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Neil MacFarquhar and bodyguards, Marib, Yemen.

Neil MacFarquhar and bodyguards, Marib, Yemen.

New York Times correspondent Neil MacFarquhar grew up on a beach in Libya, son of an American oil engineer, before our age of violent jihad, war, and Middle Eastern turmoil.

He studied Arabic and went back to cover upheaval in the Arab world. But he could never ignore the other side of Arab life — the human, the everyday, the sometimes comical — behind the headlines of terror and tyranny.

In a new book he says Americans need to remember and speak to that humanity.

This hour, On Point: Neil MacFarquhar’s unexpected encounters in a changing Middle East.

Is there another Middle East to call on, draw on, beyond the endless headlines of conflict? Or not? Tell us what you think — here on this page, on Twitter, and on Facebook.

Guest:

Neil MacFarquhar joins us from New York. He was Cairo bureau chief for The New York Times from 2001 through 2005 and is now its UN correspondent. He grew up in Libya and covered the region for the Associated Press. His new book is “The Media Relations Department of Hizbollah Wishes you a Happy Birthday: Unexpected Encounters in the Changing Middle East.” He’s also the author of a novel, “The Sand Café.”

You can read “The Beachhead,” Chapter 1 of MacFarquhar’s new book, at his website.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Diana Gale

    Does Neil know anything about Elias Chacour, a Melkite
    priest who has developed a school in the town of
    Ibillin, Israel?? Father Chacour was in my area in
    2003, and as an Arab citzen of Israel, his passport
    has the designation “2″ on it – when Jewish citizens
    have a “1″ on their passports. Father Chacour is
    trying to overcome the sectarian division through
    education . . .

  • mr.independant

    Wow a show on the Middle East and not one anti-Israeli comment yet…

    Very good show, I find Neil MacFarquhar insights into the complex nature of this region a welcome dialog on the Middle East.

  • franck salameh

    Tom, I’m an avid listener, Neil, I followed your reporting in the Times religiously. My question pertains to language and the elegant use of language in Neil’s book title. I believe that in order to come to a better understanding of the richly textured and diverse cultural universe that is the Middle East, we NEED to approach it with a new language and new semantics. Neil keeps referring to a “Middle East” (a tacit recognition of the region’s diversity), and Tom keeps conflating the “Middle East” with the “Arab World” and uses the latter interchangeably with the latter. I think therein lies the source of our misunderstanding of the region; our need to conform it to soothing, monistic, reductive labels. The Middle East IS NOT the Arab world; it is home to Arabs and Muslims, YES, MOST CERTAINLY; but it is home to millions of cultural, ethnic, linguistic, and ethno-religious groups that are not Arab and do not recognize themselves as such, regardless of whether or not they make use of the region’s modern “lingua franca.” I was also struck by Tom’s dismissal of Roman history in the Middle East (“2000 years ago” Tom said mockingly, as if 2000 years ago and some 1500 years of a ROMAN MIDDLE EAST is any less important than Muslim dominance, which replaced Roman dominance ONLY in the 7th century of the common era.)

  • Vivien Brown

    No anti-Israeli comments except for references to the “Israeli occupation” and making light of the way everything is blamed on a “Zionist plot.”

  • mr.independant

    Was that not a caller? I don’t think the guest has made this reference in context to his politics.

  • Judy

    Why do some NPR listeners confuse criticism of Israel with being anti-Israeli? Everyone and everything is subject to criticism at some point. But to say that criticism is “anti-______” suggests propaganda, and not constructive dialogue. Does propaganda exist? Sure. But is all criticism harmful propaganda? Certainly not.

    The two are very different things. I often seen comments attacking shows that include even the most benign constructive criticisms of Israel as “anti-Israeli,” as if to insinuate that criticism of Israel is a product of irrational, all-purpose prejudice. Calling something “anti-Israel,” I think, is done with the intention of silencing the dialogue, because casual commentators just don’t want to go there. If a listener disagrees with the criticism, why not just articulate why, specifically, in a constructive way….?

    What is worse, however, is when a listener comments on segments, such as this one and several others I have seen, applauding the fact that Israel was NOT mentioned… as if to remind us all that these segments are USUALLY “anti-Israeli.” I was raised in a household that revered Israel, and I understand and appreciate where that sense of defensiveness comes from, but Israel is so far from being the underdog at this point, that for a commentator to go out of their way to suggest otherwise is irresponsible, and silly.

