Naturally, the human race gathers or conforms into a group in order to have a sense of belonging and to cling to what humanity has in common whether it’s popular culture, traditional foods, customs, fashion, arts, faith or language.
To keep this in mind, writers in particular, has the hardest job sharing or reporting on intriguing stories, with objectivity, and several point of views that are outside the circle.
However, Monique El-Faizy is a successful writer and journalist impressively reporting globally impartial events and news.
Monique is a Paris based international journalist with 20 plus years of experience and has written for various publications for instance,The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, France24, and The Financial Times among others. She has lived and worked in Europe, Asia, United States, Russia and Egypt.
Monique has covered topics from Wall Street, to Egyptian society, to Paris terrorist attacks, along with personal interest stories in the Arab-American community.
As an online reader of news and human interest articles, Monique has respectfully grabbed my attention through her thought provoking journalism and fair overview of human strife.
Monique focuses on people or society such as Coptic Egyptians, and brings to light issues that might never have been covered by other media outlets.
I am tremendously grateful and privileged to feature Monique El-Faizy for my Arts & Entertainment Features.
Tell us about yourself?
I think the most essential element of who I am is my lack of a strong cultural identity. I grew up in the United States with a Dutch mother and an Egyptian father. When I was seven, we moved to Southern California, which was far less cosmopolitan then, than it is now.
I was one of very few kids in my school whose parents had accents and ate exotic foods. But it was okay. I was different, but it didn’t bother me and it didn’t seem to bother the people around me. But as a result, I grew up never knowing what it was like to have a group or tribe that I felt I belonged to. And while I may have been missing out on something, I think that mindset liberated me from a lot of the constraints that people can feel from their families, their religions and their social communities.
Growing up like that probably had a lot to do with my becoming a journalist. I think one of the things that allows me to be effective as a journalist is the ability to empathize and connect with people who are very different from me, and that is probably a direct result of my background.
We’d visit my father’s family in Egypt or my mother’s family in Holland, and I’d struggle to transcend linguistic and cultural barriers to try to form bonds with these people who were supposed to be my nearest and dearest. I wasn’t always successful in that, but it taught me skills that have been valuable to me professionally.
What was the most interesting story you have written?
I’ve been fascinated by many of the things I’ve written about, but there are two stories I wrote of which I think often.
The first story was an interview a colleague and I did of a man named George Blake at the height of the Perestroika/ Glasnost period in the Soviet Union, where I was living at the time. Blake is a former British spy who was working as a double agent for the Soviets. His treason was discovered and he was sentenced to 42 years in prison, but was sprung by sympathizers and smuggled to the Soviet Union, where he lives the life of a hero. When we asked him what had drawn him to communism, he explained that he had once wanted to become a priest and thought that communism was the political ideology that came closest to the teachings of Jesus Christ. We interviewed him again after the collapse of communism and asked him if still felt that. He said that he thought it wasn’t the communist ideals that were faulty, but that humans just weren’t ready to live by them. I’ve thought about that a lot through the years, especially when trying to explain injustices such as income inequality to my children.
The second story that really sticks with me is one I did when working at the Record newspaper in New Jersey. Two local veterans who had been among the American forces that liberated one of the satellite camps of Buchenwald were invited to return to Germany and speak about their experiences. They had both been very young men when they served in World War II and neither of them had been back to Europe since. On our second or third day there, we went to visit Buchenwald. I don’t think I will ever forget the moment we walked through the metal gates and I realized that they had been transported to another time. What I saw was a museum, but what they saw a working concentration camp, with all that meant. I had majored in European History in college so had read a lot about the Holocaust, but it was never as vivid for me as it was in the that moment, watching it though their eyes.
As a journalist, is it hard to be objective while covering a story?
I don’t find that it is. It’s not that I don’t develop sympathies, or like some subjects more than others, it’s just that when I’m reporting or writing I’m able to disconnect from those feelings.
Part of the process of interviewing someone is trying to understand things and see matters from their perspective, and once you do that you have already stepped away from your own mindset. As journalists, we are charged with always exploring and presenting opposing points of view. You don’t have to agree with them, but you do have to present them so the reader can make up his or her own mind.
If anything, I find that working as a reporter for all these years has made it more difficult for me to hold strong opinions of my own. In most matters now I automatically try to see both sides of an issue, which has made the world a much grayer place for me.
You are also an author of a book called, God and Country: How Evangelicals Have Become America’s New Mainstream, tell us about your book?
I wrote the book during the presidency of George W. Bush as an exploration of the evangelical community and an examination of the outsized influence they had in the United States at that time.
When my family moved to California in the mid 1970s, they joined an evangelical church. While I had shed my evangelical beliefs shortly after moving away for college, it was a world I had been raised in and knew well. So when Bush took office, I was able to comprehend the almost-coded language he was using to telegraph certain things to the Christian community, and to understand him and their response to him in a way that many of my colleagues in the mainstream press were not.
For non-evangelical America, Bush and his supporters were frightening, and they were seen as extremists. And while there certainly were extremists among them, I felt the media were identifying the evangelical movement by its fringe, not by its core. I set about to rectify some of the misguided stereotypes about the community, and to analyze how the movement had become so powerful in nearly every aspect of American life.
In the process of doing so, I was able to work through some of my own biases about evangelicals. There’s no one more judgmental of a movement than a former adherent, so the objectivity I needed to muster while reporting and writing the book allowed me to revise my opinions about the religion as well.
Download excerpt of book here: god-and-country-introduction
Do you cover news that is more related to your personal interests or beliefs?
I usually try to avoid writing about things that I have a personal connection to, but I often end up doing so anyway. I had resisted writing God and Country for a very long time. I resisted writing about Egypt. It’s a dilemma; knowing a community or a subject well makes it easier, in some ways, to report on it, because you are allowed access. But it’s always a little uncomfortable.
Right now I’m in the midst of a project about modern circus, a subject to which I have no connection whatsoever, and it’s been great fun.
And sometimes you recognize that a good story is a good story—even if it’s a part of your life. I have at various times in my career written personal essays or first-person travel articles.
Who or what inspires you to write your next article or book?
I am generally drawn to stories that allow me to shed light on communities that aren’t well understood or about which there are a lot of misconceptions. I enjoy challenging assumptions.
What word of advice you may offer your readers who inspire to be a journalist or freelance writer?
First of all, think carefully. Because of changes in the media, it’s a tough field to make a living in these days.
Having said that, it’s also great fun. I can’t imagine doing anything else. If you do decide you want to give it a go, just write—and be willing to take criticism.
The best way to learn and grow as a writer is to be edited by people who can teach you something. The better your work, the more it will be noticed. In the beginning of your career, write for and get published by whomever you can. And strive to make each story better than the last.
Are you currently working on a new book and what’s it about?
I had a finished proposal for a book about Egypt that I delivered to my agent in early January, 2011. By the end of the month it was obsolete. I moved to Egypt in 2013 hoping to revive it, but even after living there for two years I was unable to find a new direction for the book. So that remains naggingly on the back burner. At some point I will return to it and try to figure out how to make it work.
In the meantime, I’m intrigued by this circus project. The article I’m working on will likely be published sometime in the spring of 2017 and, depending on how that goes, I might try to expand it into a book. And like pretty much every writer I know, I have an idea for a novel rattling around in my head….
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