DATE August 22, 2006 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Anthony Shadid
discusses his experiences in the Middle East
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
My guest, Anthony Shadid, just returned to the US from covering the war in
Lebanon. He's a Middle East correspondent for the Washington Post and won a
Pulitzer Prize in 2004 for his coverage of the war in Iraq. The award
citation praised, quote, "his extraordinary ability to capture at personal
peril the voices and emotions of Iraqis as their country was invaded,"
unquote. As we'll hear, he faced plenty of personal peril in Lebanon.
How did you get around to cover the war when so many of the roads were bombed
out, the bridges were bombed, and people on the roads were sometimes being
bombed as well?
Mr. ANTHONY SHADID: You know, that was the real challenge, I think, of this
conflict, as a reporter, just trying to get to the places where you thought
you needed to be to write the stories, to cover what was happening. In the
beginning, I found a driver. He was an interesting guy, Abu Hassein. He was
a communist dentist and he didn't have any patients at that time so he was
making a little money on the side by driving, and he stuck with me in those
first few days. He was charging a pretty steep price. It was $500 a day.
But he was willing to go to some of these places, because, as you pointed out,
it was kind of unnerving this fear of being on the road, of being mistaken as
a target or of being targeted as a journalist. And after a few days I think
he'd had enough, and then we tried to start driving more as conveys or with a
few other cars, as journalists. But like I said, that was--I think that was
the most unnerving part of the coverage. I think, you know, the journalists
down there did take quite a few risks in just trying to get around and trying
to get to the places where, you know, where the war was actually happening.
GROSS: What were the biggest dangers and obstacles that you faced on the
Mr. SHADID: You know, I think it was fear. I'm not sure how else to put it.
I mean, you know, it wasn't--nothing happened, obviously, and you know,
nothing really fell that close to me, but I think it's that fear that you try
to grapple with. It, you know, at times, at least for me, it can be
overwhelming, and you spend a lot of your time just trying to keep it under
control. There's something very unnerving about this--about dealing with
something that you can't see, and that was what was going on. That these
early surveillance aircraft were going all the time. It's kind of an
insect-like drone or a sound. It's a buzzing. And then you often do hear the
contrails of the jets as well and at times helicopters. But, you know, in
doing interviews with people in the hospital or cars that were struck on the
road, I'd always ask the question, `Did you hear it before it happened?' And
people often said they had not heard anything. It just struck. And I think
that was always in the back of your mind as you're driving around is just not
knowing when something's going to happen.
GROSS: Were you in any of the Lebanese towns as Israelis warned the residents
Mr. SHADID: You know I was, and a lot of journalists were. I mean, I think
of lot of the journalists who were down in Tyre, you know, took the exact same
risks that I did. There was one story that I was trying to cover. It was a
town called Choueifat, which is west of Tyre. There had been a bombing there,
an Israeli bombing, and there were reports of dozens of people buried under
the wreckage. And no one could get there. The Red Cross couldn't get there,
the government was pretty much nonexistent at that point in southern Lebanon.
And, you know, I thought it was a story that should be covered and we tried to
get there, this driver that I had, the dentist. And we made it, you know,
quite a ways toward there, but then at the end you just couldn't get in.
There was too much shelling and bombing going on. And I remember we were
stuck in a--we were looking at the town across the valley and we were stuck in
another town, that I think had been ordered to be evacuated, and most of the
people had sought cover in a villa that had been abandoned early on in the
war. And it was one of those strange scenes. And I think you found this
often in southern Lebanon, where you were walk into a village and, for all
intents and purposes, it looked abandoned. I mean, there was nobody there.
There were no cars in the streets, there were no people in the storefronts.
There was maybe a few animals, dogs or cats, that were going through the
streets. But once you spend more time in the village, you would see these
signs of life kind of hiding. And this happened in this town that I was
I found one guy sitting on the side of the road and talked to him, and he said
there's dozens of people, scores of people in a shelter. And I walked over to
the shelter and then there was this, I mean, basically a whole community that
had sought refuge in the basement of a building for days. I mean days
basically in the dark. I mean, there was sunlight outside, obviously, but
there were in a garage effectively. And, you know, when you walked into that
shelter they basically reorganized their lives. It was kind of remarkable to
me how, you know, that resilience of people and how people can take the most
unbelievably difficult situation and try to make something normal out of it.
There was a rotation for cooking meals, of cleaning the place, of taking out
the trash, of filling the water. And I spent--I ended up spending several
hours there. I had planned on doing a story about what had happened in this
town, Choueifat, with the bombing and I ended up doing a story about, you
know, how these people were trying to negotiate the war in the basement.
GROSS: Why did they stay after they were warned by the Israelis that their
town would be bombed?
Mr. SHADID: Well, I think a lot of people did leave. You know, they fled
north, either to Sidon or to Beirut or to the mountains, where they thought it
was safe. You know, but a lot of people didn't have the means. I mean it
was--drivers were charging up to $500 to go on the roads at that point. And
people also, you know, it's--I think there's a powerful sense, especially
among people in southern Lebanon and Shiites in southern Lebanon who have fled
in the past when the land was occupied in the past, and the idea of abandoning
their homes or leaving, I think it touches a very deep chord among some of
those people. And often they did refuse, you know, to abandon their houses,
basically to abandon everything that they had. Their house is basically their
sole source of wealth or property, and so you found, I think, in surprising
numbers, people who refused to leave, and this was an example of it. They
might have been in a bomb shelter but at least they were close to their house
and they knew--they would know what happened to their house. They would know
what was still in their house, and that was an example of that town that I was
in. People just refused to leave. They weren't going--they weren't going to
go to the north regardless of what happened around them.
