Monday was a good day for New York Times reporter Anthony Shadid.
The Lebanese-American journalist won the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting for the second time for his coverage in the Washington Post of the U.S. departure from Iraq, the Pulitzer Prize Board announced Monday afternoon.
But, he joked, to a half-full MacMillan 117 Monday evening, winning the prize was only the second-best event of his week. On Saturday, his wife gave birth to their son, Malik — a pronouncement that was met with audible warmth from the students, professors and community members in attendance.
Shadid, who has covered the Middle East for the past 15 years for news outlets including the Associated Press and the Post, spoke about the changes he has seen in the region during those years, waxing nostalgic about the loss of a secular, cosmopolitan Middle East.
In his talk, "Stones Without People: Loss and Nostalgia in Lebanon, Iraq and the Middle East," part of the Peter Green Lectures on the Modern Middle East, Shadid described a region that is currently torn apart by sectarian violence.
"I don't think the Arab world today is Arab anymore," he said, adding that people in current Middle Eastern societies are "defined first and foremost by their religious sect." While he blamed some of the shift to an increasingly divided region on the U.S.'s involvement, he noted that the "Arab world is complicit."
While Shadid won this year's Pulitzer for his incisive reporting, Monday night's talk was far more personal than most other lectures he has given, he said. He spoke about his experience rebuilding his grandmother's house in Lebanon after it was destroyed by years of violence and neglect, a project he completed a year ago. This personal project is the focus of the book he is currently working on, slated to be published next spring, he told The Herald.
Rebuilding the house that his grandparents left in the 1920s was an expensive, labor-intensive project that took over a year and a half, according to Shadid. Reconstructing the house involved a lot of "nitty gritty" details, work that sometimes led to interesting encounters with unscrupulous tile-sellers. He came to see this reconstruction as a symbol for the restoration of the old Middle East, he told The Herald.
Shadid hoped to avoid the "formulaic" conventions often used to discuss the Middle East in his talk, he said. Instead, he relied on stories to "tell something grander," he said. The first-person vantage point of his stories marked his retelling of events. Shadid often lingered over vivid details, such as the blue pacifier of a baby killed by a bomb strike, and a man, killed with his pants half-on while he attempted to run away.
Writing and reporting on this misery is "what I both love and hate," he said. "You wonder, as a reporter, when you become a voyeur."
He punctuated such descriptive scenes with his own commentary. "Cosmopolitanism can never be conflated with globalization," he said.
In the question-and-answer session that followed Shadid's lecture, audience members broached specific policy issues and shared personal responses to his talk. One woman said she related to his nostalgia for Lebanon — she personally felt it for Beirut of the 1960s and 70s. But, she said, the current factionalism that Shadid discussed existed in the Lebanon he was nostalgic for, though underneath the surface.
Shadid acknowledged the danger of glossing over the past's problems, but again emphasized that the region has become increasingly divided over the past 15 years.
Baghdad has been destroyed "to a degree I think most Americans don't understand," he said.
Anthony Thomas, a local resident, came to the lecture because of Shadid's impressive reputation. He said he enjoyed the lecture, noting that though it was "very dramatic," Shadid "speaks with his heart."
That, Thomas said, is "probably why he's such a good writer."