Everyone was telling me I must interview ‘This Person,’ that I do not name him for the sake of anonymity. They said, and I heard, that he is an expert on Iran; he has written more than eight books about Iran and the U.S. relations, he gives lectures about Iran and Islam around the world, he is a renowned Iranian scholar, and teaches in a famous university in New York city. Our editors thought that his fame may help us with traffic and download.
He had a new book focused on Islam and the West. I sought out the opportunity to see if I can feature him on Peacemindedy. But first, I needed to know who he was. To tell you the truth, I didn’t know much about This Person. I’ve heard about him and knew that he was quite famous among Middle East scholars in the U.S., but I didn’t know him. I decided to find out who he is.
In my research, he came out anti-Iran. I couldn’t find a single anecdote in his writings or interviews that praised Iran in any way. I didn’t find any mention of Persepolis, nor Iranian hospitality, never about our rich poetry, neither Rumi, nor anything about our famous rugs, saffron, kebob, or magnificent architect of our buildings in Isfahan, Yazd or Shiraz, All he talked or wrote was about Iranian corrupt government, Mullahs’ corruption, Hezbollah policy in Palestine, nuclear program, and the illusion that Islam and the West could ever be friends. No wonder he was famous and well-funded for his research and books. He was full-fledged anti-Iran and anti-Islam. Yet, to give him a benefit of doubt, I set my goal to talk with him on the phone.
But first, I needed to read his book. I requested a hard copy of his new book from his agent. Meanwhile we, including his agent, editor, himself and myself, entered into the phase of back and forth email correspondents. We exchanged more than 45 emails. I insisted to talk with him on the phone. Finally, and suddenly, he called me on a Thursday morning at 10:25 AM, about 35 minutes before my interview with Lisa White, author of Rooted in the Body: Arabic Metaphor and Morphology.
Lisa White lives in Cairo. She is a pristine and precise writer and Arabic instructor. She doesn’t do interviews. After I was finally able to book her, I already knew that I must work harder with her on this interview. Generally speaking, one of my responsibilities, as a producer, is to put my guests at ease before and during an interview. For Peacemindedly, I try to make my guests comfortable so they can trust to explore newer ideas about their books. If they are uncomfortable and uptight, they do not loosen up to create a conversation with me. My ideal podcast interviews are when my guests say “oh, that’s an interesting question. I haven’t thought about it this way.” It is then the guests think innovatively and spontaneously about the subject. At the end, this kind of interviews become enjoyable because the guest, myself and Peacemindedly audience are leaning something new.
This Person calling me 35 min before a challenging interview was the last thing I needed in that moment. But since he is very difficult to find, maybe because he is too busy talking trash about Iran, and Islam, I answered him.
I rarely answer unsolicited calls for two reasons. I have already explained reason one. The other reason is that I am an old- school bitchy journalist who thinks I must decide about when to call, who to call, and how to guide a conversation, even during pre-interview. However, for the sake of my podcast, I put my bloated ego under my feet, and answered the call. I knew it was This Person from his number.
“Oh, hello and Salam Mr. ‘This Person,’ how are you? I didn’t expect your phone call today,” I said. “Hi Sara,” he said. “How did you know it was me?” he asked. “Your agent accidentally included me in one of the emails she was sending you. In that particular email, she mentioned your cell phone. She wanted to make sure she had your correct and updated cellphone. She didn’t know that I was on the same email thread. When you called, I knew it was you,” I said. “Now, how are you,” I continued. “I am well, thank you,” he said. “I think you wanted to talk with me about my new book,” he said, never bothering to ask whether it was a good time to chat. Asshole!
Putting myself together quickly, trying to focus on one thing at the time, “well, what happened, and why did you decide to write the book?” I asked. “I thought it was necessary to explain incompatibility between Islam and the West. I really do not see any path forward between these two civilizations. If we say there is, we are living in an illusion.” he said. By opening up his conversation with such negative and un-peaceful remarks, he already lost me, and confirmed all my hypothesis against him. “So, how about interfaith activities in the US, and all the work we see many people are doing” I asked. “I do not think they can ever succeed in their ambivalence, …” he explained, but I was not listening anymore. He had disqualified himself to be featured on Peacemindedly. I was thinking about the questions I wanted to ask from Lisa. I politely waited for him to finish his VERY LONG answer. I think he talked nonstop for about 7 or 8 min. Finally, “Ok This Person. It was a lovely conversation. Thanks very much for calling me. Please let me talk with my editorial team about our conversation and get back to you later,” I said. “I have an interview to conduct within next 15 min. I must get ready. It was so lovely talking with you.” We said our goodbyes.
I then called Lisa to conduct our interview. I had a lovely conversation with Lisa. She was pleasantly surprised by a few questions I asked.
Then later, after my interview with Lisa, I was thinking that why This Person received lots of PR for his new book. I’ve seen him in a few talk shows. He is eloquent and well spoken. Specially these days he is on high demand to “explain” Iran’s motive to kill Salman Rushdie, or the incompatibilities between Islam and the West. I cannot help but think whether he would receive such PR if he was pro-Islam, pro-Iran and pro-peace. Would you?
Disclaimer: I have already condemned Rushdie’s assault. I love his books. I have READ Satanic Verses, and interviewed him for one of the largest international networks. However, I do not like This Person’s dark, negative, and un-peaceful ideas about Islam and the West.
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