Finding Bayt Across Borders of Stone

A very moving tribute to Anthony Shadid (& simultaneously an excellent review of Shadid’s memoir House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East) by Syrian writer Amal Hanano, published yesterday in Jadaliyya. Below the opening paragraphs. You could read the full article here.

[Cover of House of Stone, by Anthony Shadid.]
[Cover of House of Stone, by Anthony Shadid.]

No roads, not a single one, lead to the place where we had gotten ourselves.* 

I “met” Anthony Shadid the only way someone like me, a mere reader, can meet a journalist she admires: I emailed him a fan letter. I sent him my short note through the New York Times website and didn’t expect an answer. The next day, he emailed me a brief but warm thank you.

Two days later, on May 10th, I read Anthony’s article on Rami Makhlouf—Bashar al-Assad’s cousin and the regime’s crony-in-chief. In the interview, Makhlouf claimed, “If there is no stability here, there’s no way there will be stability in Israel.” His confession embarrassed the regime which was forced to distance itself from Makhlouf. Soon after, he resigned from his position as vice chairman of the Cham Holding corporation and stated he was dedicating his life to “charity work.”

Anthony’s interview was a significant blow to the Assad regime. That day he changed in my eyes from a journalist I had admired to a Syrian hero. So I emailed him again. He replied. And the rhythm of our relationship began.

Anthony was the only person I didn’t know in my real life who witnessed my transition to Amal. When I was writing from Aleppo, I sent him the links through my “real” email. I did it without explanation or requests for confidentiality—it never occurred to me that I couldn’t trust him completely. At first, our emails continued the same way: I would send praise for his latest article and attach a link to one of mine. He would respond by thanking me for my kind or sweet words. Then after my fourth journal entry, he sent an email: “Great piece, so nuanced.” I was overjoyed. After my next one about the flag, he emailed: “Your last piece was just gorgeous.” Later, he said he found one of my portraits, “so incredibly moving. Inspiring, in fact,” and told me he was “my biggest fan.” His generous words of encouragement are ones I reread every time I wonder if it’s even worth writing any more in midst of Syria’s endless bloodshed and devastating loss.

Last July, I watched a press conference with Makhlouf, the first since his encounter with Anthony. When asked about the interview, Makhlouf brushed it off as lies and inaccuracies that happened off the record, during adardasheh, a casual chat, in an attempt to insult Anthony’s impeccable journalistic integrity. Even worse —for me at least— he added, “I welcomed him in my office, treated him graciously, and gave him lunch.” By cheaply mentioning a lunch invitation in public, Makhlouf had violated our core principle to always be generous to our guests, without calculation or malice. I was outraged. I asked Anthony, “If this is what you can do with only dardasheh, what would happen if you had a real conversation? I’m dying to know what you had for lunch, since he brought it up in the press conference! Ayeb.” He answered my questions and ended the email with, “We had fish, by the way. :)” I told him that when he was back in the States I would invite him to dinner to make up for the Makhlouf fish fiasco, not only because it would be an honor to cook for him but also a matter of restoring national pride. He replied, “It’s a deal. There’s nothing better in this world than Halabi cuisine.”

 (…)
ctd. here.

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