When I found out I would be interning for the World Affairs Council of Northern California I was ecstatic. It wasn’t until my first day in the office when I learned I would get the chance to have a question-answer period with select guest speakers. Each speaker was designated to speak upon a certain matter. The first speaker I was able to meet was Neil MacFarquhar, the United Nations Bureau Chief to the New York Times, who would speak on the matter of bridging the gap between Western Society and the Middle East and if democracy could actually be possible for countries within the region.
A typical question-answer period with the speaker is scheduled to be about 45 minutes and along with myself,15 high school students, who are participating in WAC’s Summer Institute, would get the chance to meet Mr. MacFarquhar. We were permitted to ask any kind of questions regarding MacFarquhar’s personal or professional experiences; however, the questions had to be professional and not offensive. Unfortunately, Mr. MacFarquhar was running late the day of the student question-answer period and our time which was originally meant to be 45 minutes, was not cut down to 25 minutes. Regardless of the time cut I was still excited. Soon enough Mr. MacFarquhar entered the room with a great smile, apologized for running for being late. Immediately after he then took a seat to begin. He started off by introducing himself and quickly went into his affairs with the Middle East which started when he was just a little boy growing in Libya. He shared a few stories of when returning to the US how friends would be shocked he survived living in such an area. Mr. MacFarquhar stressed that although the Middle East is portrayed to be an area consumed with violence, there are people who are happy and “just like us.” He also stated that the Middle East has become Westernized in a superficial sense, meaning there are such stores as Safeway or Baskin Robbins; however, the Middle East has not adapted a Westernized mindset regarding democracy. With that said, Mr. MacFarquhar concluded that this type of mind set may not ever be taken on, and if so it will take however many years to occur.
The floor was open to questions. I was more than glad to ask the first question. I asked what Mr. MacFarquhar enjoyed most and least in his profession. He said he enjoyed how Journalism allows a person to truly soak in an area for an undetermined amount of time, yet he disliked the typical protocol of the job by waiting for VISAs, passport renewals, stamps, etc. The second question asked Mr. MacFarquhar if he thought democracy was possible in the Middle East. In response Mr. MacFarquhar appeared hesitant but seemed firm, “Democracy in the Middle East will be possible if the United States fulfills in pledges to the area and is willing to genuinely help the people in the region entirely.” Whether he was attempting to be subtle or just polite the answer sufficed the students. I raised my hand for another question but the question-answer period ended just as quickly as it had started.
Meeting Mr. MacFarquhar gave me the impression that the man truly enjoyed his job and just like anything else, there are pros and cons about the experience. I was lucky enough to get a picture with Mr. MacFarquhar after the public speaking event as he was signing copies of his book, The Media Relations of Hizbollah Wishes You A Happy
Birthday. I have only begun to read the book and just like Mr. MacFarquhar informed the students and myself, the Middle East is a region that offers much more than meets the eye, or what is portrayed
in popular news outlets.
Xandy Cimatu, Political Science major, Class of 2010