been
Notably, Lara Logan of CBS TV was seized by hooligans near
Cairo’s Tahrir Square, held captive, sexually assaulted, and accused of being a
Jew, as if that was a special sin.
The 2002 abduction and execution in
Pakistan of Daniel Pearl, a Wall Street Journal
reporter who was Jewish, remains
one of the most gruesome examples of the dangers.
Still, these reporters
are driven by a desire to get to the heart of the stories with clarity and
After all, truth is the first casualty of war. Indefatigable
foreign correspondents keep the truth alive.
Nowhere is the tragedy of
the failing “Arab Spring” more calamitous than in Assad’s Syria. “I don’t think
I’d ever seen something like what I saw in Syria,” Shadid told National Public
Radio (NPR) in December. “You’re dealing with a government that’s shown very
little restraint in killing its own people to put down an uprising.” As Shadid’s
body, with the help of the Times
photographer accompanying him, was carried
across the border to Turkey, away from Syrian forces, the Assad regime’s
outrages reached new heights as they mercilessly killed hundreds
With Shadid’s passing there is a void of reason in explaining the
Middle East that will be difficult, yet necessary, to fill.The writer is
the American Jewish Committee’s director of media relations.