Guide to the blog and the books by Hugh Pope

This blog started with updates on the themes of my most recent book DINING WITH AL-QAEDA: Making Sense of the Middle East, most recently published as a fine new, updated paperback in 2020 (available around the world on Amazon). Now I use it to review other people’s books, talk about my personal impressions from Turkey and Middle East in general and promote the idea of adding random selection back into our democratic processes.

I studied Persian and Arabic at Oxford University. After five years based in Syria, Lebanon, Iran and Cyprus, I moved in 1987 to what became my home base for 28 years in Istanbul, Turkey. During this time I reported as a foreign correspondent from 30 countries in the broader Middle East as a foreign correspondent for various newspapers including UPI, Reuters, the Independent and The Wall Street Journal.

From 2007, I worked as the Turkey/Cyprus Project Director for International Crisis Group, the conflict prevention organisation, specialising in reports on the triangle of disputes between Turkey, Cyprus and the European Union. Between 2015-22, I was Crisis Group’s global Director of Communications & Outreach, based in Brussels. Podcasts and some commentaries I did while at Crisis Group can be found here.

Video highlights of the launch of The Keys to Democracy in Oxford, England.

In 2021-23, I led a project to republish my late father Maurice Pope’s last and long-lost book for publication, co-editing it with my brother Quentin. UK publishers Imprint Academic published it in spring 2023 as “The Keys to Democracy: Sortition as a New Model for Citizen Power.” I am also serving as on the Board of Advisers of DemocracyNext, which uses sortition and other ideas for democratic reform to design and implement decision-making institutions of the future that are based on the full participation of equal citizens taking their turn, as in jury service.

Why I wrote my book about how better to understand what makes the Middle East tick.

My last book Dining with al-Qaeda begins with my adventures as a wide-eyed student of Persian and Arabic literature and history, illustrates my growing understanding of the Middle East as a reporter, and then shows how frustrating it was to try explain those realities in media reports, particularly for American readers. Ranging from Istanbul to Islamabad and Khartoum to Kabul, Dining with al-Qaeda consists entirely of stories that happened to me, avoids didactic political theories and labels like “Islam”, “moderates” or “terror”, and aims to help bring down some of the wall of incomprehension that divides Westerners from Middle Easterners.

The Economist said Dining with al-Qaeda is “a very good book“. The Guardian in the UK said it’s “terrific“. Publishers’ Weekly called it a “fascinating memoir” with “exquisite photos”. Kirkus Reviews said the writing was “charming” and “a rich life’s work”. Booklist reckons many readers will “enjoy Pope’s bold curiosity.” On, Suzannah McGee said “anyone with any interest in the Middle East should read this.” In Le Monde diplomatique, French professor and expert on jihadism Jean-Pierre Filiu praised its “deceptively innocent humour” and the way it “searches out the dead angles of Western curiosity”. And a review by German Mideast insider Walter Posch counted it “among the handful of books that explain the road to the Arab Spring.”

Additionally, best-selling writer Tony Horwitz says it’s “darkly fun”; musician David Byrne thinks it’s a “great book”, and hopes people listen to its insights on the region; top US diplomat Morton Abramowitz calls it “a great learning experience”; Iranian-American writer Azadeh Moaveni paid it the compliment of being “a page turner”; Mariane Pearl, widow of my late colleague Danny Pearl, believes it “raises essential questions”; and one of my war correspondent heroes, Jonathan Randal, believes it will make a reader “laugh, cry and learn”.

This is the original of the dust jacket author photo. It was taken in a U.S. Black Hawk helicopter over southern Iraq in 2003 by Thomas Foley, who, since life is full of strange twists and turns, became a Republican candidate to be the next governor of the State of Connecticut.

A ten-minute podcast of me telling stories from Dining with al-Qaeda to my International Crisis Group colleague Kim Abbott is available here, and a second 15-minute podcast of me talking about the problems faced by reporters in the Middle East is here.  For an original, five-minute video guerrilla-style interview about the book by social media guru Thomas Crampton, click here.

A full chronological listing of reviews and comments can be seen here. The musings section are offbeat pieces on themes from Dining with al-Qaeda that I’ve written for the blog – about films like ‘The Hurt Locker’, about Turkish restaurants, about flagellation, about anything really. The Mr. Q’s News is when I see the same problems I describe in the book resurface in today’s news coverage of the Middle East.

