Siria, un attacco d’asma ci priva di Anthony Shadid

Non l’hanno ucciso le bombe in Iraq e in Libia, dov’era anche finito in mano alle milizie pro-Gheddafi: è stato un banalissimo attacco di asma a uccidere Anthony Shadid (foto a destra, con i capelli brizzolati), 43 anni, il corrispondente in Medio Oriente del New York Times, mentre si trovava in Siria per una inchiesta sull’opposizione al regime di Bashar al-Assad.

Tyler Hicks, il fotografo che lo accompagnava, come si legge sul New York Times online, ha accompagnato la salma in Turchia, poche ore dopo avere assistito, impotente, alla sua morte.

Secondo quanto ha raccontato il fotografo, Shadid, che soffriva di asma e aveva sempre con sè i farmaci necessari, ha cominciato a sentirsi male nel pomeriggio di ieri, poche ore prima di quando avrebbero dovuto lasciare il paese.

In serata c’è stato l’attacco fatale, che potrebbe essere stato provocato dalla vicinanza dei cavalli delle guide. Shadid aveva avuto un primo attacco dello stesso tipo una settimana prima, all’inizio del viaggio.

Di origini libanesi, sposato con due figli, Shadid parlava correntemente arabo. Il giornalista, che viveva a Beirut, ha lavorato per l’Associated Press, Il Boston Globe e il Washington Post prima di essere assunto dal New York Times alla fine del 2009. Con il Wp, ha vinto due premi Pulitzer sull’Iraq, nel 2004 e nel 2010. Negli Stati Uniti Shadid era considerato uno dei migliori giornalisti della sua generazione ed uno dei più brillanti specialisti del Medio Oriente e del mondo arabo.

Sul sito Internet del New York Times sono pubblicate in tempo reale le testimonianze di colleghi e lettori. Tra le più toccanti e interessanti segnaliamo quella di Neil McFarquhar.

“We mourn a colleague like no other. ”

Prior to any trip, Anthony weighed the risks. He thought hard about them, often aloud, before embarking. If he and Tyler were nabbed by the Syrian security forces, he figured the bad moments would come between being captured and being delivered, inevitably, to Damascus. He looked at it through the template of what happened in Libya; those grueling, terrifying, seemingly endless days last March as he and Tyler, Steve and Lynsey were literally dragged across the country to Tripoli from Ajdabiya by menacing gunmen answering to invisible figures. “It hurts when they hit you,” he told me. “You know how they say you see stars? You really do.” 

On his one official visit to Syria since the uprising started, allowed in for just a few hours last spring, he had been given an unprecedented audience with Rami Makhlouf, the president’s billionaire cousin. The public outcry over the aloof, threatening tone of the conversation was such that afterward Mr. Makhlouf felt compelled to announce he was devoting himself to charity. The thought of possible revenge gave Anthony pause, but never for long. 

Asthma hardly came into it. The horses deployed to transit the border region were an unhappy surprise. On the last covert trip, for Homs, it was motorcycles. He did not tell his family where he was going, he just said he would be out of e-mail contact for a week or so. They had been through too much, he said, he didn’t want to upset them further.

Nada, his charming, energetic wife knew of course, endorsed his going because they both thought chronicling the violence that the Syrian government was visiting on its own people was so important. When he called to check in pretty much everyday, he never talked about what he faced in terms of danger. He didn’t want her to worry. 

The Times bureau in Beirut is a sunny room off their apartment. Little Malik, who will be two in April, often wandered in at random moments during the day or early evening—a bundle of laughter and loose vitality. Anthony would stop what he was doing and play the Gummy Bear video on his laptop and Malik would dance. Or his daughter, Leila, would check in via Skype from the United States before she left for school for the day. He always made time, because he knew his reporting took him away from them for long stretches. 

I can see him now, sitting at his kitchen table after he had filed for the day, Nada next to him and Malik dandling on his knee. He would squeeze the little boy’s pot belly, and ask him in Arabic where he got that qirsh?

Mostly he was concentrating on his upcoming book tour. “House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family and a Lost Middle East” is coming out on March 27, and his publisher was laying out a three-week American tour, a rarity these days and a tribute to the interest his writing about the region generated. The book talks about his odyssey in restoring his family’s old home in southern Lebanon, using a portrait of the village as a springboard for a chronicle of an entire, complex region. He had needed far more years than he wanted between reporting momentous events to whittle down a first draft of 800 pages. He hoped his fellow villagers would like it, but he would chuckle and tell you he was building a wall around the house just in case. 

He moved so effortlessly between East and West. Once, in August 2003, in a sweltering day in the holy Iraqi city of Najaf, I was covering a mass funeral after a car bomb assassinated an important ayatollah and about 100 other people. I was leaning beside a pillar along the funeral route, trying to look inconspicuous amid the baleful stares of the angry mourners beating their chests. In the middle of it all, Anthony stepped out of the procession, blending in with his black shirt and short goatee. He was my competitor then with the Washington Post, and all I could do was grind my teeth. He was infallibly a generous competitor, happy to share, but a competitor all the same. It was a relief when he joined the Times, reassuring to have a colleague who studied and loved the region yet recognized that there was plenty of turf to go around. 

Anthony’s new book chronicles an idyllic period before the region grew so consistently unstable and menacing, a time when the eastern Mediterranean was a heady, cosmopolitan, creative stew of Arabs and Jews and Greeks and Italians and Turks. It was an exciting period, visible now mostly through a scrim of stuff like old black and white Egyptian movies. He adored them—on his last trip to Cairo he had found a store that specialized in nostalgic tokens of that era like coasters picturing movie posters from the 1940s and 50s. He bought the entire set. 

Anthony mourned that gentler, bygone age as now, unbelievably, we mourn a colleague like no other.

Neil MacFarquhar
United Nations Bureau Chief, The New York Times