The New York Times published on Friday what must have been one of the last articles written by Anthony Shadid before he passed away.
"Islamist Ideas on Democracy and Faith Face Test in Tunisia" embodies exactly what James Zogby meant when he said:
"Unlike so many of his contemporaries, Anthony appreciated the fact that the story of the region didn't begin the day he got the assignment. His reporting reflected a historian's appreciation for context. He understood contemporary Arab realities, because he knew from whence they had come."
To really fully appreciate what Middle East coverage has lost, read the article and see an expert effortlessly delve into the roots and evolution of Islamist politics - an issue that will be key in the development of the Middle East and the wider Muslim world.
"No one knows how one of the most critical chapters in the history of the modern Arab world will end, as the region pivots from a movement against dictatorship toward a movement for something that is proving far more ambiguous. But the generation embodied by Mr. Ferjani, shaped by jail, exile and repression and bound by faith and alliances years in the making, will have the greatest say in determining what emerges."
To Londonstani, Anthony's genius was always to promise less and deliver more in his writing. In this article on Tunisian Islamist Said Ferjani, you get - not only an exploration into the thinking of key Islamist figures - but context about its rise as a political philosophy, insight into its evolution and knowledge about the processes that have affected its development.
As Anthony moves from Ferjani's first contact with Islamist thinker Rachid al-Ghannouchi:
"He was always talking about the world and politics,” Mr. Ferjani said. “Why as Muslims are we backwards? What makes us backwards? Is it our destiny to be so?”
to a paragrapher primer on Islamist political philosophy:
"The questions posed by Mr. Ghannouchi have shaped successive generations of Islamists, a term that never captures their diversity. The theme was examined in the work of Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose notion of missionary work proved so successful over 50 years. It was there, too, in the works of Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian thinker whose writings resonated long after he was hanged in 1966, helping give rise to a militant Islamism that bloodied the Middle East. Later, “The Hidden Duty,” a text that laid the groundwork for the assassination of Anwar Sadat in 1981, tried to resolve the issue. So did Mr. Ghannouchi, who endorsed pluralism and democracy, even as revolution raged in Iran."
to the London experience of ideological evolution;
"Mr. Ferjani compared his years in London to the intellectual awakening he underwent in Kairouan in the 1970s. Settling with his wife and five children in the neighborhood of Ealing, he remained in Islamist circles, soon embroiled in the debates over Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, but broadening his horizons into civil society. He took classes on the history of Europe, democracy, the environment and social change."
the reader gets a sense of a transnational ideological movement responding to ground realities as members disagree, learn, adapt and evolve their thinking.
"In debates that played out across the Arab world, though often ignored by the West, the questions of reconciling democracy and Islam raged from the 1990s on."
And this is really why Anthony was so good at what he did. He got to the bottom of a simple reality by humanising it, while many others spoke around the issues without helping anyone understand what lay behind them.
For Londonstani, it was Anthony's novelist-like writing skills that made him so readable, but it was his knowledge and empathy that made him so rare.