I'm in Washington D.C. right now. I flew here to visit my grandmother, who is 100 years old and wanted to see me right away. My first thought when I heard that was to say, "Well, that's highly inconvenient, Grandma, given that I'm a journalist. You may not appreciate this, but at this moment in history flying to Washington means flying away from the interesting part of the world. Can't we do this some other time?" My second thought was not so much a thought but a long hot bath in the pure elixir of Jewish guilt. She's 100 years old. So here I am in Washington. As you'll note from the time of this post, though, Turkish Airlines lost my circadian rhythms--I suspect they're circling a luggage carousel in Bora Bora.
Jetlagged Thought, Part 1: Man, no wonder journalists will say any fool thing that pops into their heads about the Middle East when they're in America. The second you arrive here, even if you've spent the past twenty years swearing up and down to everyone who will listen that the rest of the world really exists, it just seems kind of manifestly untrue. When you're in America, the rest of the world seems like a far-away abstraction.
I can't completely account for this, psychologically. It's not just the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean. It's something about the way America feels--like a safe, impregnable fortress. In reality it isn't: I can illustrate that it's extremely vulnerable with a million reasonable, solid arguments. But I can't make myself feel the reality of that when I'm on American soil.
America's an orderly, predictable, reasonable, moderate, seemingly self-contained universe, surrounded by immense oceans, barricaded by armed guards and sniffer dogs, where everyone drives two miles an hour and politely gestures to the other drivers--"You first! No, you!"--with no thought whatsoever to getting anywhere fast or winning. (This is actually utterly maddening: American drivers, where is your honor?)
When you're here, the idea of the existence of whole nations full of crazy people just seems like a peculiar fantasy. Of course people here are willing to be persuaded that the Muslim Brotherhood is something like a Tea Party-soup kitchen hybrid, and what the heck, even if it's not, they deserve a chance just like anyone else and they'll probably settle down once they're in office. That's a completely reasonable hypothesis, from an American point of view. It's not willful stupidity or delusion, it's just extrapolating from experience.
If you're told over and over that the Obama is a radical left-winger and the Tea Partiers are radical right-wingers, when you hear the word "radical" applied to the Muslim Brotherhood, you'll intuitively reach for what you know, which just isn't that radical. America has no real extremes. Everyone here is a moderate. The radicals are either in Supermax prisons or mental hospitals.
That's just obvious, the moment you get off the plane. It's not an argument, it's a feeling, and feelings will always trump arguments when it comes down to it.
The problem is, the feeling's a delusion.