Reporter Recounts Tales From 35 Years of Work

It's not surprising that, after more than 35 years of reporting on the people, history and culture of the Middle East, American journalist Robin Wright's fifth book should focus on this volatile, chameleon-like region. Dreams and Shadows, just released by Penguin Press, is subtitled The Future of the Middle East.

Wright's assignments for various prestigious publications have sent her to more than 140 countries on six continents during her more than three decades as a journalist.

One of those overseas assignments landed her in Beirut, Lebanon, where she witnessed the immediate aftermath of the 1983 bombings of the U.S. Embassy there.

"Some of the dead had been my friends," she stated during a recent lecture, recalling how the bodies of the victims were carried out of the building.

That attack — and those that followed later that year in Lebanon — marked the beginning of a new trend in the region, the author explained. It was the expression of Islamic extremism, which has only grown since the events of 1983.

"The bombings are not over," stressed Wright.

But possibilities for peace in the region are not as bleak as many may think, Wright said to the more than 100 people who attended her lecture on Feb. 28, held at the central branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia on Logan Square.

The diplomatic correspondent for The Washington Post presented stories from her new book that she said illustrate a future filled with hope. She predicted that, through the experiences of seemingly everyday citizens, political change will come.

Her extensive travels have led her to meet some of these "catalysts of change" in the Middle East, whose stories are told in detail in Dreams and Shadows.

For example, Wright recalled Riad al Turk, a Syrian dissident living in Beirut. Known as the "Nelson Mandela of Syria," Turk was imprisoned several times, beginning in the early 1950s, for his nonviolent, outspoken opposition and resistance to authoritarian rule in that country.

According to Wright, he was often tossed into jail without a trial, was frequently beaten during his stints in prison and spent much of the 18-year imprisonment following his third arrest in solitary confinement.

"He never knew what would happen," Wright said of Turk's captivity.

But each time the man was released, he would continue his political protests.

Wright also spoke of Egyptian Ghada Shahbender, "a soccer mom" of four whose protests against her government led to her founding a program called "We're Watching You," and its companion Web site, where she and her friends chronicle suspicious behavior and election abuses, to keep their fellow Egyptians informed.

"I told you about the hopeful characters," Wright noted toward the end of her lecture, but added that she's talked to the bad guys, too — including Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

"I ultimately believe there will be a peaceful solution," concluded Wright, "but both sides will have to move to make it work."



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