You can learn all about the human condition from covering the crime beat in a big city - you don't need to go to Beirut for that - but a foreign correspondent begins to understand poverty from a different perspective.
After the allied victory of 1918, at the end of my father's war, the victors divided up the lands of their former enemies. In the space of just seventeen months, they created the borders of Northern Ireland, Yugoslavia and most of the Middle East. And I have spent my entire career—in Belfast and Sarajevo, in Beirut and Baghdad—watching the people within those borders burn.
I have had a strong and a long relationship on national security, I've been involved in every national crisis that this nation has faced since Beirut, I understand the issues, I understand and appreciate the enormity of the challenge we face from radical Islamic extremism. I am prepared. I am prepared. I need no on-the-job training. I wasn't a mayor for a short period of time. I wasn't a governor for a short period of time.
Many of Islam's apologists insist that suicide bombing is not Islamic because the Koran forbids suicide. Mmm-hmm. So where are all the Muslims gathering in mass demonstrations to vehemently condemn this practice that slanders their religion? Why does contemporary Islam promote 'martyrdom' as the highest duty of Muslims? Why are photographs of suicide bombers plastered everywhere in Beirut? Because Islam is what Islam does.
My memories of Kabul are vastly different than the way it is when I go there now. My memories are of the final years before everything changed. When I grew up in Kabul, it couldn't be mistaken for Beirut or Tehran, as it was still in a country that's essentially religious and conservative, but it was suprisingly progressive and liberal.
As I searched the atlas for somewhere to run to, Hugh made a case for his old stomping grounds. His first suggestion was Beirut, where he went to nursery school. His family left there in the midsixties and moved to the Congo. After that, it was Ethiopia, and then Somalia, all fine places in his opinion. 'Let's save Africa and the Middle East for when I decide to quit living,' I said.
Outside events can change a presidential campaign, a president, and the history of the nation: the Iranian hostage crisis, the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, the downing of the helicopter in Mogadishu, Somalia, the suicide attack on the USS Cole, and, of course, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
When I arrived in Beirut from Europe, I felt the oppressive, damp heat, saw the unkempt palm trees and smelt the Arabic coffee, the fruit stalls and the over-spiced meat. It was the beginning of the Orient. And when I flew back to Beirut from Iran, I could pick up the British papers, ask for a gin and tonic at any bar, choose a French, Italian, or German restaurant for dinner. It was the beginning of the West. All things to all people, the Lebanese rarely questioned their own identity.
There hasn't been a lot written about it in the Western media. But in the Arab world, and Western Asia as a whole, Baghdad was always known as a famously bookish, intellectual city. There's an old saying that Cairo writes, Beirut publishes, and Baghdad reads.