Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Death of an American Hero

I can hardly express  what a blow the death of Anthony Shadid  is to Americans' ability to be better informed about the Middle East.  
I have been following, daily and avidly, news and reporting out of the Middle East for quite a few years.  Without a doubt, Anthony Shadid was the most accomplished and sensitive American journalist working in the Middle East in the last decade, and probably more.  His writing was unfailingly eloquent, even lyrical, and always well informed.  In large part that was because he was so obviously able to connect with the human beings he was reporting about - and because, in contrast to the vast majority of American journalists working in the region, he was fluent in Arabic.  In Iraq, when other reporters often functioned as little better than stenographers for the "spin" of US military and diplomats, or had to rely on translators (who often work their own "spin" when they translate), Shadid could wade into a crowd and get relatively unvarnished accounts of the human impact of the Anglo-US invasion and occupation, which he then rendered in beautiful, evocative prose.  If you want an American journalist's account of what Iraq "was like" for Iraqis in the early years of the recent Iraq war, you can do no better than Shadid's book, Night Draws Near.
But it was not until I read this NYT account that I fully comprehended the depth of Shadid's physical courage.  I'd known that he'd taken on difficult and dangerous assignments, and had been held captive by Libyan militia in the recent fighting there.  I did not know that he suffered from asthma.  Having lived two years of my life with someone who suffered from chronic, sometimes severe asthma, I know from personal experience how frightening and dangerous that disease is.  That as an asthma sufferer Shadid nonetheless took on, willingly and often, such assignments, is a testament to his physical courage and his sense of mission as a journalist.
We are truly, all of us, much the poorer for his death.

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