  • R.M.

    here we go again ……
    The proof is in the pudding . Investigate the “real” facts before commenting.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rxyPBQirBH0&NR=1

  • wavre

    Tom

    What is going on with some of your past shows?(The show on the doctor from Gaza,and this very one also can not be listen to because of some browser error!!??)

    can’t you fix them?

  • wavre

    Can server discriminate??

  • mr.independant

    Judy have you read the other forums when the subject is on the Middle East? Some of the people who comment on them want Israel to disappear. One even went so far as to support Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s comments on Israel and Jews.
    My points are pointed to this element. Being critical is not the same as being 100% against the state of Israel.

  • Mike

    funny a guy is interview about his life in the Lebanon and we get the people who wanna try as much as they can to paint all Muslim as extremist. thank u r.m. for your lovly insightful contributions to the conversation,… wait u didnt.

    judy these people think and act just as our extreme right republican party, they wish for no debate on issues or even a show of someone talking about his experiences rather just scare, attack and silence people whoses view differ from them esp on israel. (sounds like a page written out of the foxes news book)

    funny how they say no anti-israel comments yet silent when there anti-muslim comments.

    “Judy have you read the other forums when the subject is on the Middle East? Some of the people who comment on them want Israel to disappear”

    i would counter
    Judy have you read the other forums when the subject is on the Middle East? Some of the people who comment on them want palestine to disappear,

    “One even went so far as to support Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s comments on Israel and Jews.
    My points are pointed to this element. Being critical is not the same as being 100% against the state of Israe”

    my point is are pointed to this element. One even went so far as to support actions by libermann a known racist and against a 2 state solution who promotes and violates human rights and killing of innocents labeling them all as terrorist or supporters of terrorist so it is ok.
    Being critical is not the same as being 100% against musilm, free speech, reverse racism.

  • Lilya Lopekha

    Mr. Independent (= Mr. On The Wrong Side of the Facts)
    One even went so far as to support Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s comments on Israel and Jews

    What did Ahmedinijad do to Israel?

    Do you want a free translator Persian to English?
    He never ever said, what you zionists claim.
    He said… time/history will erase such nations, from the map, that are based on lies and cheating and crap.

    He never ever ever indicated as to who will do it. It would happen due to self-destruction.

    He also said: if Israel can have nuclear weapons, why can’t Luxemberg and Andora and Malta and Iran and Jordan can’t have nuclear weapons?

    Pleaes grow up Mr. Biased But Not So Independent

  • mr.independant

    First off I’m not a zionist.
    Second what Ahmedinijad has said in his speeches were offensive and they were meant to be.

    Mike here we go again, you put words into my mouth.
    I have never called all Muslims extremist, never.
    I have said many times that I support a two state solution. I have also stated that I dislike extremist on both sides of the issues.

    Lilya I knew you would be back, now your going to go on and on with your propoganda yelling at people.

    Speaking of growing up maybe you should learn how to understand nuance. I don’t support a nuclear Israel, when did I say that I did? You make these sweeping statements and then use a slide remark. Do you realize how you completely turn people like me off to your arguments? Do you have any ability to communicate ideas or do you just yell at people until they they throw up their hands in disgust and walk away.

    I’m doing that now.

  • mr.independant

    “this element” This element? Who do you think you are?
    Do you support what Ahmedinijad has said about Jews and Israel. Do you? If your answer is yes then the conversation is over. You support this man? You support a country that hangs people for being gay. That has jailed a a woman on trumped up charges of spying.

    It’s amazing how people turn around the rantings of anti Semite to make points and try to seem as if I’m wrong for pointing this out, it’s amazing. You two, Mike and Lilya are real pieces of work. You come on here complaining that people are not being fair to you and yet you seem to support the very extremest ideology that I am saying is the problem. Then you say these elements, as if my views are extreme. They are not. I support Israel’s right to exist and I also want a two state solution. I am critical of Israel and I have said so.

    If you can not see the difference between being critical of Israel and the vile anti-Semitic statements Ahmedinijad has made then you have a problem.

  • R.M.

    Are you going to say also that he did not have a Holocaust-denial conference and International Holocaust Cartoon Competition?

