Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Anthony Shadid endured beatings and fears of imminent death last month as a captive of soldiers loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
He emerged from that and other recent journalistic experiences with something most people might not expect — a sense of optimism about the future of the Arab world.
“I think peace in the Middle East is coming,” Shadid said Thursday. “I have to say. I'm optimistic.”
Shadid, who has reported on rebellions and conflicts from about every Arab hot spot as a journalist for The New York Times and other publications during the past 15 years, said he is particularly heartened by recent events in Egypt and Tunisia.
“I think what we saw in Egypt and Tunisia was some of the most breathtaking events in the Arab World since World War I,” he said. “I think it's going to force Israel to make peace, and I think we're going to see a healthier Arab world — an Arab world where governments will reflect the aspirations of their people, where people are citizens and not subjects, and their rights are enshrined in law.
“I think that's coming. I think it's going to be tough. I think what we saw in Egypt and Tunisia were the easy steps. I think what we're seeing in Libya is in some ways more of what we're going to see in years ahead. It's going to be tough. There are going to be tragedies. There's going to be conflict, and there's going to be bloodshed.”
A hero's welcome
Shadid, 43, made his remarks Thursday to an appreciative homecoming audience of about 250 people who gathered at the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum to welcome him back to the city where he was raised and to hear about the brutality he and three other New York Times journalists endured last month while being held captive by Gadhafi forces.
The audience appeared anxious to give Shadid a hero's welcome, greeting him with a standing ovation, but it was a mantle he refused to accept.
Shadid said he made some bad decisions leading up to the capture of the four journalists, including making a decision to stay longer when two of his colleagues recommended leaving earlier.
The journalists were blindfolded, beaten and placed in handcuffs so tight their hands went numb. A female colleague was groped. And none of them know the fate of their driver. They fear he might be dead. The journalists' families also had to endure days of fearing the unknown. Shadid said those are things with which he has to live.
But the speech also was optimistic.
“Syria will never be the same again. Egypt will never be the same again. Nor will Libya. Although there is going to be a lot of violence as we move forward, in the end it's going to turn out all right,” he said.
Shadid said he was particularly excited about the slogans he heard during the protests in Egypt — slogans which spoke of freedom, rights, constitutions, accountability and transparency.
“What was so interesting about Tahrir Square was an utterly new language, an indigenous vocabulary, people taking control of their lives and determining what kind of society they wanted to build,” he said.
U.S. intervention discussed
“Someone asked me, ‘What should the U.S. do?' I said, ‘It should do nothing at this point. The less it does, the less it gets involved, the less it intervenes I think in the Arab world and the Middle East at this point, the better off the Arab world is.' This is an era that's playing out on people's terms there.”
Shadid said he thinks U.S. intervention in Libya could be dangerous.
“I don't think it's going well and I don't think it's necessarily going to go well,” he said.