Sotloff on his attraction to the Arab world

In a cover letter to QU, US journalist Steven Sotloff describes his enthusiasm for the Arabic language and culture.

The 31-year-old freelance journalist had been reporting from Syria until he was kidnapped in August 2013 [EPA]

On Tuesday the Islamic State released a video of the purported beheading of US journalist Steven Sotloff. 

Sotloff, was a 31-year-old freelance journalist from Florida and had been reporting from Syria until he was kidnapped in August 2013. 

The journalist had spent the last several years covering conflicts in the region.

Al Jazeera has obtained a draft of Sotloff’s 2010 cover letter for admission to Qatar University’s (QU) Arabic language program from a source who was helping him craft his application.

In the essay Sotloff describes his experience in the Middle East while also extolling an enthusiasm for the Arabic language and Arab culture.


May 29, 2010

Dear ANNS Faculty of Qatar University,

I have been aware of the mysterious and romantic qualities of the Arab world since I was a child. Hollywood and cartoons have reinforced such an image of the East for over 100 years. This stereotype has been replaced by another in recent decades, one which portrays this part of the world as dangerous and backwards. In both narratives, the environment is forbidding, and perhaps this is what lured me to the Arab world in the first place.

I had to see this far-away land for myself, and it has been one of the most influential choices in my life. I spent weeks in Lebanon, soaking up the rich, if not delicate diversity that sews that land together. The social tension is so thick there you can cut it with a butter knife, yet my heart is there forever with a love of those people. The feel of turning the corner from a Shia neighborhood to a Christian one is an incredible experience I do not think I will find elsewhere.

Syria offered more surprises, for in America we are told that Syrians hate us, and it is a rogue nation. Yet, the people are just as kind, if not more so, than the Lebanese. The rich history of peoples that have conquered the area, from Byzantine to French is apparent as you leave Damascus to the rich countryside and visit magnificent sites like the Krak de Chevalier.

From the tripartite power sharing democracy of Lebanon, to the minority led Syria, to the Jordanian monarchy that claims lineage to The Prophet, peace be upon Him, the Arab world has broken each stereotype the West holds of it and has shown me it is not entirely monolithic, but culturally rich and diverse. To be able to use one language to explore so many different varieties of a culture in so many different countries is a blessing and a gift. However, one can only truly appreciate this gift if he has the ability to speak this language.

I now find myself in Qatar, enjoying a stopover before my several month stay in Yemen to learn Arabic. Yemen is an ideal place for me at the moment because very little English is spoken there, and it will force me to practice in the souks and beyond. It also offers an Arab culture that has been largely untouched by the modern world, and perhaps this can give me a better understanding of the Arab people.

I have tried to learn Arabic in the past, but taking a language course that offers only several hours of instruction each week, and having no native speakers to practice with can only develop one’s skills so far. I believe that a year of university level Arabic in Doha will offer me the ideal atmosphere with great instructors and peers as committed as myself to learn, as well as the ever important social environment to take what I learn in the classroom to my everyday life.

I have decided I want to spend a large part of my life in this part of the world, and I can only do that successfully with the proper skills. Doha amalgamates Qataris with their gracefully flowing white thobes with businessmen from all over the world. This growing hub of the business world makes for a perfect environment to master Arabic and build lifelong networks that will help me succeed. I look forward to the opportunity to study at Qatar University under the Arab hospitality I have grown to love.


Steven Sotloff

Source: Al Jazeera

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