On the Passing of Anthony Shadid

I don't quite remember the first time I sat down to read Night Draws Near -- it's been some years now -- but there's something of a running joke between me and a friend of mine. She's an avid reader and on the occasions where we've managed to meet over the past few years, she always asks what I've been reading and if I have any recommendations for her. Invariably, I recommend Night Draws Near; she laughs and lets me realize that I've already recommended this book four times to her.

I found out this morning that Anthony Shadid passed away from what the New York Times described as an asthma attack. In their report, they write:
“Steeped in Arab political history but also in its culture, Shadid recognized early on that along with the despots, old habits of fear, passivity and despair were being toppled. He brought a poet’s voice, a deep empathy for the ordinary person and an unmatched authority to his passionate dispatches.”
And I think more than anything what I remember -- and will cherish -- about Shadid's reporting is his ability to speak with people on the street. It is often possible to engage the world with a certain idea of what it is and then simply to find that which confirms what you think. Shadid's talent was in showing the grain of life, its textures, knots, and occasional -- if all too fleeting -- luminous moments. It was a talent for showing us that even if we assume the world works in a certain way, there's a value -- better, a responsibility -- in trying to understand the world from a different place.

[Updated:] And a few moments later, found via longform, Anthony Shadid's reporting following the withdrawal of American combat forces from Iraq. One passage that stands out:
The walls of today are more functional, but no less distinguishing. They are without the aggressive permanence of the barriers the Israelis have built to divide themselves from the Palestinians. They lack the political graffiti and inspired art that made the Berlin Wall so distinctive. Instead they articulate the disparate ambitions in an Iraq that is emerging from war, even as many wonder what it has left.
Paintings on the cement boast an idealized Iraq of Sumerian and Babylonian glory or a future of improbable skyscrapers. Vendors use them as billboards -- for real estate, children's clothes and changing money. The government scrawls on them its authoritarian vision of law as an antidote to entrenched disorder. "Respect and be respected," one motto reads. "Be a hero. Protect Iraq," urges another.
"These walls will be removed when the people of Iraq finally wake up again," said Wissam Karim, a 28-year-old soldier walking to his base in Adhamiyah.
He glanced at a wall that stretched nearly two miles, dividing the Sunni residents of Adhamiyah from the Shiite residents of Sleikh. "Long live the resistance," read a slogan scrawled on one segment. Someone had crossed out the last word and written "Iraq."


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