GROSS: You were in Qana after a house with two extended families was bombed,
the families were taking shelter there, and most of the people there were
killed, including a lot of children. What did you see there? When did you
Mr. SHADID: You know, I was in Beirut the night--I'd gone to Beirut for the
day to work on a story for our--the Washington Post Sunday paper. And then I
was woken up the next morning and we'd heard that--what had happened in Qana,
so I got in the car and just went down there. I guess I got there around
1:00, and they were still pulling bodies out of the wreckage.
You know, it wasn't a collapsed building, the shell had landed in front of the
building, basically entombing the people. They were buried. And, you know,
often when you go to these bomb scenes, at least from my experience in Iraq,
they're very grim scenes and they're very gory. You know, bodies don't stay
intact when a bomb lands on them, but they had in this instance because they
were, as I said, they were buried by the dirt and the debris. And so when I
was there they pulled out a young boy. You know, his body was almost lifelike
still. And I think the most disturbing scene of that was that as they pulled
him out, his pacifier was still attached to his shirt, and that face had that
kind of lifelike quality, you know. There was dirt in his mouth, on his nose,
but it was still a boy. And I think that was--you know, those memories you
take away from a scene like that, it was that pacifier that I found most
disturbing and that when you think back to something like Qana you have
trouble getting out your mind.
GROSS: When you showed up in towns that had been bombed or were about to be
bombed, did people ask you for help?
Mr. SHADID: You know that's something that struck--and I mentioned that in a
few stories. It was amazing, I guess, the degree to which journalists had
become--I don't want to say part of the story, but I guess the degree to which
journalists, you know, were within the story in a way. And like you said,
almost every town I went to, people would ask, `Can you give me a ride out?'
They wouldn't ask for money. I mean, there was such a sense of dignity down
there and pride that I think asking for money would demean them at a certain
level. But asking for a ride out, that happened all the time. Some people
were joking about it, you know, `When you come back can you give me a ride
out?' More often people would shout from the road, `We need to go to Beirut.
We need to go to Sidon.' And again this comes back to the money issue that
people just didn't have the money to leave.
There was a town that I was in, and other journalists were in as well, called
Bint Jbeil. And it--the town square, I mean, the center of the town, is
pretty much gone at this point. It's just rubble, rubble like I've never seen
before. Not in Fallujah, not in Jenin during 2003. I think it was me and a
couple of other journalists had gone in with the Red Cross, and the ambulances
just couldn't get past a certain point because of the rubble, and we kept
walking in. And, again, there's that same sense of like--you see just, you
know, a little bit of movement. And then the further you went in, people had
been hiding under--in basements.
And I remember it struck me that the rubble was kind of blown up against the
side of a house like a snowdrift, in a way, and very old people came out.
There was one woman that I actually ended up helping out--trying to help out
to where the Red Cross was. She was 80 years old. Her back was parallel to
the ground, and she wanted help obviously, but it's a very conservative
society. It's a very traditional place and, you know, a man--a young man
touching a woman like that would--I couldn't help her out. She--it was
uncomfortable to her so we basically ended up trying to guide her. And she
crawled over the rubble and then she wouldn't go any further because her
brother was still lost, and so she insisted that I try to go find her brother.
I couldn't find her brother and finally she was, you know, she was persuaded
to leave. And, incidentally, her brother was found later on, about four or
five hours later, and they were reunited as they were taken out of Bint Jbeil
to another town called Tibnin and the hospital there.
But as you pointed out, there was a sense that there was nobody else there.
The Red Cross was there but they couldn't get in. The government was pretty
much nonexistent. Hezbollah does have a very organic relationship to these
villagers, and there were some activists there--Hezbollah activists that were
helping people out. There was a journalist--we were in a place when the
mechanisms of government or how a government operates just didn't exist any
more and these people pretty much left to their own fate.
GROSS: So when people asked you for help getting out of town, what did you
Mr. SHADID: Well, I mean, we were working and, you know, it's always--I
think it's always a struggle what you do in those situations. I mean, you are
a journalist, you're a professional. You know, at the same time, you don't
lose, you know, a certain decency. You know, when you could help, you would
help. I mean I--from one town that I was in we did give a ride to a couple of
people who had been trapped in there and gave them a ride out to Tyre.
Journalists did try to help when they could. The old people just trying to
get out of their houses. But there's only so much you can do and it is
frustrating. You know, how do I put this? It does feel very bleak in those
situations and you do try to do what you can without maybe crossing a line of
what you should do as a journalist. And often it's very little what you can
do. I mean you--like I said, they weren't looking for money. It was often
just transportation. And I was riding in a small car and there wasn't much
room in that car for other people. And I guess you have to make these choices
that you wouldn't want to make all the time.
