This is going to be one of those things that may be received with a resounding, "well, yeah, obviously," but here it goes. Proximity matters. I studied issues faced in the Middle East in the comfort of my posh DC university and later in the comfort of DC offices. But the gravity of the issues never rang so true as when I am here, actually in the area. For instance, President Ahmedinejad recently visited Beirut. He was met with crowds of support and well-wishers. I am going there for vacation next month. So that's creepy.
I am finding that this is a hard idea to convey. Sarah and I discussed this on the cab ride back from Arabic class one night. It is not that people are more or less educated about a place or situation the closer or farther they are from it. I would argue the people in DC are just as if not more educated about what is going on in this region than some of its citizens. But from a safe distance it feels like we are studying characters from a fiction novel. We wonder perhaps what that certain eccentric Ahmedinejad will do next. Or, we suggest a given policy towards Syria, believed to be at least somewhat geopolitically strategic.
In the comfort of our own home, the world feels like a chess board. And we are free to suggest where to move the next pawn. But here you can feel the implications of what's going on. You can see the pawns, and the knights, and the bishops coming towards you and from where I'm standing, they look awfully big.