When did you last see anything about the middle east that wasn't about violence, fear and mistrust? Of course that's a big part of the picture these days, but I will keep saying that I have neighbours, colleagues and students from all over this region, and well beyond, and they're just ordinary people with ordinary families, and ordinary vices and virtues. Sometimes it's worth reminding ourselves of the obvious.
Muslim colleagues from the UAE, Egypt, Algeria and elsewhere invited all us non-muslims to Iftar (the breaking of the fast at sunset during Ramadan); our Iranian neighbours invited us to celebrate Norouz (New Year) with them; arab colleagues bring in wonderful food and baskets of chocolates to celebrate family weddings, first grandchildren and so on; and the middle-eastern habit of embracing and speaking to everyone individually as you arrive or depart is extremely contagious (even if it does make everything happen ten minutes late) and it makes the beginning and end of term in our staffroom very heartwarming.
Open-minded people try to believe that extremism is a minority feature of every society, but with the middle east and Islam, non-muslim westerners have to take it on faith, because there is very little in the western media to support the fact that there is so much to celebrate about arab culture. Culture isn't news.
For a while there I was comforted that CNN broadcast News Asia, Inside the Middle East, and other programmes on this part of the world in the USA, because I thought that the rest of the planet, and particularly those traumatised, bunker-minded, post-911 citizens of the US who believe that Poppa Dubbya is their only defence against the howling hordes (and that's just the picture on Europe) were being given an opportunity to see the normality of ordinary people, good people, creative people, just living their lives; to hear ordinary, reasoned discussion of business, the arts, sport, politics from this regional and cultural perspective; to see features on Islam, national profiles, documentaries on the good and the bad over here; to see all these small pieces that make the unknown and foreign less threatening, that go some way to balance the hideous headline stories, and to experience some small measure of hope and goodwill to help fix the terrible situation we all find ouselves in. Silly me. They don't show that stuff in the states. What a waste of media power and resources. No wonder you're scared to death. It breaks my heart.
Even so, there is a whole dimension, a whole way of life, that is no more 'evil' or strange or incomprehensible than yours or mine, and millions of people that it would gladden your heart to know if you just had time, opportunity - and a smattering of arabic to give them a first giggle at your dreadful pronunciation!
We just have to survive this bit.