In this new theme, I am going to talk about books which I read on the road. The book of today is ‘People like Us’ written by Dutch Journalist Joris Luyendijk.
‘People like Us’ is a non-fiction book and is about Joris Luyendijk experience as a journalist and correspondent in the Middle East. From the start, Luyendijk didn’t have any experience with journalism before he began to work for the Dutch newspaper and radio. He studied social science and Arabic. He had been a journalist for five years where he encountered with the complexity and truth of journalism. During his time as a journalist, he has lived in Cairo, Beirut and East Jerusalem. ‘People like Us’ is published in 2006 but nevertheless still of significant value.
Who are those people?
With examples, the writer tells that through media we only see a small part of the truth. The images we see are often from bad times, like a terrorist attack. There is a whole process before something is shown on TV or published in a newspaper. Images are being left out, and context is being deleted, tells Luyendijk in ‘People like Us.’
Because of news and media, we often have the idea that people in the Middle East are extremists. ‘Why don’t we write about the proudness of Egyptians?’ the writer asks himself in the first chapter. Like the poor man who paid for Luyendijk and his consumptions in an expensive restaurant. The writer met a lot of people in the Middle East which he tells about. He writes through funny and even touching anecdotes. The similarities, the differences, how they deal with a dictatorship, freedom of speech and personal problems.
The difficulties of journalism in the Middle East
“I looked to journalism like an ordinary reader, watcher or listener: journalists know what is going on in the world, the news gives an overview from that, and this overview can be objective” writes Joris Luyendijk at the beginning of his book.
The writer tells in the book why we have such a wrong image of the Middle East. The first reason is dictatorship which dominates countries. A dictatorship gives minimum ways for a journalist to do his job. When he found a good story, there were no sources where he could check if the information was correct. Furthermore, are people often afraid to tell their story in front of a camera.
The second reason Luyendijk gives, is the competition between media businesses. Who can present the most exciting news on screen or in a newspaper? Luyendijk tells how media stages scenes which are later being shown on television, and how he also has been responsible for mispresenting. It is hard to understand the Middle East as an outsider, Joris Luyendijk is sure about that in the first chapter. Eventually, he says:
“When I was going ‘to do’ Israel and Palestine, my belief for unbiased news vanished. In the years before, I learned that journalism is not possible in the Arabic world, and that you can’t know what happens there.”
My Personal Experience
The reason that I specifically chose ‘People like us’ is because I traveled in the Middle East myself for six months. Me as well, encountered with the misrepresenting. I got ‘People like Us’ in hands on the right moment. At that moment, I was working in a hostel in Palestinian territory. The third part of the book about the Israel-Palestine conflict appealed to me the most because I recognized a lot of situations which the writer writes about.
I think a lot of people are ignorant when it is about the Middle East. We only know the images of the refugee crisis, terrorist attacks or screaming leaders. I recommend ‘People like us’ to everybody. The book gives a good inside in the world of journalism and will surprise you.
‘People like Us’ can become a bit depressing after a while, but in his newest version of the book, Joris Luyendijk advises how journalism can improve himself. Like the writer says: ‘You can’t understand the Middle East’, but the book push you slightly into the right direction.
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This post is also available in: Nederlands