The book launch tour in the U.S. from 28th March to 4th April 2010 felt non-stop. In New York, I did talks on the book at Strand Book Store with Prof. Rashid Khalidi (Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University) , at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, at the NY School of Visual Arts, for the 20:20 Network. I talked about the book with Brett Winterble at Covert Radio (here) and on NPR’s popular Leonard Lopate show (here). In Washington DC, a large crowd turned out at Politics & Prose bookshop (the talk was filmed by C-Span). I also discussed the show with Susan Glasser at Foreign Policy/New America Foundation (webcast on their new Middle East Channel here), and gave a book presentation at the Middle East Institute. I was also able to talk about the themes of the book with VOA’s Mohammed Elshinnawi, as well as on MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough Show, Kojo Nnamdi’s WAMU lunchtime talkshow, ABC-7’s Federal News with Philip Stewart, and Wolf Blitzer’s ‘Situation Room’ on CNN.

You can order Dining with al-Qaedaat, Barnes and Noble, direct from the publisher here or from your local bookstore. The book is not yet published in the UK, but is available in Britain on, or bookstores like Daunt Books and the London Review Bookshop. (For review copies and more, Thomas Dunne/St Martins publicist is Joseph Rinaldi — his email is Joseph.Rinaldi[at] In electronic media, the book is available in an Amazon Kindle edition here, or on an Audiobook CD read by American actor Paul Boehmer. Sony books has an electronic version downloadable here for $12.99.

A French translation of Dining with al-Qaeda was published in November 2012 by Presses de l’universite Laval, Quebec. World translation rights are held by Thomas Dunne/St Martins.

My previous book is called Sons of the Conquerors: The Rise of the Turkic World (Overlook, New York 2005), which follows my journeys in two dozen lands from Central Asia to West Virginia in search of the essence of Turkishness. It was an Economist magazine ‘book of the year’, and Foreign Affairs magazine listed it top of 20 titles it judged essential to read to understand Turkish politics. It has been translated into Turkish (Vatan Kitap, 2005) and Dutch (Atlas/Olympus 2006) and a French translation appeared in 2011 (Presses de l’univeriste Laval).

My first book is called Turkey Unveiled: A history of modern Turkey (John Murray/Overlook Duckworth, 1997-2004), and is a New York Times ‘notable book’. Co-authored with my first wife Nicole Pope, it has been translated into Turkish. The New York Times put the first chapter of the book on its website here.

  1. F.Brauer
    March 23, 2010 at 10:11 pm

    Will there be an Arabic translation of Dining with Al-Qaeda?

    • Hugh
      November 2, 2011 at 1:16 pm

      Of course I’d hope there’ll be an Arabic translation, but nobody has offered to do one as of November 2011!

  2. John
    March 30, 2010 at 3:09 pm

    I heard you on WABC radio on 3-30-10 and think you are delusional in your thoughts on Israel and the dogs that are the palastinians. The reason obama insults Israel is because hes a muslum first and a poor excuse for an American. This is to be expected of those like yourself who consider America to be a bully except when we liberated Europe from the grip of Hitler! That was acceptable because it was a direct benefit. You’re a hippocrite! Dont bother to respond as it was painfull enough to listen to your dreck the first time.

  3. Hugh
    April 3, 2010 at 2:31 pm

    John – I posted your comment because I think others and you yourself should see how unconvincing the basis is of such shot-from-the-hip criticism of the Palestinians and Obama. Hugh

  4. John Kennedy
    April 29, 2010 at 2:56 pm

    Hugh, thanks again for your talk at the Propeller Club in Istanbul yesterday. It was honest and balanced.
    I very much appreciated the way you presented the compromises which you are willing to make in order to have the opportunity to get enough of the plain facts in front of the public to try to move the dialogue onto something like neutral ground. Keep intermediating.



  5. Herta Buchner
    June 2, 2010 at 8:25 am

    Mr. Pope is a liar , surely financed by terrorist groups .
    Herta Buchner

  6. Dr Jack G Shaheen
    June 9, 2010 at 7:06 pm

    Warm and heartfelt thanks for your refreshing, informative read. I sincerely hope our nation’s political “movers and shakers” will follow your wisdom; I’ve given up on mainstream journalists. Sincerely, Jack “Reel Bad Arabs” Shaheen

  7. Greg Olson
    August 22, 2010 at 8:44 am

    Enjoyed your fine review of Dan Morrison’s The Black Nile in the past weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal. I was heading a USAID program in Juba when Dan visited me there while doing the traveling for the book. And was in Denmark on my way to Egypt this past weekend when i read review of your new book in weekendavisen. Look forward to getting though it was take some time to reach me in Arish where I work on a program with beduin in Central Sinai – any plans for a Kindle release?

  8. March 6, 2011 at 11:04 am

    Hugh, Was happily surprised to see your name pop up on “One Shot Over the Line,” and especially liked seeing your photo of Leighton taking the sun on the beach in Beirut. Hope the book sells like crazy. 73s, Paula

    • Hugh
      March 7, 2011 at 3:38 pm

      Thanks Paula – those halcyon days at United Press International remain a high point of having fun working together!

