Home > Interviews > “I tried to avoid the word ‘Islam’ while writing the book” – Interview with Traveler’s Library

“I tried to avoid the word ‘Islam’ while writing the book” – Interview with Traveler’s Library

An interview with Vera Marie Badertscher of A Traveler’s Library, one of America’s top 100 travel blogs. A full review of the book on the blog is here.

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After reading Dining with Al Qaeda, I thought that Hugh Pope was one of those writers I would like to sit with over a cup of tea for a lengthy chat. So MUCH to think about in his book.

Since he’s in Turkey and I’m not, I invited him to answer a few questions by e-mail and he not only did, but suffered a few follow-ups as well.

Pope has left journalism (but not writing)  to work at the International Crisis Group, a group that studies areas of conflict and possible conflict, writes reports, and suggests solutions. He specializes in Turkey and the surrounding area.

Pope says that the work of the Crisis Group is intended more for policy makers than for travelers but are frequently used as background by reporters. The reports are free, and, he says, “Our take on situations is known to be (as far as is humanly possible) evidence-based, non-ideological, neutral, comprehensive, and long-lasting, being the product of meticulous field work and including interviews with all sides. Crisis Group hopes that by filling this information gap – backed by energetic advocacy with governments and opinion-makers based on our reports – warring parties will see new ways out of their conflict. It’s amazing how often people in conflict don’t listen to each other and misjudge each other’s intentions.

As I noted in my review of Dining with Al Qaeda, Pope tried hard to see all sides when he was reporting.

“Working for International Crisis Group is everything I wanted journalism to be, but never quite was,” he says. “In media reporting, especially from remoter and less important parts of the world, a journalist is under pressure to frame the issue in an attractive and compelling ‘story’ – often a tall order on a short trip. In a Crisis Group report I can say exactly what I think the situation or problem is, without having the need to dramatize the narrative or dress it in a character-led story.” But he adds that his 25 years of experience reporting from 30 countries contributes to his present work.

Because of his book title, I searched the Internet for his reaction to the death of Osama bin Laden, and came up empty handed. In fact, he told me … (read full interview here)

  1. Mel Voughn
    March 30, 2012 at 6:35 pm

    Dear Mr. Q – thank you for the wonderful book about Middle East. You have masterfully painted a panorama of entire region that almost came alive with the real characters, events, visuals and smells and sounds of the Middle Eastern countries.

    One question that keeps bothering me as I am nearing the end of your book, is the role of Israel in collective misery of all predominantly Muslim countries that surround her. On one hand, from your thorough description of your travels through ME – I get a strong feeling that existence of Israel is irrelevant to to how corrupt, dysfunctional, incompetent and hostile are the regimes in those countries. There are also many historical and cultural references in the book that explain why you experienced so many problems getting anything done in an efficient manner in those countries. At some point your life was threatened by a person who had no obvious grounds to hate or kill you. On the other hand, there are references throughout the book to all the injustices and atrocities committed by Israel as she tried to survive in what appears to be a fairly hostile neighborhood after it was founded by a UN vote in 1948.

    Looking from outside in, it appears that governments in Muslim and various arab countries are a lot more hostile to their own population and are willing to butcher their own people with much less hesitation and in significantly larger numbers than Israel ever did. I am looking for proof of how a country the size of New Jersey, inhabited by about 5 million Jews (on average over time) managed to wreck such havoc upon vast countries with hundreds of millions in combined population. How could it by the mere fact of its existence, stop the entire Middle East from continuing its ascent to the heights of economic independence, political freedoms, ethnic and religious tolerance and technological progress?

    Perhaps if such explanations were clearly spelled out in the book – fewer people will turn away when you state that the ills of the Arab and Muslim world stem from injustices brought upon them by Israel’s existence.

    • Hugh
      March 30, 2012 at 6:54 pm

      Thanks for the comment Mel – there’s no easy answer to your question though. I don’t say that the ills of the Arab and Muslim worlds stem from Israel alone. But the birth and growth of Israel has certainly been a huge shock to the Middle East over the past century or so, as it took territory, pushed Palestinians out of ancestral lands, successfully invaded Syria, Lebanon and Egypt for varying amounts of time, and these days is leading in a grandstanding dispute with Iran too! On another level, unquestioning support for Israel in Europe and the U.S., usually for reasons unrelated to anything that has much to do with the Middle East, has played a distorting role. At the same time, many Middle Eastern countries and populations have used Israel as a way to blame others for their own inadequacies, and have attacked Israel in a variety of ways. And great powers have also long meddled with the Middle East for reasons that are not directly connected with Israel – colonial policy, oil, trade, 9/11 and so on. In other words, it’s a mess. And I hope that Dining with al-Qaeda reflected this confusion!

      • Mel Voughn
        May 2, 2012 at 1:02 pm

        Hugh, thank you so much for your reply. Your book does indeed reflect the confusion on every level that seems to dominate socio-economic lives of Middle Eastern counties. It is just hard to see a link between creation of such a tiny country given the vastness of the Middle East and small number of people it had displaced and all this horrible mess the entire middle east is in. From what I understand – everyone who inhabited Palestinian territories at the time of creation of Israel was given an option to stay and become an Israeli citizen. Those who stayed – seem to be doing just fine. Those who were Christians (both Arabs and non-Arabs) – did not seem to have had such a big issue with formation of Israel and those who did not flee – now live in a fairly free and democratic country. Those who I have met in Israel – seem to be perfectly well to do folks.
        When you say Israel invaded Syria, Lebanon and Egypt – was that an act of pure aggression towards peaceful and unsuspecting neighbors, meant to wreck havoc in the region and grab their land, or where there perhaps some other reasons why Israeli troops ended up in those countries?
        It is also hard to view Israeli issue with Iran as Israeli-led grandstanding, when Iran made no secrets about its desire to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth and is now seems to be developing nuclear capability. If I was a president of Israel – I would be worried. And I would not be worried about a direct attack from Iran – that I don’t think will happen, but I would be worried about who the Iranians give their nuclear explosives to once they manage to develop them. Hence the question – is it prudent to wait for them to finish building the bomb or not?

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