Monday, August 29, 2011

Interview: Dutch Middle East correspondent Nicole Le Fever is back

Dutch news correspondent Nicole Le Fever (46) returned to The Netherlands after a five-year stay in the Middle East. Le Fever, who is born to a Dutch father and a Surinamese mother, is a prime time news reporter for the Dutch public Broadcasting service the NOS. In a recent interview with the VARA she talked about her experiences in the Middle East and how it had changed her. Some snippets from the interview.

Your back for three weeks now, how does it feel?
It’s good to see friends and family again. I am still busy landing. There needs to be done a lot. I am running from one place to the other for stamps and insurances. It’s all very well organised in the Netherlands. If you have forgotten a document in the Middle East, you say you forgot to apply for it. Than everyone understands and everything will be fine.

Was it difficult to leave?
In fact I would have returned in December, so I think it’s great I stayed a half year longer to be able to report about the Arab spring. I leave a world behind of people who I have come to love. I have cried when we said goodbye to our friends and their children, so yes I left with pain in my heart.

The Arab spring now has a setback. Were we to positive when we thought the revolution was irreversible?

Yes, we, the West, saw the young people on the Tahir Square and thought oh, so great, those people want to be just like us. They want democracy modelled after the West. For us self-actualization, individualism and freedom of speech are very important. But during the Egyptian revolution people fought for basic rights such as justice, respect and dignity. Religion and family play a bigger part than in the West, also for the protesters in jeans. Everyone is part of a larger part, of a family who has always taken care of you. Which the State doesn’t. They now fight for a job on the basis of quality in stead on the basis of having the right connections. That your sick child gets the same treatment as the child of the President.

Is it possible to overthrow regimes?
You can always send a dictator away, but the system sits between the ears of people. The hierarchal thinking is very deep ingrained in the mind. Even at the football club or a human rights organisation there is often a leader, who as he speaks silence the rest and dictates everything. It takes time to break trough that. Just like the corruption and de connection-culture. If I have a good job somewhere and you are my sister I will try to arrange a job for you, because else your children won’t have any food.

What was your most touching moment of the Arab spring?
There were so much beautiful moments. Louba, a young activist of the first our, told me when soldier stood next to her that the army carried out very humiliating "virginity tests" on female protesters. I asked her if we shouldn’t stand somewhere else. She said: “No, what can he do to me?” She said that she would go on fighting, that she had just started. She Western dressed, her friend dressed in a niqab. I don’t know if she and all the others are going to make it, but they are going somewhere. Many people have lost their fear en have gained more dignity. Maybe it will take a long time until the system has changed, but they have changed most certainly.

The years you have been gone the fear of Islam has grown with some people in The Netherlands. Some doubted the existence of moderate Muslims.

The moderate Muslim? What nonsense. We don’t talk about moderate Christians. I absolutely don’t share the fear of Islam. I have lived there five years and saw how people practice their faith totally different. Some people went to the mosque five times a day, others didn’t go at all. No one tried to convert me.

On the internet people call you a liberal journalist.
My father is from the Dutch province of Zealand and my mother is born in Suriname, so I am product of two cultures. From that perspective I see the world, not with a liberal or a conservative view. My father was completely colour blind, he always has been, but he voted conservative and read a the conservative Dutch paper “De Telegraaf”. He believed in the equality of races, religions, and sexes.

How do you see woman rights in Islamic countries.
There are big differences between all these countries. But generally women have a weaker position when it comes to legal issues as custody and divorce. But still the image of the poor suppressed woman in the Middle East is not correct. There are big problems, but you come across more powerful and courageous woman than here.

Have you changed by living in the Middle East
You should ask my friends and relatives. But I fitted in the Middle East, I think. I was always close with my family and I am not so individualistic. Also not so rude en direct. You see the directness in your own country much better and also your own rudeness. I know that individualism is very important, but I also see that being part of larger group can also be valuable.

You are very positive about the Middle East, but is everything is that great?
I began loving the people, not the systems. Of course it’s difficult to live in a dictatorship. The fear is the worst. I have met people who were to afraid to open their mouths and only trusted their own family. People who are open to the camera you sometimes need to protect, because there is an embassy in The Netherlands and my items are also on the internet. I will use that information, but I don’t show from who it’s from.

As a general reporter you will also have go back to typical Dutch items. They will be silly items compared with those in the Middle East.
Of course it’s giant step from the Tahir Square to the Dutch tulip exhibition. But I have done a lot of general reporting, which was often very interesting. People are awesomely interesting. Their dreams, their wishes and what they fight for and the things they love. Those stories I want to tell.


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