• The House of Trump & the House of Saud

    You might say it is a match made in heaven. With their taste in gold elevators, the Trump family and the House of Saud were destined to alight at the same penthouse. But the affinity between Donald Trump, US president, and Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de facto monarch, goes beyond a shared aesthetic for “dictator chic”. It is chiefly transactional. The US-Saudi relationship is the quintessence of Trumpian diplomacy. Its flowering symbolises the decay in the US-led global order.

    Mr Trump’s approach to foreign relations is a blend of family and money and a weakness for flattery. Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe pledged $50m to the Ivanka Trump-inspired Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative — the World Bank’s effort to seduce America’s first family. Mr Abe, whose first gift to Mr Trump was a gold-plated golf club, hosted Ms Trump in Tokyo shortly before her father turned up. Six months ago, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates became the first donors to Ms Trump’s scheme with a $100m grant. Now it is China’s turn to host Mr Trump. Its president, Xi Jinping, approved a flurry of Ivanka Trump trademarks shortly before he first met her father in Mar-a-Lago earlier this year.

    Governments the world over are vying to catch the US first family’s eye. But it is the Saudis who perfected the art. It is no coincidence that Riyadh was Mr Trump’s first foreign destination after becoming president. His motive was obvious. The Saudis had agreed to unveil a $110bn arms contract with the US — exactly what Mr Trump was seeking. The fact that it consisted of letters of intent, most of which had been signed years earlier, was beside the point. Saudi Arabia is unlikely to pay for any of the big items. These include US naval vessels that have yet to be built and an anti-missile defence system the Saudis can no longer afford.

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  • Harvey Weinstein’s Army of Spies

    In the fall of 2016, Harvey Weinstein set out to suppress allegations that he had sexually harassed or assaulted numerous women. He began to hire private security agencies to collect information on the women and the journalists trying to expose the allegations. According to dozens of pages of documents, and seven people directly involved in the effort, the firms that Weinstein hired included Kroll, which is one of the world’s largest corporate-intelligence companies, and Black Cube, an enterprise run largely by former officers of Mossad and other Israeli intelligence agencies. Black Cube, which has branches in Tel Aviv, London, and Paris, offers its clients the skills of operatives “highly experienced and trained in Israel’s elite military and governmental intelligence units,” according to its literature.

    Two private investigators from Black Cube, using false identities, met with the actress Rose McGowan, who eventually publicly accused Weinstein of rape, to extract information from her. One of the investigators pretended to be a women’s-rights advocate and secretly recorded at least four meetings with McGowan. The same operative, using a different false identity and implying that she had an allegation against Weinstein, met twice with a journalist to find out which women were talking to the press. In other cases, journalists directed by Weinstein or the private investigators interviewed women and reported back the details.

    The explicit goal of the investigations, laid out in one contract with Black Cube, signed in July, was to stop the publication of the abuse allegations against Weinstein that eventually emerged in the New York Times and The New Yorker. Over the course of a year, Weinstein had the agencies “target,” or collect information on, dozens of individuals, and compile psychological profiles that sometimes focussed on their personal or sexual histories. Weinstein monitored the progress of the investigations personally. He also enlisted former employees from his film enterprises to join in the effort, collecting names and placing calls that, according to some sources who received them, felt intimidating.

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  • Did We Adopt A Jihadist?

    One boy, seated toward the rear of the boat, was singing over the thrum of the motor, perhaps out of exhilaration, perhaps out of boredom, or perhaps out of fear, though four years of war in Syria had dulled his sensitivity to risk and it had not been strong to start. The others were praying. O sea, be kind! the boy sang. “Shut up!” the others pleaded. Near the end of the crossing, with Turkey well behind them, the boat’s motor gave out. The boy threw himself over the side of the rubber dinghy and began to flail his way toward the Greek shore, several hundred yards off; this was another mark of his heedlessness, as the water was cold and dangerously choppy. The others stayed in the boat.

    A rescuer swam to the boy and dragged him to the beach, on the island of Lesbos. A nurse brought him to a nearby tent. “Okay, talk,” she said.

