This blog was originally designed to keep me sane as I began learning Arabic. It morphed into a blog of musings about Arabic, the Middle East, and the Islamic World, as well as book reviews about those topics. Then, the blog became a place to keep my family and friends updated on my adventures while I was living abroad. During May and June of 2012, I had a 6-week long internship in Cairo, Egypt through a international student organization called AIESEC. I taught English at the Awladi Orphanage in Cairo, home to several hundred children. I lived in an apartment in Nasr City before moving to Maadi (each is a distinct area of Cairo). I experienced President Mursi's election, camped in the western desert, rode camels by the pyramids, and had countless other experiences. I have since moved past this blog, on towards new endeavors, but if you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment! Enjoy!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Public Relations Department at Hezbollah Wishes You a Happy Birthday

Unexpected Encounters in the Changing Middle East
by Neil Macfarquhar

This book is fantastic. Really one of the most interesting books I have read in quite awhile, the name caught my attention immediately.

The name and cover photo by themselves made me think that this would be a light read, something filled with anecdotes about Macfarquhar's experiences as a reporter. While there are many anecdotes scattered throughout, the most engaging parts of the book (at least for me) were when he commented on the perception of the U.S. in the Middle East and how the U.S. could go about changing it. From his perspective, it wouldn't take much more effort than we are giving now, but it would take a different type of effort.

He worked as the Cairo bureau chief for the New York Times, and, because he speaks Arabic, he is able to speak directly with the people, bringing a different perspective to reporting in the Middle East. His ability to speak with the locals reveals the variety of opinions among average people, as well as highlighting the differences between the official government stance on issues versus the public stance. What I found the most interesting is the way that he predicts the revolutions to come in the Middle East. The book was published in April 2009, just two years before the "Arab Spring," and, as I read it, I thought wow, I wonder what he thinks of all of this now? What would he say about what is going on? What worries me about all of it is that along with his prediction, he says that many of these societies are not ready for pure democracy. Human rights? Yes. But democracy is a whole different animal. Democracy would require people to become engaged in their government, something that many of these people are not used to doing. I can only hope that a sense of purpose and responsibility is present within these revolutions. Only time will tell.

The author grew up on a compound in Libya that was designated for westerners who worked in the oil business, and he returned to the Middle East as an adult, working as a foreign correspondent. His take on Arabs and Persians, showing that the Middle East a place where blanket statements about religion, culture, and lifestyle are inaccurate, is quite refreshing. He interviews many people, showing the questions that they, within their own culture, are asking themselves. I found the part about the female Kuwaiti sex therapist quite entertaining. This book helped me understand the difference between interpretations of Islam as a religion and a political force.

Here's a quote from the Booklist review: "He speaks Arabic, and the openness and immediacy of his on-site reporting reveals the diversity in country and culture as he explores current Arab attitudes toward the U.S., the oppression of women, the power of the Internet and satellite TV, the stifling control of the secret police, and much more. The professor forbidden to pluck her eyebrows sums it up: “They focus on the trivial . . . so we don’t worry about the big things.” Those big things will grab American readers, from religion’s blocking of science to U.S. expediency in backing the powerful and, always, to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

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