Wednesday, February 20, 2008

An Open Letter: Question Your Sources

New York

Dear Readers,
Yesterday, an American friend ( born in Tazmania, raised in Australia, lived in Paris for years, and now the MainLine outside of Philadelphia--well traveled and world wise ) who I met when I walked the Camino de Campostella in Spain emailed me, welcoming me home.

"I've followed your blog. Wow! What a trip. You say it's changed you. How?

Here is my reply.


Nick, Well, to answer your question, I've been politicized, I suppose.

For example, I had a close look at the Palestinians who are, in my take, being "occupied" by the Israelis in very difficult living conditions--a view that isn't communicated very clearly by the US media. In Egypt, female genital mutilation is being done today in nearly 70% ( UN figures; the Egyptians give a smaller number ) of adolescent girls--especially in the villages.

Every time I read the International Herald Tribune or either Israel or Egypt's English press, there were articles about the repression of free speech: journalists w/ fatwahs against them b/c they spoke out against Islam--and were afraid for their lives; or Mubarek deciding that his opponent in the last election should be incarcerated--or journalists tried for insulting the country. Sharia laws are alive and well in Egypt--women, especially Muslim women w/ privilege, do not inherit their husband's estate, the male heirs do.

Most strikingly, the % of the demo that is under 25 in both Egypt and other Muslim countries, including Turkey is as high as 50% in some cases. And those young people, especially if they are illiterate villagers, are listening to the fundamentalist message that seems pervasive--and hopeful if you're hungry and poor.

Thugs like AlQaeda have a perfect petrie dish for growing radicals. And as the "city" Muslims are getting more educated--college is essentially free in Egypt--they are able to see how to adapt to Western "tactics". I don't think this Muslim threat--not the religion mind you, but the threat of the extremists--is going to go away. In fact, after this experience, I actually think that it is more serious than our media is portraying.

These folks, including the Hezbollah leader who was murdered (by, probably, Moussad secret police from Israel) in Syria last week, have no problem w/ revenge, and, from my reading and the folks I talked to, they don't care where it is or who it is as long as it makes a statement. So, since there are diaspora Jews everywhere in the world, the world is the terrorists' oyster, so to speak, to decide where they would like to place the next suicide bomber.

I think the cold war was difficult on those who value freedom. But a religious war, which is what the terrorists have positioned this to be, is something more terrifying. When people are willing to kill themselves at 20 in God's name, that distortion isn't just one or two wackos in the Middle East who was on drugs. It's a kid who really believes he is a martyr. And the numbers are in the terrorists' favor--there are plenty of candidates, not to mention that Muslim children get religious training in madrasas that vary in emphasis depending on the religious teacher.

In closing, I have never seen so many guns in my life in plain sight. Every day when I was in Egypt, a great big man with a semiautomatic gun that bulged out of the side of his sport coat, sat in the front seat of the bus and scanned the street before we got off at each stop. It was subtle, but it was there. In Israel, I got hardened to the sight of AK47s strapped across the chest of kids in fatigues. Or going through checkpoints. Or razor topped fences on the side of the road in the desert that indicated a forbidden zone, and was laced with landmines.

The Middle East is a land of contrasts both geographically and culturally. And one I intend to know more about. The notion of "knowing the enemy" definitely applies to the Muslim extremists, in my view. And, sadly, many Americans paint all Muslims with the brush of extremists.

In closing, I fear that more than characterizing Muslims as " all bad", there are scores of Americans who are practicing their own version of " it's too complicated. I'll let someone else worry about it."

One of the least inspiring people on the Egypt two week tour was a woman from the Midwest who had saved up for two years for the trip. Like a lot of us, I imagine this was a dream trip that she had decided was on her" bucket list". I could always tell when she was in the room because her "inside voice" was a shout, her henna'd hair a bit frizzy, her stretch pants just slightly too tight over her ample body. One afternoon as we were cruising past villages along the Nile heading for Aswan, she rolled over on her chaise lounge next to me and said : " I don't bother much about what's goin' on here in the Middle East. It's too complicated. I get all I need to know about it from CNN."


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