GROSS: My guest is Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Anthony Shadid. He's
the Middle East correspondent for the Washington Post, and just covered the
war in Lebanon. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Anthony Shadid. He's a
Pulitzer Prize winning Middle East correspondent for the Washington Post.
He's covered the war in Baghdad. He just returned to the states from covering
the war in Lebanon.
Hezbollah apparently had stored a lot of rockets in people's homes. Did you
have a sense of that living there?
Mr. SHADID: You know, there was a lot of talk about this idea of Hezbollah
using residences as shields, for instance, or firing from within homes or
forcing people to stay. And I remember I was talking to a Human Rights Watch
person about that. I have to be blunt about this--and I don't want to speak
with authority on this because I don't know the full extent of how the fight
was organized, but I didn't see people being used a shields. I didn't hear
about an instance of that.
It's always, I think, a difficult question when we talk about Hezbollah's
relationship to southern Lebanon to divorce it too much from its environment.
I mean, Hezbollah has--and I think I said this earlier--has a very organic
relationship to residents in southern Lebanon, I think in particular, to
residents in southern Lebanon. And often to make a distinction between
Hezbollah and the community which it lives is very difficult. It's a deep
relationship. It's a relationship that's been incubated over two decades.
I saw this in a town called Khiam for instance, at the very end of the war
when these people had fought in the village, almost within 24 hours they
became relief workers. I saw the relationship between the residents and those
people that were working inside those communities. It has a large degree of
popular support. And I don't want to overstate it. I think that there is
criticism of Hezbollah among Shiites in Beirut, for instance. But when we
talk about southern Lebanon, we talk about those villages that have been under
Israeli occupation for almost 20 years, it is a very deep relationship. A
relationship that does make it hard to sometimes maybe put one side or the
other as distinct.
GROSS: You know, I think when people accuse Hezbollah as using people as
shields that they don't mean that the people are tied up to the home with the
weapons in, but rather by integrating the weapons into communities as
organically as Hezbollah did, that you can't possibly attack the arsenal, you
can't possibly try to wipe out the weapons without bombing residents and
Mr. SHADID: Yeah, I think, I mean, there's no question that there was, you
know, that they were operating from within towns. They were operating among
the people. I didn't see that happen in non-Shiite towns, in Christian towns
or Jewish towns, for instance.
Mr. SHADID: I didn't--from what I--from talking to people there, that didn't
happen within those towns. But in the Shiite towns, there's no question that
that was happening. Now, I mean, it's, I guess, you know, it's a question to
ask that's broader than, you know, than my purview as a journalist, you know,
`What degree do you try to protect civilian life even if those civilians are
supporters of the movement?' I don't know. I mean, a lot of civilians died in
this conflict, more than a thousand. It's difficult to say to what degree
those attacks were targeting weapons rather than targeting the infrastructure
of Hezbollah. And when we talk about the infrastructure of Hezbollah we're
talking about its popular support.
GROSS: Did you have any direct contact with Hezbollah members, either the
political or militia members of Hezbollah during the war?
Mr. SHADID: I did. Yeah. It's not--you know, Hezbollah's always been--has
this reputation in Lebanon, especially before this fighting broke out, of
being, you know--on one hand they're a very shadowy presence, and on the other
hand they're a very visible presence. And I think that's one of the kind of,
not contradictions necessarily, but that's one of the dynamics of the
Mr. SHADID: You never see their fighters. I mean, before the war you never
saw their fighters with weapons in the street, even in the towns like Bint
Jbeil, where they would have had most of their support. But as a social or
political movement, they're very visible. And, in fact, they're quite open
even with journalists. It's not like dealing with the militants in Iraq, for
instance. During the war they did come out and have a more visible presence.
You wouldn't necessarily see them with weapons, although you did come across
them occasionally doing that, but it was clear who was a fighter and who
And, you know, I did a story maybe two weeks into the war just talking to some
of these guys. Hezbollah wasn't moving units, you know, for instance, from
town to town or village to village. It was often the people inside the town
were--their supplies were already positioned, you know, they were people from
that town, and so you would come across them. And I think at the end of the
war they became even more visible.
I remember I went to a town called Khiam, right next to the Israeli border,
where--and I'd gone there, you know, expecting them to come out of hiding
after the cease-fire had gone into effect, and they were there. They were in
the streets. They were very visible. There wasn't any celebration going on
or anything like that, but there was a certain confidence they had. You could
talk to them and you could ask them about what happened. They were quite
savvy. They know what to say and what not to say. And there's a pretty--and
when I say "savvy," it's not, you know, a judgment of them. It's
just--they're sophisticated and quite disciplined, and they will only say so
much. But again, in that town, Khiam, you saw the complexity of the movement,
you know, in front of you, that fighters had turned into, for lack of a better
phrase, they'd turned into relief workers within 24 hours, and the movement
really mobilized in those 48 to 72 hours after the cease-fire went into
GROSS: I think a lot of people in the United States see it as paradoxical
that Hezbollah, which instigated the war by kidnapping Israeli soldiers, later
is the defender of the people in the war.
Mr. SHADID: Mm-hm.
GROSS: So like they become the aid workers, but on the other hand they
committed the action that started the war. So I'm wondering if you see that
Mr. SHADID: I do. I do.
