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Glad you made that choice, Dr. Pipes

Reader comment on item: Fifty Years of Fascination

Submitted by Jeff (United States), Oct 3, 2019 at 19:53

Dear Dr. Pipes,

Thank you for giving us this background on yourself. It was great to read. I never pursued Middle Eastern history as you did, not even close, I'm just someone who started reading the (long gone) evening paper each night starting in about the 7th grade. Most Middle Eastern news at the time centered on Israel, then later Israel and the PLO. Then came Black September. Then the oil shock of 1973. Then Lebanon.

A friend of mine worked in Saudi Arabia doing oil exploration for 5 years in the late 70's and early 80's. Once his sister baked him a batch of cookies and sent them over. She told him on the phone (a phone call that far was kind of a big deal at the time) she'd sent them a while back and they must be there by now. He happily went to the post office and asked about his package from the USA:

"No, no package."
"It must be here, wait, I think that's it right there, there right behind you, just check that one."
"No, no package."
"No, really, that's it right there."
It didn't take long for the shouting to begin. "No. No. No package." And the window slammed shut.

That's when my friend learned about the word bribery. I didn't think much about it at the time, (he told me when he was home for Christmas one year) but later that little story struck me as an illustrative mini culture clash. The American kid, incredulous that the guy at the post office won't just simply (do his job, and) pick up a lightweight package and place it in the window for his customer. The Saudi, equally incredulous that this ignorant goofball expects him to give him something he wants without paying him first.

When TWA flight 847 was hijacked in 1985, the women passengers were released after a day or two. On page one of the next morning's paper was a photo of a college friend's wife arriving safely home from Algiers. There's a moment I won't forget. My heart all but stopped.

Especially after that, (my friend was subsequently released along with the other remaining passengers) I started to wonder, who are the Druze? Who are the Maronites? Who are the Kurds? Who are the Shia? And why do they all have militias? I read Going All the Way, by Jonathan C. Randal. A great book that answered a hundred questions and generated a few hundred more. Now I was on a slippery slope.

In The Closed Circle, (included in your great bibliography) David Pryce-Jones at one point compares the processes to get a government document like a license or passport. In the West, you know in advance what steps to take and how much you'll pay. In Arab countries, you know neither and bribery is at the heart of the process. Reading that, I thought of my friend in the Saudi post office, who unwittingly walked into that process.

Fortunately for me, I discovered your website around 2005. Thank you for sharing your insights on-line with us and for not backing away from truth and unpopular subjects. Very glad you made the decision you made back in 1969.

Very Best Regards,


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Daniel Pipes replies:

Many thanks for the appreciation. And it sounds like you have learned quite a bit about the Middle East along the way.

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