Katherine Zoepf is the author of Excellent Daughters: The Secret Lives of Young Women Who Are Transforming the Arab World. From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:
Q: You write, “Like a generation of young Americans, my interest in the Arab world was substantially shaped by the September 11th attacks.” How did you end up spending so much time in the Middle East after that, and focusing particularly on the region’s women?--Marshal Zeringue
A: I had been someone before that who followed the news pretty keenly but I wouldn’t say I had a particular regional interest. I was right out of college and was curious about a lot of things.
At the time of the Sept. 11 attacks, I had just moved to New York and one of my classmates was killed, and suddenly I became a little obsessed with getting to the region and learning as much as I could. I’ve always been someone who understands things better when I can try to go to the place and see how the world looks from there…
Q: And the focus on women?
A: That came a little bit later. It was a natural interest. I went initially to the region as a news reporter. I was just doing ordinary…Middle East coverage from Syria and Lebanon.
I came to feel in the aggregate the Middle East reporting Americans were getting didn’t convey an overall picture of the region that felt very true to me.
I would go home to the States every few months—my friends and family were reading things [I and others were writing] and the questions they were asking, don’t you think people are brainwashed?
I realized that looking at the Middle East from afar, there was a picture of...[read on]