GROSS: ...and more important, if you think any people in Lebanon saw it as
Mr. SHADID: I think it's a good question. And, you know, when I'm
describing the movement's complexity, the movement's sophistication, this
isn't to sugarcoat the movement itself by any means. I mean, the opposite.
This is a movement that was blamed for, you know, for the bombing of the
Marine barracks in 1983, for bombing the US embassy twice during the civil war
in Lebanon. I think that's the perception of the movement abroad. And it is
a movement of competing narratives. There's no question about that. It's a
movement that's evolved since the early '80s. It occupies a much different
place in Lebanon than maybe its perception abroad of how it operates. I think
its perception abroad is as a terrorist organization. The United States
government has declared it as such.
In Lebanon, it's often a more--I don't want to say ambiguous, but a more
nuanced portrayal of the movement. Because it is a political organization at
the same time as it's a militia, as the same time it's a social welfare
organization. And in that it represents a lot of what you see with Islamic
politics in the rest of the region. When you say its perception in Lebanon,
let me be specific on this. You know, Lebanon's a very complicated country.
It's a country of 18 religious sects. The Shiites in Lebanon are the
plurality. And what you've seen over the past 20 years, I think really longer
than that, 30 years, is a certain arc of Shiite empowerment within Lebanon.
But other communities and--you know, sentiments will often shift across
sectarian lines. But if you speak in the broadest terms and in the biggest
generalizations, you do see a great degree of fear among Christians, among
Sunnis, among Jews in Lebanon on about the role of Hezbollah's arms, that in a
country, the only militia that still has its arms after other militias had
disbanded with the end of the civil war in 1990.
What I was struck by, I guess, as a reporter there, is that at the beginning
of the war, the people who disliked Hezbollah and the people who liked
Hezbollah, those sentiments really didn't change all that much. They maybe
deepened, they maybe became exacerbated, but the lines, the fault lines within
this society stayed relatively stable throughout the war. The people who were
opposed to it remained opposed to it; the people who supported it remained
supportive, even as the war progressed. And I think this is one of the
problems you face as you look--as Lebanon looks forward to the future these
months after the cease-fires, that there are very clear, very deep differences
over the organization itself, over how the war is portrayed, and over how the
war will be remembered.
Hezbollah sees this as a victory. It celebrates what it calls, I mean, in its
propaganda that's been coming out since the end of the war, it's been calling
it the "divine victory." Not all Lebanese see it that way. They see it--the
country's suffered incredibly, you know, in the wake of this abduction of the
two soldiers. At the same time, I think there's a lot of anger at Israel that
the abduction of two soldiers didn't merit the dismantling of Lebanon's
infrastructure and the degree of civilian deaths that happened during the war.
It is a complicated picture right now, and I don't think--my sense of it--I
just left yesterday--is that Lebanese don't know exactly how
to...(unintelligible)...at this point. And I think there is going to be a
certain soul searching in the months ahead.
GROSS: Anthony Shadid is a Middle East correspondent for the Washington Post.
He'll be back in the second half of the show.
I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Anthony Shadid, a Middle
East correspondent for the Washington Post. He won a Pulitzer Prize for his
coverage of the war in Iraq. We're talking about his coverage of the war in
You write in an article from July 30th that in public many of the leaders of
Lebanon's factions struck a united front in the face of Israeli attacks, but
in private many had hoped the conflict would force Hezbollah's disarmament.
Can you talk about little bit about the difference you saw between the public
and the private face of certain political leaders?
Mr. SHADID: You know, you felt, I think, even during the war, that people
were jockeying for their positions after the war. And so, you know, for any
leader, regardless of their political affiliation or sectarian affiliation to
somehow be supportive, or to even be, you know, neutral as Israel was
attacking Lebanon, you know, it's not--you can't sustain that. It would be a
mistake because people would remember what was said after the war. They'll
remember what was said during the war. And so people--I was struck by the
degree which there was protest or trying to keep a united front with the
Lebanese politics as the war progressed. But it was clear within two or three
days after the cease-fire, people were saying different things, and I think
we're going to see much more different things said in the weeks and months
Hezbollah's arms is one of the central issues in front of Lebanese politics
today. Some people accuse Hezbollah of abducting these soldiers as a way of
aborting that conversation or avoiding that dialogue that was going on about
its arms. It's not been resolved and I think what we're dealing with right
now in Lebanon is, to a certain degree, the status quo we had before the war.
It's--Hezbollah's still armed, the UN force that's always been in southern
Lebanon that may increase in its numbers. But, you know, the contradictions
or the tensions that existed in Lebanese politics are there still. If
anything, they're exacerbated. And, you know, some might argue that Hezbollah
has even a stronger position within Lebanese politics now that it did before
How this is going to be resolved, I don't know, and I don't think a lot of
Lebanese know either. And I think that's why so many Lebanese are
pessimistic, are discouraged about the future.
You know, when I got back to Beirut after the cease-fire, it struck me that
every conversation I had, not one person was hopeful. And not only not
hopeful, I mean, they were bleak about what was ahead. You know, people talk
about civil war. Lebanese often talk about civil war, and I don't think
that's--I don't think people necessarily feel that a civil war is going to
erupt again, but they do look at this issue of Hezbollah's arms and they don't
see how it can be resolved peacefully.
