an imprint of counterpoint

People Like Us

People Like Us: Misrepresenting the Middle East

Joris Luyendijk

In People Like Us, which became a bestseller in Holland, Joris Luyendijk tells the story of his five years as correspondent in the Middle East. Extremely young for a correspondent but fluent in Arabic, he spoke with stone throwers and terrorists, taxi drivers and professors, victims, aggressors, and their families. He experienced at first hand dictatorship, occupation, terror, and war. His stories cast light on a number of major crises, from the Iraq War to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, along with less-reported issues such as underage orphan trash-collectors in Cairo.

The more he witnessed, the less he understood, and he became increasingly aware of the yawning gap between what he saw on the ground and what was later reported in the media. As a correspondent, he was privy to a multitude of narratives with conflicting implications, and he saw over and over again that the media favored the stories that would be sure to confirm the popularly held, oversimplified beliefs of westerners. In People Like Us, Luyendijk deploys powerful examples, leavened with humour, to demonstrate the ways in which the media gives us a filtered, altered, and manipulated image of reality in the Middle East.

Luyendijk conscientiously and insightfully recounts the way that he and his peers were pressured by the media culture to which they belonged to conform to prescribed roles and attitudes. It was only later, after he had unconsciously absorbed the outlook of the organization he worked for, that he began to question the demands placed on him.

As he himself says, the distortions that took place were to a very great extent inevitable; it is not the media’s job to present its product as incomplete and biased. Luyendijk also avoids dictating easy solutions. His resulting conviction is that journalism has become too important to leave to the journalists.

People Like Us is a memoir of maturation and personal reflection. But it extends beyond the personal as Luyendijk sets out to mold a different kind of narrative from the one crafted by the media—one that embraces dissonance and ambiguity. A testament to the impossibility of objective journalism, an expose of the troubling priorities and values in the mainstream media, People Like Us is an eye-opening account of what’s behind the news.

Joris Luyendijk was born in 1971. He studied Arabic and politics at the University of Amsterdam and the University of Cairo. He was editor in chief of Move Your World Magazine and has published articles in NRC Handelsblad and Het Parool. He has conducted television interviews with some of the world’s leading interational figures, including Naomi Klein, Desmond Tutu, Jeffrey Sachs, Gary Gasparov, Tariq Ramadan, and Al-Jazeera director Wadah Khanfar. His previously published books include Het Zijn Net Mensen (They seem almost human), which was translated into German, Italian, and Hungarian, and is forthcoming in Danish and Arabic. The book also won the Dirk Scherpenzeel Prize for outstanding coverage of the non-Western world (2007) and the National book award (2007). In 2006, he was awarded the Journalist of the Year prize by De Journalist, selected from the top forty most influential international journalists by the NVJ (the Dutch Association of Journalists).

Paper | 5 1/2 x 8 1/4 | 256 pgs. | ISBN: 978-1-59376-256-8 | List: $14.95 | 09/10/2009

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