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The Wisdom of Crossroads Arabia

April 25, 2011

Wisdom is in the eye of the beholder. Those whom we see as wise are usually those whose views we share, or – if we do not agree with them – we respect. For me, one such person is John Burgess.

I read a lot of blogs from and about the Middle East. The site I visit the most is John Burgess’s creation, Crossroads Arabia. The author is a former foreign service officer with the US State Department. He is an Arabic speaker, and did two tours of duty in Saudi Arabia, the main focus of his blog.

I’ve never met or spoken to John, but I know a wise man when I see one. In his blog he comments on media stories about the Middle East – both from the region and from the US –  in a way that demonstrates knowledge of the region far exceeding mine, and that of many higher profile “experts” whose opinions are regularly rolled out in the international media. His coverage is insightful, sometimes humorous and often biting. Most important in a blogger, his thoughts are always succinct and well argued.

I’m not sure if he would appreciate being called a blogger. His site is an emporium of knowledge that I drew upon heavily when preparing to return to the Middle East three years ago.

His most recent post on the odious Quran-burning pastor, for example, contains a wealth of information about the legal complexities around the First Amendment of the US Constitution, which enshrines the right to free speech in US law.

Over the years he has pointed me towards invaluable sources of information. Thanks to his literary reviews I have read a number of books that I otherwise might not have stumbled upon – one of the reasons why I often review books in my blog.

How he finds the time to come up with so many stories, some with multiple links to further reading, is beyond me. And he has been doing this for the past seven years.

What I appreciate most about Crossroads Arabia is that it is written with a generous spirit. John is not afraid to criticise aspects of society, Saudi or otherwise, that he finds absurd or regressive. But he does so with an absence of the chauvinism that sometimes taints commentary from his country and mine.

Crossroads Arabia is essential reading, not only for Westerners who want to get under the skin of the Middle East, but also for Middle Easterners who are interested in getting a Western perspective on their region.

I have no motive for praising John Burgess’s site other than to recognise excellence, and to appreciate the efforts of its modest creator.

  1. Thanks you, sir!

  2. R. Sams permalink

    I agree. I lived and worked in the KSA a long time and I really like John’s blog, but is it gone now? I can’t find it anymore.

    • Sad to say that he passed away last year. I still miss his insights. S

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