An American in Egypt


From my student days, almost forty years ago, when I hitchhiked with a backpack on my shoulders and a guitar at my side, I’ve been an eager traveler in the Middle East, fascinated by the rich historical resonance and complex politics of this region. Since the Iraq war began, I’ve stepped up the frequency of my visits, giving numerous talks and readings at universities and schools in Egypt and Jordan. I do this mainly to learn about lives so different from my own, though I also believe it’s useful for students and faculty in that area of the world to meet Americans who oppose the aggressive policies of the current White House. I always say firmly to my audience, and to anyone who will listen, that violence is not an appropriate response to violence, as it merely continues a cycle that becomes difficult to break. (When pressed on this, as I usually am, I make an exception for genocidal situations, where one might well choose to enter the cycle of violence, thus attempting to break it, but doing so with fear and humility—never jubilation and swagger, as when George W. Bush declared victory in Iraq on the deck of an aircraft carrier: an immensely damaging piece of war propaganda.)

I have just returned from a heady trip to Egypt, my second in three years. This time around, I spoke at three universities and one high school in Cairo, usually about American literature. There is, as could be guessed, a great deal of anti-...

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About the Author

Jay Parini, poet and novelist, teaches at Middlebury College. His latest book is The Art of Subtraction: New and Selected Poems (Braziller).