  • millard-fillmore

    “Why do some NPR listeners confuse criticism of Israel with being anti-Israeli? Everyone and everything is subject to criticism at some point. But to say that criticism is “anti-______” suggests propaganda, and not constructive dialogue. Does propaganda exist? Sure. But is all criticism harmful propaganda? Certainly not.”

    Judy, I couldn’t agree more with you. I’d also replace “Israel” with “radical Islam” and “anti-Semite” with “Islamophobe” and your paragraph would be valid for some NPR listeners. Wouldn’t you agree?

  • Mike

    Hi mr.independant,

    did i say u, did i say u are zionist, aweful defensive get over yourself, i only use the statements u put forth and shown it could be used in the same manner against muslims, people like r.m. requires me to respond.

    I do not support what Ahmedinijad said, i also do not support what liberman and some israel supporters on threads who labeled pally’s and arabs, muslim as somehow sub-human, all racial, terrorist.

    this was a good show and u wished to bring up anti_ anything and probably would not have come up if u still did not go on about it.

    than the lovly video from r.m. what was your point? i seem to see what r.m. point was as i stated above.

    u make a comment someone may reply back with something u dont agree with so relax.

    I dont agree with Lilya about ahedinijad just like i assume u dont agree with r.m about the pally and the israel conflict. so if u wish to try and group me with her than the assuption than u be grouped with him.

  • Lilya

    Ahmedinijad did not hold “Holocaust-denial” conferance.
    Look up the name of the conference “carefully”.

    He has been saying two things – consistently:

    We should question Holocaust. The more we question regarding the details, it will sink in to us that that it happened “in Europe” NOT in the Middle East.

    Also, he says it is an evil man made act. It is not Holy. It has nothing to do with superpowers, nature and God. Therefore, it should be open to discussions so that all facts, truth and lies will be out in the open; so that future generations will get all the facts and they will never ever ever do something like that. He disagrees with the criminality of asking questions of a massive and massive killing of innocent people.

    Can somebody copy/paste a quote from Ahmedinijad indicating that he ever “denied” the killing of millions of Jews and non-jews by Nazi’s. Please be our guest.

    If you can’t … please do not give us the same lies again and again.

  • R.M

    ??????????????

  • Frederic C.

    The holocaust was an attempt to rid Europeans (poor undereducated Europeans who couldn’t attain the position of the education-oriented jews) of its jews and drive them back to their homeland-Israel.

  • Frederic C.

    The jews were driven out of Israel by, ‘player haters.’

    If the Palestinians were more like the jews they wouldn’t be in the mess that they are in.

    It is jealosy and ignorance that fuels the anti-semite.

  • Mike

    wow so your saying being a jew is superior to Europeans and arabs.

    what a twisted view.

  • Frederic C.

    Just the facts man.

  • Mike

    homeland of the kainites u mean before josusha came and ethically cleanse the area for gods people,

    therefore by your logic than ann coulter comment about jews being imperfect to christians is correct. So therefore jesus was jew yet he rejected them and evoled the reilgon and culture of the imperfect jews of the past to a more perfected one. Therefore for christian religon created free democracy, based of freedom of speech, life, liberty and pursuit of happieness and with all people are equal.

    So by your logic if jews were more like christians democractic nations they would not be in the mess there in.

    so by your logic It is jealosy and ignorance that fuels racism by some in israel and in the u.s. and hated of christian democracy who express there opioins about israel.

    some may be drinking to much of the hateraid

  • Frederic C.

    Calm down man. I didn’t say, ‘superior.’

    I’d sooner lick a garden slug that listen to anything Mr. Coulter says.

    It seems evident that the Jews are culturally better suited to succeed than non-jews.

  • lfischer

    Reading Neil MacFarquhar’s “The Media Relations Department of Hizbollah Wishes you a Happy Birthday: Unexpected Encounters in the Changing Middle East.” — it is wonderful!

  • happyevolutionist

    How sad that the commonality between all of us is so easily forgotten – this is the true tragedy of religion and ethnicity and land wars and other artificial constructs – they create unnatural divisions where there really are none. If only, with the piddling arguing going on, we could all train ourselves to remember this realism occasionally. We are human after all – and in this way I do, completely, feel superior to the zionists and the islamists – while they are fanatically arguing over sand and lines drawn upon it – I can read, and garden and enjoy the finer benefits of my own belief. Signed happy evolutionist…

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