Gerard Russell lived almost all his early life in Britain, first in London and then in Oxford, where he studied Classics at Balliol College. After joining the British Foreign Office in 1995, he lived in Cairo, Jerusalem, Baghdad, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, and studied Arabic, Hebrew and Farsi. He stopped being a diplomat in 2009 and is now based at the Harvard Kennedy School. Gerard is writing a book on religious minorities in the Muslim world. His blog is here and his website here.
Why do you blog? > To get used to saying what I think.
What are your favourite blogs? > Yours, Norm. I also loved reading Salam Pax, who wrote from Baghdad before the 2003 war - I felt I was hearing the voice of the unheard Iraqis who were living in Iraq. Now I read Brian Whitaker's blog at al-bab.com. I keep an eye on Dominic Asquith's blog, from the British Embassy in Egypt - I like his courage in tackling tricky religious questions.
Who are your intellectual heroes? > Just at present I am reading the work of Abu Rayhan Biruni, a Persian scholar who lived a thousand years ago. He was (among other things) a Muslim anthropologist who wrote about other religions with respect and insight.
What are you reading at the moment? > The Tenth Parallel by Eliza Griswold.
Who are your cultural heroes? > The violinists who carried on playing as the Titanic went down.
What is the best novel you've ever read? > Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury.
What is your favourite poem? > The Iliad.
Who is your favourite composer? > Beethoven. Or, when I feel homesick for Britain, Vaughan Williams.
Can you name a major moral, political or intellectual issue on which you've ever changed your mind? > The nature of religious truth. It still eludes me. But my interest in other people's beliefs and culture has expanded hugely - which is the reason I am writing about the forgotten religions of the Muslim world.
What philosophical thesis do you think it most important to disseminate? > In my experience, Government people - including myself - tend towards utilitarianism and need reminding of Kant's second maxim: to treat humanity always as an end, and never just as a means to an end.
What philosophical thesis do you think it most important to combat? > Kant's second maxim, when taken to extremes - when the language of individual rights drives out all other forms of moral discourse, and distracts us from the task of improving humanity's common future.
Who are your political heroes? > Every person that has had power and given it up by choice.
What is your favourite piece of political wisdom? > I like this quotation from a poet called Richard Armour: 'Politics, it seems to me, for years, or all too long, has been concerned with right or left instead of right or wrong.'
If you could effect one major policy change in the governing of your country, what would it be? > Putting more poetry, and more history, into the national curriculum. One of the things that attracted me to the Middle East was that people there still care about poetry. It gives people something to talk about other than sport and TV.
What do you consider to be the main threat to the future peace and security of the world? > Hunger and thirst.
Do you think the world (human civilization) has already passed its best point, or is that yet to come? > I am an optimist. I think it's yet to come.
What would be your most important piece of advice about life? > Make friends, early and often.
Do you think you could ever be married to, or in a long-term relationship with, someone with radically different political views from your own? > Yes. And then there's never a shortage of things to say to each other.
What do you consider the most important personal quality? > Courage.
What personal fault do you most dislike? > Insincerity.
In what circumstances would you be willing to lie? > To save lives. And maybe not even then.
What is your favourite proverb? > Still waters run deep.
What, if anything, do you worry about? > The past and the future.
If you were to relive your life to this point, is there anything you'd do differently? > Worry less.
Where would you most like to live (other than where you do)? > Rome in the first century AD.
What do you like doing in your spare time? > Reading; canoeing on the river; singing; and my most shameful addiction, which is obsessively watching crime dramas.
If you had to change your first name, what would you change it to? > Bertrand. It's nice to pretend.
What talent would you most like to have? > To dance as if I didn't have two left feet.
What would be your ideal choice of alternative profession or job? > For years I wanted to be a monk.
What animal would you most like to be? > A cat. They can behave as badly as they like, and people still love them.
[The normblog profile is a weekly Friday morning feature. A list of all the profiles to date, and the links to them, can be found here.]