Why did you become a journalist?
I'd always wanted to write. Then I went to Syria as a student to learn
Arabic and saw politics on the street for the first time. The first weekend
I was in Damascus, Palestinian guerrillas seized hostages in a city centre hotel until Syrian commandos blasted them out and hanged the survivors in the street outside. I felt I had to describe this world for other people.
What's the best place you've been and why?
Beirut during the Lebanese civil war and the Israeli invasion. It was a big
world story and independent reporting was badly needed to counter the
Israeli information machine. You feel very alive when life's at the edge.
What's the worst place you've been and why?
On a Libyan Airways 727 between Benghazi and Tripoli. The plane had had no spare parts or maintenance for two years because of UN sanctions. After it
took off it lost power, sank towards the sea and struggled for the whole
two hours to Tripoli. I didn't think we'd make it and wrote a last note to
my wife in the back of my notebook.
If you were a character in an epic poem, what epithets would you have?
Keeper of the Book
If you were an animal, what would you be?
What are your favourite two lines of poetry, or haiku?
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
(TS Eliot, Four Quartets)
What is your best journalistic achievement?
Reporting the maturing of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, showing that it
was strong and popular at a time when most Western media were predicting
If you had to describe your job to a Martian, how would you do it?
I describe and interpret events in our world, so that people know what is
happening and why.
How do you sleep?
On my side, deeply.