Home > Reviews > “Seeks out the blind spots of Western curiosity” – Jean-Pierre Filiu, Le Monde diplomatique

“Seeks out the blind spots of Western curiosity” – Jean-Pierre Filiu, Le Monde diplomatique

Screen shot 2013-03-11 at 18.06.12The French edition of Dining with al-Qaeda, Rendez-vous avec al-Qaida, has won its first plaudit in French media! The review in Le Monde diplomatique’s February 2013 edition is by none less than Jean-Pierre Filiu, a professor at Sciences Po in Paris and a globally published author on jihadi/al-Qaeda matters. I’ve attempted a translation below, but first I checked with a French friend what to think. Initially, Prof. Filiu’s judgments looked to me as though they might be pretty ambivalent. My friend reassured me that in fact “the review was extremely laudatory. you should know that us french don’t indulge in hyperboles or even positive language generally. when asked how he is doing, a frenchman says ‘pas mal’ or ‘on fait aller’. you just got a ‘pas mal du tout’ which is quite something”. For what it’s worth, the book’s page on amazon.fr soon announced that only one copy was left. Hooray!

Screen shot 2013-03-11 at 17.41.33Screen shot 2013-03-11 at 17.51.03Hugh Pope a couvert le Proche-Orient pendant une trentaine d’années, essentiellement pour le Wall Street Journal. C’est cette expérience qu’il livre — sous un titre inutilement réducteur —, entraînant le lecteur du Caire à Islamabad, d’Istanbul à Djedda, au fil des crises et des reportages. Pope assume ses contradictions avec un humour faussement candide. Britannique et pro-palestinien, opposé à l’invasion de l’Irak en 2003, ayant refusé de rejoindre ses confrères « embarqués » dans les unités américaines, il mesure tout ce que représente le Wall Street Journal dans cette partie du monde. Il souligne les limites du volontarisme du général David Petraeus, devenu commandant de la région de Mossoul, et n’est pas plus tendre pour la « liberté artistique » prise avec la réalité factuelle par le célèbre reporter Robert Fisk. Sa propre conception de la profession est à la fois plus sobre et plus exigeante : il recherche les angles morts de la curiosité occidentale, chez les Yézidis du Kurdistan, dans la ville sud-soudanaise de Wau, ou à Kaboul à l’heure des talibans.

Jean-Pierre Filiu

And here is my translation – any suggested improvements welcomed!

Hugh Pope covered the Middle East for three decades, mainly for the Wall Street Journal. It’s this experience that he describes – under an unnecessarily simplistic title – as he takes the reader from Cairo to Islamabad, from Istanbul to Jeddah, on the trail of crises and reporting trips. Pope tempers its contradictions with a humour that is deceptively innocent. British, pro-Palestinian, opposed to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and refusing to join his fellow reporters “embedded” in American units, he takes the measure of everything that The Wall Street Journal represents in this part of the world. He underlines the limits of the get-up-and-go of General David Petraeus, the commander of the Mosul region, and is no more merciful about the “artistic license” taken with factual reality by the celebrated reporter Robert Fisk. His own understanding of the profession is both more sober and more demanding: he seeks out the blind spots of Western curiosity, with the Yezidis of Kurdistan, in the south Sudanese town of Wau, or in Kabul in the days of the Taliban.

  1. April 7, 2013 at 9:56 am

    I have no idea what “searches out the dead angles of Western curiousity” means, but I think there is nothing wrong with your title. Indeed, I believe it should intruige the potential reader. Bah humbug on this cranky French attitude.

    • Hugh
      April 7, 2013 at 1:21 pm

      I think ‘dead angles’ may be an artilleryman’s term, kind of why the Venetian walls of Nicosia are the shape they are so that someone can shoot at anyone trying to climb up the wall from anywhere! But Filiu is right, it’s what I was trying to do, and am glad he could see it.

  2. John King
    April 15, 2013 at 3:49 pm

    “il recherche les angles morts” = “he seeks out the blind spots”

    • Hugh
      April 15, 2013 at 4:21 pm

      Many thanks – that’s exactly it, and will adopt.

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