since 9/11, it seems that there
hasn't been much humor engaging the situation in the Middle East. Even The
several weeks to talk about 9/11.
Yeah, but then
they were very, very funny. That headline: "HOLY FUCKING SHIT!"
That's true. When
I read that, it was a big release. Having just written Florence, do you think humor is an effective tool
for dealing with this sort of anxiety?
There's a saying
that living well is the best revenge. I think laughing well is probably even
better revenge. It's a way of coping. It's always been a great release
This whole book
began when I was bouncing ideas off my editor at Random House. I had one idea
after another and most of them were lousy, so he said, "Mr. Buckley, while 9/11
is raging, why are you sitting this one out?" So he very deftly threw the
gauntlet down. I thought, Okay, how do we deal with this? I was reading Bob Baer's book, Sleeping
with the Devil, and then
I found myself reading Bernard Lewis, What Went Wrong?, and Fatema Mernissi's Scheherazade
Goes West. For better or
for worse, this is my contribution.
There is a
serious idea behind this book, which is to empower Arab women. It is by no
means certain that they would be less bellicose or less anti-Semitic or less
fanatical, but if they were even a slight improvement over their male
counterparts, the situation would inevitably get better. And the suffering of
those Arab women is heart-wrenching. I came across a quote from a University of
Chicago anthropologist, who's pretty left-wing, but a very bright guy, and he
makes the argument that a lot of these women don't want to be liberated. I say,
well, fair enough, but some of them do, and the ones who want to keep the veil
and go on living that life would at least have the choice of continuing to do
so. But I bet you there are a lot of women who would throw the bloody things
away and start dancing.
scenario that you set out in the book is actually fairly plausible. I was
convinced, in a way, that a network like TVMatar could work.
I'd love to see
those shows, wouldn't you? There's one called Mukfellahs, about the inept but still ruthless
religious police. To me, that's high comedy. It's my bid to be Jonathan Swift.
It will fail, but it's my bid. It's a funny way of looking at something that's
really dreadfully serious. And that's where the Cher Azade show, the Arabian Oprah, comes in. Well
we'll see. It will probably never come to pass.
At the same
time, once actions get set in motion, things don't necessarily work out
according to plan.
That's also the
lesson here. As one of the characters wryly observes, the motto of the State
Department ought to be "U.S. Foreign Policy in the Middle East: Making Matters
You can put
that on the stationery.
Yeah, right, "Fucking
things up since 1922." Although in my reading of David Fromkin, it was really
the British and the French who brought about the modern Middle East. So when I
see the French adopting a high-minded attitude, it really does fry my fanny,
since this is the Middle East they helped to create. And Churchill was a key
player. Churchill created these countries. And now we live with them. Then we
started screwing things up in our turn. And here we are. The Middle East
conflict is now the central fact of our geopolitical lives, and I think we're
stuck with it for the very long haul. We had nine years off between the end of
the Cold War and 9/11. Think about nine years of peace. Now we're back at war.
It's kind of like that line in the movie Gladiator, where the ancient Marcus Aurelius,
sounding like a tired old emperor, is reminiscing and says, "I've been emperor
for twenty-four years; we've had four years of peace." I guess that's America's
role in the world, isn't it? One way or the other. Ah, you get to be the top