GROSS: Well, did you get the feeling that a lot of leaders of other political
and ethnic groups in Lebanon really want Hezbollah to disarm so that Hezbollah
can't be unilaterally decide when there's going to be a war...
Mr. SHADID: I think that...
GROSS: ...the way it kind of did this time around.
Mr. SHADID: Right. I think that's a huge issue is that, you know, that
there is that perception that Hezbollah choose--chose the time and the place
for--to act. Now, I don't think--in talking to Hezbollah people, I don't
think they expected what happened to happen. I don't think they--I think they
expected two or three days of retaliation, and then it would go back to what
it was. And instead they got more than a month of the most, you know, the
most devastating attack on Lebanon since the civil war. And I think, again,
and I think that is--and there have been some promises, some assurances made
within the Lebanese cabinet over, you know, over Hezbollah acting
unilaterally. Again, whether those promises or assurances--I think they're
verbal. What they'll be held to is a question, you know, for the future.
And, again, I guess I should point out that even within Lebanese politics, you
have alliances going on, alliances that cross sectarian lines. One of the
most popular Christian leaders, Michel Owen has a certain alliance with
Hezbollah, and that alliance wasn't broken, even during the war. So you do
see these, you know, you do see alliances that cross sectarian lines that make
it even more complicated than it might have been, say, three or four years
ago. Those--it will be interesting to see how those alliances hold together,
whether they change or whether they shift in the months ahead. But right now,
for instance, you do have this alliance between Hezbollah and a certain
section of the Christian community. You have an exacerbation of tension
between Sunni Muslims and Shiite Muslims in Lebanon.
You know, I think it's not too much to say that the basic political contract
that was at the center of Lebanon's creation of a country, of Lebanon's
independence in the 1940s, is not too late--is not as relevant today, if
relevant at all. I mean, it was a contract between Maronite Catholics and
Sunni Muslims, the two--back then--the two key constituencies inside Lebanon.
But what we're dealing with these days in Lebanon is a notion of Shiite
empowerment or Shiite politicization, you know, the coming of age of a
community that was incredibly deprived, almost ignored throughout Lebanon's
early years, and today is the most pivotal or decisive community in the
country today. And it's a community that didn't have a hand in that--in the
founding of the country in that original political contract. And there's a
sense that a lot of Lebanese feel that contract is being renegotiated, it's
being redefined. How it's negotiated, how it's defined is the question, you
know, for the future, but what we're dealing with is a gradual but decisive
transformation of Lebanese politics.
GROSS: The Lebanese army is supposed to be helping to keep peace in the south
of Lebanon. I'm not--it's unclear to me whether they're supposed to be
insuring that Hezbollah disarms. What's your understanding of the role that
the Lebanese army is supposed to be playing now?
Mr. SHADID: Basically the role--I mean, this was the agreement that was
struck to deploy the army in southern Lebanon is they're going to look the
other way. If Hezbollah carries arms in the street, that would be an issue,
and I think in that situation they would have--they were going to be the only
armed presence--visible, armed presence in the south. But that was never an
issue with Hezbollah. They never did carry their arms in the streets. It was
antithesis, almost. I mean, they--even people within these villages where
they had the greatest support would say they never saw Hezbollah carrying arms
in the towns themselves.
So what we're doing with this is the status quo. There's a certain degree
that, you know, Hezbollah will be discreet. The army--it always had a token
presence in the south and there was always a UN force in the south, and they
were the only ones with arms in the streets, but they didn't do anything, you
know, about Hezbollah's weapons caches, for instance, or their arsenal of
rockets. These things were hidden. And as long as they're--you know, our
understanding of what the agreement was that as long as they're hidden,
nothing's going to be done about them.
GROSS: What is the Lebanese army. Like, who's in it? Are all the different
ethnic and religious groups in Lebanon represented in the army? Is the army
trusted by the population of Lebanon?
Mr. SHADID: The army--you know, during the civil war the army splintered
rather quickly, and it wasn't much of a force throughout the civil war years,
1975-to-1990. I think after 1990 the military was seen as a certain source of
pride that here was an institution that represented the state, and I think
most Lebanese want a stronger state. The failure of a state was one of the
causes of the civil war itself.
There was a certain degree, I think, of resentment mainly among Shia that the
army played no role in the fighting that happened this past month. It did
stand by, even after it was attacked by Israeli forces, and there was actually
a general who was--a police general who was arrested recently for--he was in
the barracks that the Israelis took over in a town called Marj Ayun. And
there was film--they had filmed him serving tea to the Israelis, smiling,
chatting casually. An after that footage came out, he was arrested by
Lebanese authorities. And there was a degree of resentment about that. I
think other people saw that the Lebanese army stood no chance if it did enter
into the war itself.
When we look forward to what's going to happen, I mean, does anyone expect the
Lebanese army to actually disarm Hezbollah? I don't think people do expect
that. Do they want the Lebanese army there? They do. I mean, the Lebanese
army is the symbol of the state and the idea of the state taking control over
all Lebanese land I think is an important notion to most people. But it's
just a--I don't think it's perceived as a force that's all that capable.
