Here at the Kevorkian Center there is a lot of criticism of the mainstream press' coverage and portrayal of the Middle East. A lot of journalists come under scrutiny for their inability to master the language of the people they seek to profile. Nuance, depth and basic knowledge are often lacking.
But one journalist, it appeared to me, was the object of unanimous praise: The New York Times' Anthony Shadid. On Thursday night, the Times reported that Shadid passed away while reporting on the Syrian uprising due to an asthema attack.
Anthony Shadid, a gifted foreign correspondent whose graceful dispatches for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe and The Associated Press covered nearly two decades of Middle East conflict and turmoil, died, apparently of an asthma attack, on Thursday while on a reporting assignment in Syria. Tyler Hicks, a Times photographer who was with Mr. Shadid, carried his body across the border to Turkey.The Times has compiled excerpts from Shadid.
One not listed is Shadid's astute reading of the landscape after Tunisia's uprising and the departure of Ben Ali:
"In Peril, the Arab Status Quo," Shadid wrote:
For a while, the charisma and popularity of bygone leaders like Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt and Abdel-Karim Qassem in Iraq might have masked the states’ failures. Though harsh and oppressive, they are still viewed with nostalgia in their countries, not least because their successors seem so timid and lackluster. The moment back then was headier, too, buoyed by post-colonial optimism. Whatever else can be said about Habib Bourguiba of Tunisia, it is hard to imagine an Arab leader ostentatiously drinking orange juice on television during the month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast from dawn to dusk. “A modern nation cannot afford to stop for a month every year,” he declared. Right or wrong, the gesture was dramatic, though it earned him plenty of enemies.Today’s notion of drama is the man who overthrew him, Mr. Ben Ali, offering this concession to angry protesters: He would not serve as president for life. The protesters were not satisfied.The states have failed to foster pluralism and a universal sense of citizenship. Miserable governance fosters narrower identities as Sunnis, Shiites, Christians and so on. Lebanon’s illness — rigid identities that breed parochial chauvinisms — is becoming less and less the exception.More tangibly, the many educated young remain frustrated. They might have the basics a state provides, but no future, that bygone notion that tomorrow will be better than yesterday. That is Tunisia, in a potential glimpse ahead.
Shadid was the recipient of two Pulitzer Prizes:
In the 2004 citation, the Pulitzer Board praised “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.” In the 2010 citation, the board praised “his rich, beautifully written series on Iraq as the United States departs and its people and leaders struggle to deal with the legacy of war and to shape the nation’s future.”In a nation paradoxically highly invested but greatly uninformed about the Middle East, Shadid stood for an invaluable service in aspiring to educate his compatriots.
At KEVO we were honored to host him in Fall 2010 for a discussion on the region. We will soon put online segments from that event, unfortunately under such sad circumstances.
Shadid is survived by a wife and two children.