BANGKOK, Thailand – You may not recognize his name, but if you have any interest in the Middle East, the war in Iraq or the revolutions in the Arab world, you have read his work. The name is Anthony Shadid.
To those who work in nasty and dangerous places, he was, simply Tony. He was always modest, pleasant, generous and, above all, passionate. At times, he seemed almost nuclear powered.
His writing, his craft and his voice were, simply, brilliant. He was in a league of his own.
When I saw his byline an unfortunate feeling of both excitement and dread drew me into the story. In a few lines, Tony could cut through the bigotry, the misconceptions about Arabs or Muslims and make me connect with the people Tony chose to invite into my life.
A few well chosen words, and I could put myself in the place of that Iraqi shop owner, the Libyan taxi driver or the Sunni police officerin Baghdad. I knew them as fathers, husbands or businessmen, or women faced with life-and-death decisions.
The excitement came from his rare ability to share their lives, and his passion for their world. The dread, I am embarrassed to admit, came from a frustration in my own abilities. Although I share his passion, I could never be Tony Shadid. He was just too good. He spoke Arabic and understood the culture in ways I could never have appreciated. He had a unique voice as a writer and a terrific way of illuminating simple events in ways that reflected a greater and profound meaning. He was always compelling.
I’m a simple broadcast journalist in what, for most of my life, has been a support role. I’m not in his league, but Anthony Shadid is my hero. I know of no other print journalist whom I admire more than Tony. His work was inspiring. If we want to avoid the conflicts that Tony covered so well, then we need more of what he did.
The conventional wisdom is the audience — that’s you — is only interested in Americans. No one wants to hear from someone who does not look like them, share their religion or their view of the world. I can tell you that those people are, mostly, just like us. They want to live their lives, love their family and leave their children a little better off than when they entered the world. I can say that, but Tony could make you believe it.
Tony died this week. He didn’t perish in a fire fight in Iraq (which he survived), or as a hostage in Libya (which he survived). He was crossing the border from Syria to Turkey after covering the brutal conflict there. He was on horseback. His own immune system, one of those many things that kept him alive, turned against him. He perished from a reaction to the horses — an asthma attack. Some of those who know him think of this fate as twisted, or cruel. I don’t.
Only Anthony Shadid could stop Anthony Shadid. He was that good.
So as I sit with my laptop in a foreign and strange country I think about his passion and his work. I’ll try harder. We all should. But I’ll never be as good as Tony.