Global Philadelphia Conversations with: Trudy Rubin



Global Philadelphia Conversations with: Trudy Rubin
By Zabeth Teelucksingh

On Friday October 7th, I was privileged to interview Trudy Rubin, foreign affairs columnist at the Philadelphia Inquirer and Pulitzer Prize nominee. In between preparing to leave for a Middle Eastern tour of Tunisia, Egypt, and Israel, Trudy received me in her center city abode where we sat down to talk about her view of Philadelphia and the globe. This interview with Trudy marks the first in our Global Philadelphia Conversations series.

How did you come to live in Philadelphia?

I was the Middle East correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor based in Jerusalem. The Christian Science Monitor was a very high quality paper, for which I had loved working. I was told of this opportunity in Philadelphia and wanted to come stateside.

What is the most important thing Philadelphia can do to become a more “international” city?

From a journalist's point of view, the media is now being asked to be hyper local. There is an assumption that the New York Times will give the global view. I feel very lucky that my editors allow me to continue with my column and see a need for my international column. This is in many ways unusual. I am not certain how to expand the international image of the city. Is my audience a niche group of those who read my column, go to the World Affairs Council or go to the Foreign Policy Research Institute? I feel sure that the global audience in Philadelphia is more than just those people.

When did you start thinking globally?

I always wanted to travel; I went to London School of Economics (LSE). At first wanted to do the India trek from London as did most students in those times, but once, I went to a party in London and met a student I knew who lived in Beirut. [This student] suggested I drive home with him to see his family. I drove with him to Beirut and spent 4 months traveling in the Middle East.

What are your objectives during your upcoming visit to Arab World?

I have been covering the Arab world, Arab- Israeli affairs, and the Arab-Palestinian story since the start of my career. I was in Egypt at the tail end of Tahrir Square events and I want to follow up. I will be in Tunisia for the election. In all my years in the Middle East I have never been in Tunisia. It was not “on the map”. Since the Arab Spring started in Tunisia, I am very interested to be there on October 23rd for the elections. Then I will be in Egypt for the first phases of the election there, when the final candidate lists have been declared. I want to look at the role of Islamist in both countries, tensions between Islamists and non-Islamists. How the non-Islamists who are not secular are looking at a State not based on Sharia law. I also want to talk to Islamist brothers and talk to independent analysts.

Then I will go on to Israel and the West bank. I want to see how things stand since the Palestinians went to the U.N. and asked for independence. There has recently been a lot of violence, mosques have been burned. I want to see what people are thinking. I believe that the Peace Process as we know it is over. No one wants to face up to the fact that it has now changed.

How does all of this Middle East politics affect the consciousness in Philadelphia?

Often the consciousness of foreign affairs is affected by one's ethnic background- the local communities that are directly concerned. Jewish communities pay attention to the changes in the Arab world. The Arab American community pays attention too - here there are Iraqi [peoples], Lebanese, and Palestinians. Then there is the business community; those in banking, pharmaceuticals have to pay attention to the global economic situation. The academic community also pays attention. These niche groups are interested in a variety of different things.

What is your favorite ethnic spot in the greater Philadelphia?

It is not a spot, it is the taxi cab. That is where I feel the city's multi ethnicity the most. There are many Nigerians, a place where I have traveled. Taxis used to prominently display the name of the driver and I used to be able to discern if they were from the Ibo or Yoruba tribes. There are many Russian, Ukrainian, Haitian, African and Arabs taxi cabs. So I travel the world in 10 minute increments in the Philadelphia taxi cabs.

Philadelphia food spots?

My favorite Greek is Souvlaki where the owner shuts the restaurant to go home once a year. I have had great talks with him about the Euro, the strikes and Greece's recent travails. Food is one demonstrable way in which Philadelphia is international.

Who would you most like to meet in person?

Often the most interesting people are the ones you have not heard of yet. In Egypt I wanted to meet the people who had organized the incredible demonstrations. I want to meet the equivalent In Tunisia and talk to others who might fill me in. To me, a lot of the most interesting are the lesser known.

What language do you use to interview?

English. I used to have great French when I lived in Beirut. The key is to have a translator that you know and trust who does not give you a paraphrase. I have been around enough that I have such a resource in most countries and my first job when I travel is to find just that. I do not speak Arabic. In the old days newspapers sent journalists to language school. I never got a chance to go. So I can have small conversations but I do not feel enough fluency to conduct a full interview.

Several days later, in following up on our meeting, I asked Trudy, as a much traveled person:

What were the most useful gizmo/ electronic aid that she found invaluable when traveling?

The only gizmo I find essential at present is my Blackberry which I use for sending photos and text to my blog. However, I am taking an iPhone on this trip, so we will see.....

Trudy Rubin will be covering her Middle Eastern journey in the Philadelphia Inquirer: look for her columns on Thursdays and Sundays. She has agreed to take part in a panel discussion organized by Global Philadelphia on the International City later in November.