Stephen Farrell, a Middle East correspondent for the New York Times is still grieving the loss of his close friend and colleague Anthony Shadid who received international acclaim as one of the most distinguished reporters to cover the region for the Times.
|Nada Bakri, Anthony Shadid's wife, lights a candle at a vigil for Shadid, at the American University of Beirut (AUB), February 21, 2012. New York Times correspondent Anthony Shadid, who won two Pulitzer Prizes for his coverage of the Iraq war and its aftermath, died while reporting in Syria on February 16 after an apparent asthma attack, the newspaper said. He was 43. REUTERS/ Mohamed Azakir|
Shadid, 43, was the recipient of two Pulitzer prizes, and died last week near the Turkish border of an asthma attack triggered by a horse allergy while covering the unrest in Syria. In the wake of his death several local and national Arab organizations expressed sadness. Shadid, a Lebanese American broke barriers for Arabs in the profession. Over the course of his career aspiring Arab American journalists looked to him for inspiration.
"I think what distinguished Anthony Shadid was his rare combination of gifts. Anthony had the gift of being able to evaluate and prioritize the material he gathered, and to select that which best illustrated the condition of the person, city country or society upon which he was reporting," Farrell told The Arab American News.
"He then had a unique ability of being able to write the story in such a way that the material lost nothing in the writing, indeed it was crystallized in a way that proper justice was done to it. Finally, he had the courage to go to the places - sometimes very dangerous places – where he could report upon the most vulnerable people, to raise the consciousness of his readers about the situation in which those people lived. It was a rare combination of gifts, not one gift."
Farrell says Shadid's Arab American roots gave him a foundation upon which he could build a particularly empathetic, detailed and nuanced form of journalism. But his expertise in both cultures was also dangerous for him when covering the recent uprisings of the Arab Spring.
Shadid and Farrell were part of a team of four New York Times journalists who were captured together in Libya by Col. Muammar Qaddafi’s forces last year and lined up beside the road. The four were almost certain the officers would take their lives at that moment.
Two of the journalists had American passports; Farrell's was British and Shadid had Lebanese documentation on him leading one of Qaddafi's soldiers to believe he was a spy.
"One of Qaddafi’s soldiers began shouting words to the effect of, ‘He’s the translator, he’s the spy,’" Farrell said. Translators working with the Americans are regarded with contempt in many countries.
"His Arab American roots gave him access, but if things went wrong, it made him particularly vulnerable to some ill-disciplined militiaman or gunman who could easily act with rash and fatal consequences, and, most likely, with impunity," Farrell said.
After Farrell spoke in Arabic to the soldiers assuring them they were all correspondents. He remembers moving forward Shadid repeatedly downplayed his level of Arabic, speaking more slowly and limiting his vocabulary in fear he would once again be deemed a spy.
"He knew that he was still vulnerable to the rampant paranoia in Libya concerning spies, infiltrators and Al Qaeda agents, and he very much wanted to play up his American status and to downplay anything that might lead them to suspect that he was an agent of any other country in the region," Farrell said. Shadid's ashes were spread this week around the garden of the house he rebuilt in his Lebanon based hometown.
The dangers experienced by Shadid are no greater then the ones other foreign correspondents such as Farrell are brave enough and willing to face; risking their lives to give a voice to the suffering. In the wake of Shadid's death several other journalists have died too, including Marie Colvin of the Sunday Times of London who was a close friend of Farrell and French photographer Remi Ochlik.
Colvin spent her life telling stories of civilians living in war zones, in the end she died among them in Syria of a shelling attack Wednesday.