  9. March 16, 2011 at 5:58 pm

    Congratulations on your (new) book, seems I have been so busy with life to not follow your publications lately. Though, I haven’t read the book yet (will order a copy in the morning) but it must be another great book by you.
    I oppose Herta and some other people who have commented here and been so unfair,such people should realise that others are entitled to their opinion and allowed to tell truth as they see it,even if there are people who do not like such truth. After all, Mr Pope is such a honest person and he should be respected for his hard work serving humanity and encouraged to continue with passion. I personally owe Mr.Pope for his humanitarian assistance rescuing my life. People like him are rare and hard to find.

  10. September 25, 2011 at 2:19 pm

    Dear Hugh

    I’m very happy to know you through a colleague of mine who used to work with Knowledge Center.

    In the same spirit as you had with this wonderful book, I’m going to Middle East in January 2012 for a 1,5 year long field trip, which starts in Saudi Arabia where Islam began, follows its steps of expansion west ward to Africa and east ward to Asia. I will write about the contemporary life of Middle East, trying, like you, to go beyond all those labels of Terrorism, Extremists, Mujahadeen…etc and see the real people behind those political correct/ incorrect names.

    Being a female non-Muslim academic, I certainly need a lot of support in this project. Any advice or contacts in Middle East is very much appreciated.

    Many thanks in advance and I look forwards to hearing from you soon,

    Mai Nguyen

  11. Mel Voughn
    March 30, 2012 at 6:43 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.

  12. angela cantrell
    June 20, 2013 at 1:04 am

    I just read the book for a second time. Fascinating! And it does clear up some of the muddle of different factions. I have gained sympathy for the displaced and traumatized PEOPLE (collectively). The sum of it seems to me to be that one cannot stand on a false term of religion. It was never intended as such.
    P.S. I have a tremendous respect for Hugh Pope and his crusade.

  13. July 29, 2013 at 8:17 pm

    I’ve enoyed your coverage of terrorism and how it has developed after the death of Bin Laden. I recently finished working on an infographic that explores this issue and other interesting information about Al Qaeda from a visual perspective. I thought I would share it with you in the hopes you might make some use of it. Here’s the link:

    Jack Kelle

  14. Valerie Simms
    May 6, 2014 at 10:01 pm

    I’m late to your books. I’ve recently read Sons of the Conquerors, after a trip to Turkey last October. It’s a fine book, but the prologue absolutely dumbfounded me. Can you really mean that in the late 1980’s the “adjective” and the peoples known as “Turkic” were unknown to you? And that Turkic peoples formed a “buffer” between Europe and Asia was unknown to you? The rest of the book and your Persian and Arabic training suggest that, for example, Tamerlane, must have been known to you, not to mention Turgut Ozul’s pan-Turkish project, etc. etc. Was this merely a self-effacing, but not true, prologue?

    • Hugh
      May 6, 2014 at 11:41 pm

      Absolutely, it’s true that I was unfamiliar with the term ‘Turkic’ in the 1980s. Turkey was not a broadly known topic back then, perhaps especially to those who focused on Persian and Arabian matters! And yes, the people in the southern part of the Soviet Union were thought of as Muslims. I did travel to the Soviet Union in the hope of meeting Persian-speaking Tajiks – Iran having been largely closed off to British passport-holders like me after 1979 – but even then the status or origins of Uzbeks, Kazakhs etc was not something I knew about.

  15. Valerie Simms
    May 7, 2014 at 2:41 pm

    Well then, the decade of the 90’s with your intense travel all over the Turkic world was certainly productive, for you and for all of your readers. Could you direct me to a book that treats when and how the Stanfords, Harvards and Oxfords, not to mention the UK Foreign Service and the US State Department, fully absorbed your thesis that the Turkic world exists and that its peoples share language roots and culture? Many thanks.

    Valerie Simms

  16. phil
    September 5, 2015 at 9:18 pm

    Hi Hugh

    Very interesting and informative read .. thanks

    I was wondering what you thought about what could be the motivation behind the invasion of Iraq with no evidence of WMD. (War profiteering?)

    Also I am beginning to take a second look at 9/11… I have a MSc in Physics and something is just not right with WTC 7 coming down (see architects and engineers 1000 say it was demolished ‘pulled’). I have moved this issue to an ‘open question’ in my mind.. looking for evidence/ corroboration…
    What do you think?


    • Hugh
      September 7, 2015 at 6:54 am

      I think the motivation behind the invasion of Iraq was basically ideological, based on a misreading of the Middle East.

      I happened to be sitting with a construction magnate when the WTC was burning and he predicted within minutes that a fire like that would melt the core and collapse the building. And so it did.

  1. March 1, 2010 at 5:44 pm
  2. March 18, 2010 at 3:59 pm

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