Riad Ismat, Evanston scholar who fled war-torn Syria, dies of COVID-19

EVANSTON, Ill. (WLS) -- Among the latest local victims of COVID-19 in Illinois is a scholar who escaped the war-torn Middle East to teach here in the U.S.

Riad Ismat was renowned in Syria. Diplomat, writer, and cultural minister were just pieces of his resume.

"He was a progressive thinker and he was an independent thinker," said his son, Sami.

Riad Ismat worked his whole life, his son says, as a humanitarian. Then came the Arab Spring.

"All his life he believed if he worked that change was possible, but then the violence reached a point of no return and he just had to leave," Sami explained.

Ismat left everything he had and fled the bloodbath tearing apart his beloved Syria for his family's safety.

He found safety here in the comfort of Evanston, teaching students at Northwestern and living quietly in political asylum with his family. Then the virus crept into his home.

"I couldn't even move out of bed," Sami said.

He contracted COVID-19 first, then his partner, mother, and father. After a week of intensive care, COVID-19 quietly claimed the cultural icon's life last week.

"That's how life goes and sometimes you would say the wiseness of the universe or the fate of the universe to go like this," Sami said.

Riad Ismat survived war in Syria and rebuilt life in a foreign world only to be overcome by a global pandemic.
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