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Lunch with the editor

A major theme of Dining with al-Qaeda is the difficulty reporters like me faced in translating what I experienced in the Middle East into reports that really explained the situation to American readers.

Sometimes I felt that we’d invented a virtual Middle East with our convoluted attempts to bridge this divide, using artificial one-label-fits-all concepts like “peace process”, “terror”, “Arabs”, or “Islam”.

This difficulty stemmed from lots of different factors, including our readers’ physical distance from the subject, unfamiliarity with the peoples of the region, domestic US lobbies distorting national debates, misapprehensions about how different Islamic cultures are in every country and an overall cultural disconnect between America and the Middle East.

Meeting up again in November with my charismatic former foreign editor at the Wall Street Journal, John Bussey, I told him how frustrated I had been by all this in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, when I was the only Journal reporter traveling to the Saddam Hussein’s domains. Bussey, now the Journal’s Washington DC bureau chief, immediately invited me in to discuss Iran, Afghanistan and the Middle East over sandwiches with my former Journal colleagues.

For me, the occasion turned into a first chance to discuss in public these key themes of the book. I still had plenty to prove for some. But it was invigorating to feel how the intellectual climate in the US is changing, making it possible for people like me to make my case and feel like people are listening. Seven years ago saying the same things was like shouting in a gale.

Categories: Events

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