Shadid: Bearing witness where others wouldn’t

Anthony Shadid, middle, interviews residents of Embaba, a Cairo neighborhood, in February 2011.

It’s no coincidence that Anthony Shadid, the award-winning correspondent for The New York Times, the Globe, and other outlets, died in Syria at a time when armchair pundits from Washington to the presidential campaign trail were talking of possible sanctions on Syria’s government, aid to Syrian rebels, and even possible military involvement. Shadid was there, in the midst of the fighting, in order to bear witness - to assess the Free Syria Army, to probe the actions of the Syrian government, to speak directly with the Syrian people. So often, Americans, from the relative safety of these shores, take actions with enormous consequences in the world based on instincts, ideologies, political pressures, and emotions. Too often those policies aren’t properly informed by facts on the ground, simply because so few people are willing to risk their lives to get the facts.

Shadid was, and did. His stories gave the American people the information necessary to make humane decisions, whether to enact weapons bans or lift them, oust besieged governments or bolster them, assist rebel movements or quell them. His reference points, at all times, were the people he met. He saw a lot of suffering, in order to end it. Like others who’ve witnessed horrors, he couldn’t then turn away. He kept returning to war zones, even after being shot and kidnapped. A severe asthmatic, he surrendered the security of stateside medicine to go to places where health care was uncertain. His death, after an apparent asthma attack at age 43, was more of a shock than a surprise. His reporting was his gift to the world.