It's, you know, they're driving armored personnel carriers that are a
generation old. You know, they have guns but, you know, not all that much. I
think when you look at martial prowess or whatever, I think most Lebanese
would clearly see Hezbollah as being the more formidable force.
GROSS: Hezbollah right now is offering money and help to people whose homes
were bombed during the war, and this is another reason why Hezbollah is
becoming very heroic in the eyes of many. People in Lebanon--what can you
tell us about the money that they're using to do this. How much of it comes
from Iran and, you know, what you know about their plan to help rebuild.
Mr. SHADID: What I'd heard before the war ended--and this came from, you
know, from someone who did know very well what was going on within the
organization, was that I think it was anywhere from 120 million to $150
million had arrived from Iran even before the war was over. You know,
Hezbollah says the Israelis receive American money and American weapons.
What's wrong with us receiving Iranian money and Iranian weapons? That's
their defense of it. There's no question that they did receive--I mean, the
lion's share of their budget does come from Iran and they were on--their--I
think Hezbollah put a great deal of pressure on itself to provide immediate
relief knowing that the toll that its constituency had suffered--its
constituency is everything to it. If it loses that connection to its
constituency, it stops being a relevant power in Lebanon. And providing
relief was, I mean, Nasrallah talked about it within, I think, 24 hours of the
cease-fire that we are going to help, and they did.
There is, you know, in some parts of southern Beirut which were devastated by
the Israeli attacks, they were handing out $12,000 to families. They promised
to pay for rent up to a year as houses were rebuilt. They promised to buy
furniture. When I was in Khiam, within 24 hours after the cease-fire had
ended, a committee had been formed that was surveying the damage to each
house, not only in the town itself but in the villages that surrounded it.
Bulldozers were taking away the wreckage. Trucks of food and water were, you
know, were plying the streets in Khiam, for instance. This is Hezbollah.
This is not the government's doing. The government was very upset that
Hezbollah had taken the initiative and it was doing it without its
coordination or its approval. But I think, again, like I said, Hezbollah is
dealing with two--or dealing with a very immediate need and that it has to
show that it can care for its own community. That's where its support is,
that's where its strength is.
And it did act and I think it showed it's--I mean, we were talking about an
extremely well-organized movement. A movement that in a Lebanese context,
again, has a reputation for being uncorrupt, has a reputation for being
disciplined, and has a reputation for being very effective, that they do what
they say/ And I think we saw that on display, in those--even today--within
those few days after the cease-fire.
GROSS: My guest is Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Anthony Shadid. He's a
Middle East correspondent for the Washington Post and covered the war in
Lebanon. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: My guest is Anthony Shadid. He's a Middle East correspondent for The
Washington Post. He won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the Iraq war.
He just returned to the states from covering the war in Lebanon.
I want to quote something that you co-wrote in an article in the Post in
September of 2002, and this article was headlined "Iraq Warhawks Have Plans to
Reshape Entire Mideast." And this was about how the Bush administration
thought that going to war in Iraq would reshape the Middle East and make the
region safer for Israel. The person who you described as the most vocal hawk
at the State Department was John Bolton, who's of course now the ambassador to
the UN and helped negotiate the cease-fire in Lebanon.
So, I guess, what goes through your mind when you watch the person who is the
most vocal hawk in the State Department about going to war in Iraq thinking it
would bring peace in the Middle East, now being the person who has to deal
with the war between Israel and Hezbollah and Lebanon?
Mr. SHADID: You know, I think when we talk about--the easiest way to answer
that question would be look just across the region right now, and the sense in
the region right now, and it's a very dejected moment, I think, in much of the
Middle East. You know, but not to be flip about this, but part of me feels
like, you know, walking in the door and heading for cover about what's ahead.
It's a region that is dramatically different than the one that I first started
covering in 1995 when I was based in Cairo. It's a region that's far angrier.
It's a region that you don't--you have kind of a sense that there's a lot
going on under the surface that you're not fully aware of and fully conscious
of. And I think, you know, people in the Middle East themselves are
unsettled--it's too light of a word. I'm not sure what the stronger word is,
but, you know, there's a sense that we haven't seen the repercussions of the
In the rest of the region there's a sense of anger, I think, in the Arab world
that the United States gave Israel a green light to continue the war as long
as it did, you know. I'm always struck by when you look back at these kind of
pivotal events in the Middle East, you see repercussions that were--or
consequences that were unintended. The Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982
led directly to the creation of Hezbollah. The Gulf War in 1990 was one of
the factors that led to the ascent of Osama bin Laden. You know, what are the
repercussions of this war going to be? I don't know. Perhaps there won't be
any. It's hard to say at this point.
But you do feel and I noticed this reporting in some of the cities in Lebanon
before the war actually erupted that we are starting to see something that
might be taking shape. There is a certain radicalization among Sunni Muslims.
There is a remarkable degree of empowerment among Shiites, not only in Lebanon
but elsewhere, you know. How does the dust settle from these events that are
seismic in a way, that are pivotal? It's hard to say but there is a--I think
there is a sense across the region that while there was some optimism about
the intentions of US policy early on--not across the board by any means. But
there was some optimism, especially amongst secular liberals in the Middle
East that we might see a region that was somehow transformed. I think what
you see today is a much different picture than it was a year ago. and I think
across the board right now there's fear, there's anxiety, there's unease about
what the repercussions of US policy in the region are going to be.
