Today, instead of sitting here writing these lines, I was supposed to be sitting down with Anthony, listening to him tell me information that nobody else had. Whenever he got to Istanbul, he would call me and we would sit together for hours. That was our rule. I have known Anthony Shadid for a number of years; we “Middle East hacks” inevitably find each other. Usually, once we sat down to talk, we wouldn’t be able to stop. A friendship that began over the sharing of news and information rapidly evolved into something deeper, where we engaged in philosophical conversation and shared our views about the world. I was 20 years older than Anthony. However, the minute we met, any difference in age or seniority in profession was immediately forgotten.
One CNN reporter -- one of the last people to see him at the Syrian border -- said, “He was so eager to get back to Turkey and write up his impressions of [the situation in] Syria.”
I don’t know if I would be so traumatized had he died somewhere else, in some other time or in some different way. In our field, Anthony Shadid -- with his mastery of the Middle East and his extraordinary human and professional qualities -- is irreplaceable. He was the number one Middle Eastern [reporter] during the 2000s. He was a profound humanist, and there is no doubt this particular quality played a part in making him the best. To be a successful Middle East correspondent not only entails having guts and taking risks, but also requires extensive knowledge of the history of the region, in order to truly understand its people and write about them well. In one interview he gave three weeks ago, he was asked how he decided what news was worth risking his life for. He replied: “I have really thought long and hard about this. I don’t think there is any subject worth dying for, but there are those you would take risks for. When I entered Syria without a visa, illegally, that was a major risk, one of the biggest of my career as a journalist. But it was the kind of subject I couldn’t write about unless I went there.” He then added, “To be honest, I was scared.”
The greatest journalist and a beautiful human being, Anthony Shadid was better than good precisely because of this: he was, before everything else, human. And what a pen [he had]. He could use poetic language to elucidate the most mind-boggling issues, grand strategies, complicated policies and human tragedies brought on by war or conflict.
[In describing Anthony Shadid], The Washington Post said, “He wrote poetry on a deadline.” Journalists can understand the deep meaning, accuracy and beauty of that line. Roger Cohen [from The New York Times] wrote: “He was the best journalist of his generation: a sensitive soul, a formidable brain and the best at expressing sentiments and perceptions through writing.” Another journalist wrote: ‘When a journalist dies, it is very rare for the world to be different. But without Shadid, we will know less. We will have to manage without knowing as much about human reality.”
Anthony Shadid was captured by Muammar Qaddafi’s forces in Libya, wounded by Israeli bullets in Ramallah, wrote the best pieces on the Egyptian revolution and the best chronicles of the people’s drama in Iraq. Recently, he had secretly been going in and out of Syria. He told me about his clandestine days in Hama and Homs.
I have lost a warm and a dignified human being, and a close friend, as well as my best source of news. But mankind has lost a great writer, who was to write the amazing transformation underway in the region into the history [books].
Your place will not be filled, Anthony Shadid. Our future will be empty without you.
You will never be forgotten, my dearest friend.