Phil Bennett, former Washington Post managing editor
It was about 3 a.m. in Washington in March 2003, on the eve of the war in Iraq, when Anthony called me at home. We’d ordered The Post’s correspondents out of Baghdad.
“I know you might fire me,” he said. “But I’m not leaving. I’ve been preparing for this my entire career.”
And so over the next three weeks, he stayed. His work then was the best run of journalism I’ve seen in 30 years; I don’t expect to see better. In those few days, Anthony somehow saw, through the simple accumulation of voices and details and his own quiet presence, the soul of Iraq and Iraqis in a way that anticipated what would follow: the confusion, hope, disillusion, distrust, sadness, heroism, futility and cruelty. The entire history of a misunderstanding, unfolding even before it could be fully understood.
How could he possibly have been prepared? Even in the most dire circumstances, with his life at risk, Anthony had the ability to match the big idea — about history, identity, faith, language — with the small things he could see in front of him, and the people around him. His courage never seemed fearless; he seemed determined to report and write through his fear. He lived as a witness.
Anthony wrote many great stories over the last decade. Nobody captured the language and emotions and roots of change in the Middle East with the same care, wisdom and feeling for the bridge between the past and present. He had come full circle in recent years, back to the Lebanon of his grandparents, of his wife Nada, restoring the Shadid family home in the town of Marjayoun.
In his memoir of that project, not yet published, he wrote about laboring to build something beautiful as an antidote to violence and war: “Cultures that may seem as durable as stone can break like glass, leaving all the things that held them together unattended. I believe that the craftsman, the artist, the cook, and the silversmith are peacemakers. They instill grace; they lull the world to calm.”
David Hoffman, former Washington Post foreign editor
Anthony Shadid’s magic was reporting. Everywhere he went, he absorbed stories about people and their trials. Once when he was working on his second book, Night Draws Near, we had a long talk about how to do it. And I saw how he did it: bundles of notebooks from Iraq, thousands of pages — stories, impressions, smells and sights. One young girl’s diary about those terrible days of war became part of the book, but the diary came to life in his hands.
For years before the Arab Spring, Anthony had given thought to the tensions building up in the Middle East. We had talked often about identity, and whether the old order would eventually crack. In early 2006, he wrote his editors at The Post a letter sketching out what he wanted to do. He wrote, “Identity, I think, sits at the heart of everything going on in the Arab world today.” He wanted to probe what would happen when the frozen leadership of Arab countries would crack. He said Arab peoples were asking, “ ‘How do we conceive ourselves? And what system best expresses that?’ So far, the answer is being formulated through a reversion to more ancient identities — ethnic and sectarian loyalties that are playing a role unprecedented in more than a century. To me, this moment is no less sweeping than that experienced by Eastern Europe in the aftermath of the Cold War.” And he was right. The Arab spring was what he had been waiting for.