GROSS: In 2001 you wrote a book called "Legacy of the Prophet: Despots,
Democrats, and the New Politics of Islam." It was a very optimistic book and
you wrote that "the popular model of Islam is as a threatening monolithic
force, one that specializes in bombings and kidnappings, and it lurks behind
the world's turmoil, but that image is being made obsolete by a new generation
of Islamic activists who from the slums of Beirut to the warrens of Cairo are
embracing democratic politics and grass-roots activism." And you wrote, "Their
agendas revolve around social services, civil society, and most importantly a
growing willingness to work within systems that they once opposed, sometimes
violently." And you offered Lebanon as an example of these new politics, and
offered Hezbollah as a movement that perhaps best encapsulated what you were
talking about. Do you still have that optimism about young Muslims and about
groups like Hezbollah?
Mr. SHADID: You know, I have to be honest. I'm a little more pessimistic
right now about what's ahead in the region. I think what we've seen since
2001, I think that trend that I saw in "Legacy of the Prophet" is still very
clearly there, and I think you see it in particular with the Muslim
brotherhood in countries like Egypt, for instance, or even Jordan. You do see
Hezbollah as a political actor. You know, its arms remain a huge impediment
to its full integration in Lebanese politics, but it is there as a political
movement. I think what you do see is among, I mean, Middle East terms are
always, you know, kind of hard to define, moderate, radical, whatever. But I
think what you do see amongst some of these moderate Islamic activists in the
brotherhood, for instance, or elsewhere is encouraging.
You know, obviously the United States is very wary. The US government is very
wary about what these movements mean and what their intentions are, but within
the societies themselves they are less threatening than they used to be. And
I speak here about Egypt. The Muslim brotherhood did well in the Egyptian
elections. Could it be integrated as a political force that would make a more
healthy, kind of polity within Egypt is very possible, but you're also dealing
with these other currents that are much more radical. You're dealing with
currents that are coming out of Iraq. You're dealing with a potential
radicalization that comes out of this war in Lebanon. You're dealing with the
bin Laden phenomenon.
You know, my sense is--just as as a reporter in the region, not as a
specialist, not as an academic, but as a reporter is that these two currents
are co-existing side by side right now. There's a certain current within
Islamic politics that does want to embrace the notion of pluralism, that does
want to acknowledge the political system as it exists and wants to participate
within it, and you're also seeing, you know, for lack of a better word,
another current that embraces a certain nihilism, and seeing it somehow
integrated into politics and political systems is very difficult to imagine.
You know, my hope is that the first wins out. My sense right now is that
perhaps it's the latter that has the stronger hand.
GROSS: You are an American of Lebanese descent. Do you still have family in
Mr. SHADID: I do have cousins in a town called Marj Ayun, which is in
southern Lebanon near the Israeli border. Most of them left to Beirut during
the war itself, and others have left, you know, earlier. During the civil war
they had actually moved north to Beirut.
GROSS: Are you going to continue living in Beirut?
Mr. SHADID: You know, it's a difficult question, I guess, to answer. It's
been a pretty tumultuous few years. And I'm not--I don't really like the
notion of being a war correspondent or something along those lines. I don't
find it all that interesting to cover in some ways. I think if you treat war
as the backdrop to what happens in people's lives, you can do journalism that
is meaningful and that is relevant. The war itself doesn't--holds very little
attraction to me. And it does kind of take its toll on you. You get tired of
it. You know, the idea of covering a civil war in Lebanon is not appealing.
You know, again, that's--I think that's probably an exaggeration that a civil
war might erupt. But, I was, you know, I was enjoying writing stories about
streets in Lebanon, and profiles, and the kind of quiet side to the Arab world
before this war erupted, and I'm not sure that I want to keep covering this
kind of stuff.
GROSS: Yeah, and I should say that when you've--you've been interested in
covering the Middle East since you were a teenager, and your intention, I
guess, wasn't to be a war correspondent as much as to just cover the Middle
East, but more and more that seems to mean being a war correspondent.
Mr. SHADID: That's right. The Middle East these days, I mean, you know, the
Iraq war and now this war. And, as I said, you know, it's a region that
I--that in some ways I don't--that is hard to recognize today compared to when
I first got here 10 years ago. It's a region that's gone through upheavals,
to say the least. And, you know, like I said earlier, the dust hasn't
settled. These upheavals are still going on and you do--I mean, when you talk
to people you do--you kind of take on some of the things that people are
saying, you know, your own outlook and your own perspective on it. And
there's a lot of dejection out there right now. There's a lot of anxiety and,
yeah, I guess that's the best way to put it.
GROSS: Well, Anthony Shadid, thanks for talking with us. And be safe, be
well. Thank you very much.
Mr. SHADID: Thank you, my pleasure.
GROSS: Anthony Shadid is a Middle East correspondent for the Washington Post.
Coming up, our critic at large John Powers reviews a new DVD edition of a 1944
film he considers a perfect example of film noir. This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: John Powers says "Double Indemnity" best example of
enduring power of film noir
TERRY GROSS, host:
Dozens and dozens of film noir from the '30s and '40s are now on DVD. Our
critic at large John Powers has piles of them, but he says one stands out.
