A while ago I finished reading the book ‘Dining With al-Qaeda’ by the veteran Middle East correspondent Hugh Pope. It’s a fascinating book that really shows all the ups and downs of being a correspondent in an explosive a place like the Middle East. But even though I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, it also saddened me a bit and for two different reasons.
First of all because it made me feel a bit disillusioned about being a journalist myself. After everything Hugh Pope has been through, he ended up working for a think tank because he was disappointed about the West’s failure in Iraq and how hard it was for him to have stories that showed a different side of the Middle East than what the readers already knew published. And that got me thinking that maybe being a journalist (in the Middle East for a Western media) is really just a waste of time. Maybe it would be much more productive to work for a think tank or NGO and in that way help bridge the ever-widening gap between east and west. But that wasn’t what saddened me most.
What saddened me most was that the book got me thinking about the most important book in my life that I will never get to read: The book that my father should have written.
My father was a journalist and lived and worked in Lebanon until 1985. I remember him telling all his different war stories while I was growing up. Some of them fun involving other journalists and jokes made on each other and probably also a lot of whisky. Some of them serious about having to identify bodies of colleagues, who had been kidnapped by this or that group.
I remember telling my father that he ought to write a book like so many other war correspondents have done. And he would say yes and inshallah (God willing) and maybe one day. But that day never came. My father passed away in 1999 without having written his book or in any other way putting those stories down on paper. And so now I’m left with only my childhood memories of the stories he told.
I never got to ask him what it felt like to identify those bodies. I never got to ask him what went through his head, when he was on board a high-jacked plane. I never got to ask him what made him choose to again and again go out into the war-torn streets knowing he had a family waiting for him. Or what made him choose in the end to pack up the whole family and leave.
Those are all stories meant for the most important book that I never will get to read.