Anthony Shadid, a veteran fifteen-year Middle East reporter, now New York Times bureau chief in Beirut, is currently covering the ongoing revolutions rolling through the Arab world—an active journalist on the move. In January he wrote about Tunisia; in February he was at Tahrir Square in Egypt. In March he was in Libya, where he and three New York Times colleagues were captured by pro-Qaddafi forces and held in brutal conditions for almost a week before their release. In early May he was in Syria. On a special six-hour visa, he was one of the first Western journalists to enter the country since the anti-government disturbances began. On Sunday, May 15, he participated from Beirut in the US Sunday morning TV program, This Week with Christiane Amanpour.
An American of Lebanese descent, Shadid grew up in Oklahoma and studied journalism, political science, and Arabic at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In 1993-94 he was with AP’s international desk in New York. While working for the Associated Press in Cairo from 1995 to 1999, covering most countries in the region, he also honed his Arabic skills at the American University in Cairo while reporting on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Back in Washington DC, with the Boston Globe after September 11, 2001, Shadid covered the Middle East and the State Department, but in 2003 he returned to the Middle East as Islamic affairs correspondent for the Washington Post, covering the war in Iraq.
Shadid’s innovative coverage of the Middle East—the war in Iraq and its aftermath, the 2006 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, the continuing Palestinian-Israeli conflict—has won him much praise and a variety of prizes and awards. In 2003 he won the George Polk Award for foreign reporting and his alma mater’s Ralph O. Nafziger Award for achievements of young alumni. In 2004 he won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize, the Michael Kelly Award, the Overseas Press Club’s Hal Boyle Award for best newspaper or wire service reporting from abroad, and the American Society of Newspaper Editors’ award for best deadline writing. In 2005 he received the Wisconsin Alumni Association’s Distinguished Alumni Award, and in 2006, the Ridenhour Book Prize, awarded for his book, Night Draws Near. Just last year he was once again awarded the Pulitzer Prize.
Anthony Shadid is a novelist’s journalist. His admirers cite his language—his precise and eloquent use of words. David Chambers wrote in Saudi Aramco World that Shadid “discovered his mission: to marry literature with journalism.” He imbues his dispatches with feeling for the people and an understanding of the underlying bitter effects, not only of war, but the aftermath of war—all this written in a graceful prose focused on intimate observation and attention to the small and often painful realities of everyday life.
Recently Shadid described Syria’s Dara’a as “a town of low-slung buildings”; the pattern of religious and ethnic minorities “a mosaic.” In Baghdad “the colors of the city were softened by the afternoon sun into the hues of an antique Persian carpet.” In Gaza people move “amid fetid streets a shoulder-width wide . . .” Shadid’s reporting is down-to-earth. Chronicling the recent revolution in Egypt, he left Tahrir Square and reported from the working class area of Imbaba, describing “a town where wild thorns grow among the unadorned tombstones.” Chris Lydon, interviewing Shadid in Massachusetts in 2010, said he “adds his own humanity to big-time journalism.”
Shadid always asks questions eliciting unconventional answers; he spoke to Chris Lydon about sending back “personal horror stories, most of them, about the war’s toxic effects on ordinary Iraqis.” But he asks if anyone is reading these stories. Speaking about the aftermath of the Iraqi war, he laments, “I think it’s just spectacular that we don’t appreciate the devastation that has been wrought in Iraq over the past seven or eight years. . . To my mind the society has been destroyed at some level. Is it going to turn out all right in 10 years? Or 20? Or 30? . . . It may. It doesn’t feel that way to me right now.”
As a “hyphenated American” Anthony Shadid asks frequent questions about his own identity, saying he feels more Arab in the United States and more American in the Arab world. His method of reporting, enhanced by his knowledge of Arabic, has led him closer to the people. “He is the rarity among American reporters in Iraq who lets him and his readers feel the pain of plain Arabs,” writes Lydon. Examining the search for identity by these people deepens his own search. Shadid’s search is currently taking shape as he works on a third book set in his family’s village of Marjayoun in south Lebanon.
The pursuit of identity is central to Shadid’s two books. In Legacy of the Prophet: Despots, Democrats and the New Politics of Islam (2000) he says that for him to understand Islam “was in part to understand myself and my fractured relation to the region . . .” Reviewing the book, Rami Khouri summarized the work’s thesis: “that a new generation of Islamist leaders is in the midst of a historic transformation that sees its movements engaging successfully in democratic politics.” Although many saw this idea, penned before the attacks of September 11, 2001, as too optimistic, others praised the insight. David Waldner of the University of Virginia found the book compelling, “essential reading for policy-makers, scholars, and all who hope and work for a future of peace and justice in the Middle East,” as did the Washington Post’s Nora Boustany, who called it a “must read for anyone who wants to better understand Islam and its humanity.” Edward Said wrote, “In the reductive, bellicose sensationalism that has disfigured the general American awareness of Islam, his work is a stirring exception, of special use to the general as well as the specialized reader.” Shadid’s claim of a gradual move toward democracy in Islamic countries can be seen as a foreshadowing of recent events in the Arab world, the so-called “Arab spring.”
In Night Draws Near: Iraq’s People in the Shadow of America’s War (2005), the author, drawing on his experiences in Iraq both before and after the war, seeks to provide a necessary understanding of Iraqi people and their struggle to deal with the complicating and devastating effect of the aftermath of the war. The stories of ordinary Iraqi people “caught in war’s crossfire” are interwoven with meaningful historic analysis.