It's the new digitally remastered "Double Indemnity." John says it's the best
example of the enduring power of film noir.
Mr. JOHN POWERS: Although I like to take pride in my sunny nature, I must
confess that no movie pulls me in like a film noir, and to judge from the
explosion of noir DVDs, I'm not alone. More than half a century after its
heyday, millions of us are still held rapt by its trademark sense of
dislocation: all those mean streets, femmes fatales, and ordinary Joes who
get sucked into a whirlpool of doom. There may be no more perfectly tooled
expression of the genre than "Double Indemnity," the 1944 tale of murder just
released in a fine new DVD.
Not only is its story quintessentially noir, so are its origins. From the
beginning, film noir was a cultural hybrid, a cross between American pulp and
a German film style brought to Hollywood by emigres fleeing fascism. In
"Double Indemnity," this cultural exchange is writ large. Based on a
potboiler by James M. Cain, the film was partly scripted by Raymond Chandler
and directed by Austrian-born Billy Wilder. Fred MacMurray stars are Walter
Neff, an insurance agent who narrates the story to his friend Barton Keyes,
that's Edward G. Robinson, a crack claims inspector at the same company. The
tale is simple. Hoping to renew a client's policy, Neff meets Phyllis
Dietrichson, a sneering mantrap played by perhaps the most worldly and
independent actress in Hollywood history, Barbara Stanwyck. Phyllis isn't shy
about flashing her legs or swapping tawdry banter, and Neff quickly falls
under her spell. But he has some doubts, as in this scene when he grasps that
Phyllis wants to insure her husband's life without him knowing it.
(Soundbite of "Double Indemnity")
Mr. FRED MacMURRAY: (Ss Walter Neff) Goodbye, Ms. Dietrichson.
Ms. BARBARA STANWYCK: (As Phyllis Dietrichson) What's the matter?
Mr. MacMURRAY: (As Neff) Look, baby, I can't get away with it. You want to
knock him off, don't you?
Ms. STANWYCK: (As Dietrichson) That's a horrible thing to say.
Mr. MacMURRAY: (As Neff) What'd you think I was, anyway, a guy that walks
into a good-looking dame's front parlor and says, `Good afternoon. I sell
accident insurance on husbands. You got one that's been around too long? One
you'd like to turn into a little hard cash. Just give me a smile and I'll
help you collect?' Ha. Boy, what a dope you must think I am.
Ms. STANWYCK: (As Dietrichson) I think you're rotten.,
Mr. MacMURRAY: (As Neff) I think you're swell, so long as I'm not your
Ms. STANWYCK: (As Dietrichson) Get out of here.
Mr. MacMURRAY: (As Neff) You bet I'll get out of here, baby. I'll get out
of here but quick.
(End of soundbite)
Mr. POWERS: Neff may talk tough but he's hooked, and within minutes he's
plotting Mr. Dietrichson's accidental murder. Naturally the whole scheme
goes terribly wrong, and this going wrong is precisely what draws us to Neff's
story. For like nearly all film noir, it offers a pop version of classical
tragedy, in which a modern hero, a regular guy, who tries to escape the little
narrowness of daily life, winds up unleashing the very fates that will destroy
Now it's easy to see how such a vision of life could be merged in the '30s and
'40s, when most ordinary Americans felt caught in the undertow of huge
impersonal forces: the Great Depression, the threat of Nazism and communism,
even the unsettling shifting gender roles as women poured into the workforce
during World War II. In such a context, it was natural that many men felt
overwhelmed, powerless, and like Walter Neff, yearned to escape.
It was equally natural that noir should begin to fade during the 1950's boom
years, when men felt more in control in their lives and women were sent back
to work in their spanking new kitchens. There were some great noir movies in
that decade, of course, like "Kiss Me Deadly" and "Vertigo." But noir soon
fell into mannered decadence. Without the profound feelings of social
paranoia that inspired it, the genre became little more that just a collection
of stylistic ticks.
Yet, even as time ran out on Hollywood's ability to make film noir, the great
old noir films began to feel increasingly timeless. This is partly because
the visual style of classic noir is so hauntingly beautiful, all that glorious
black and white photography, all those thrillingly dark shadows. And it's
partly because noir plays into our culture's continuing uneasy fascination
with powerful women. Noir heroines tend to be smart, sexy, and lethal. And
there's a lot of terrified misogyny in this; the term "black widow" comes to
mind. But there's also something thrilling about seeing such forceful women
in a movie era where Meryl Streep's Miranda Priestly in "The Devil Wears
Prada" is the year's only female role to approach the potent vividness of
Stanwyck's Phyllis Dietrichson.
But the big reason for its enduring power is this: unlike westerns, costume
dramas, or romantic comedies, the great noir films put us in touch with the
power of darkness. Be it the death entranced corners of our psyche or the
shadowy flip side of our American obsession with success, noir comes steeped
in failure and ruin, and it does so without making these things dreary. It
invests its small-time heroes and heroines with sense of awful grandeur.
After all, in "Double Indemnity," Walter Neff doesn't merely ruin his life for
a woman. He turns his ruination into a larger than life story that still
grips us 60 years later.
GROSS: John Powers is film critic for Vogue.
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
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