    “What do you want to hear?” the boy asked. He was warm and dry now but not entirely certain who the woman was.

    “I want to hear everything,” the nurse replied. His name was Paul, he said, and he was 16 years old. He was angular and trim, with ropy limbs and thick hands and a brow that ran across his face in a brooding crease. His eyes were black and deep-set, and there was something distant and inscrutable but immediately attractive about him, an air of slight deviousness. His speech was somewhat wooden, as if he had recently memorized certain details of his life, but the nurse found his story to be broadly credible. As a Christian in wartime Syria, he said, he had been repeatedly imprisoned by jihadists. He glanced at the nurse’s hijab. “Maybe you’re one of them?” he asked. The question was playful, but the boy had not expected that his first encounter in Europe would be with a Muslim speaking Syrian Arabic, and he was wary. “Are you crazy?” she said.

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  • The Professor and the Jihadi

    Gilles Kepel, a French political scientist, was at home in Paris brushing his teeth one morning last June when his cellphone rattled on the sink. It was a text from a journalist he knew: “I’m sorry to tell you this, but you’re on the death list.” Kepel turned toward his TV, which was already on, and the top story eliminated any confusion. A French-born jihadi named Larossi Abballa had murdered a police officer and his wife in a town west of Paris and then delivered a macabre speech on Facebook Live — with the couple’s 3-year-old child cowering nearby — in which he called for the killing of seven public figures. The French media omitted the details, but an Interior Ministry official soon called with confirmation: Kepel’s name was near the top of the list. His initial feeling, he later told me, was “as if the subject I’ve been studying for 35 years had turned around to strike at me.” Within hours, he had a government security team assigned to guard him 24 hours a day. A similar death warrant was issued against him later that summer, elevating the sense of danger.

    The threats came at an unusual turn in Kepel’s career. He has long been a prominent figure in the French intellectual world, a scholar whose face — a distinctive, narrow-eyed mask of polished sobriety — is often seen on TV news shows. But recently he has assumed a far more combative stance. Kepel has argued that much of France’s left-leaning intelligentsia fails to understand the nature of the threat the country faces — not just from foreign terrorists but also from the Islamist provocateurs in its exurban ghettos, the banlieues. Unlike the Islam-bashing polemicists who haunt French opinion pages, Kepel brings a lifetime of scholarship to this argument. He has always been careful to distinguish mainstream Islam from the hard-line Islamist ideologues of the banlieues, who have no real equivalent in the United States. He has long been a man of the left; his wife’s family is from North Africa, and he has no sympathy for the xenophobia of the right-wing National Front. But he believes that radical Islamists are trying to shred France’s social fabric and foster a civil war, and that many leftists are unwittingly playing into their hands. This view has made him a target for almost everyone.

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  • How not to solve the refugee crisis

    On October 3, 2013, a Sicilian prosecutor named Calogero Ferrara was in his office in the Palace of Justice, in Palermo, when he read a disturbing news story. Before dawn, a fishing trawler carrying more than five hundred East African migrants from Libya had stalled a quarter of a mile from Lampedusa, a tiny island halfway to Sicily. The driver had dipped a cloth in leaking fuel and ignited it, hoping to draw help. But the fire quickly spread, and as passengers rushed away the boat capsized, trapping and killing hundreds of people.

    The Central Mediterranean migration crisis was entering a new phase. Each week, smugglers were cramming hundreds of African migrants into small boats and launching them in the direction of Europe, with little regard for the chances of their making it. Mass drownings had become common. Still, the Lampedusa shipwreck was striking for its scale and its proximity: Italians watched from the cliffs as the coast guard spent a week recovering the corpses.

    As news crews descended on the island, the coffins were laid out in an airplane hangar and topped with roses and Teddy bears. “It shocked me, because, maybe for the first time, they decided to show pictures of the coffins,” Ferrara told me. Italy declared a day of national mourning and started carrying out search-and-rescue operations near Libyan waters.

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  • The Saudi Trillions

    It made perfect sense that the first port of call on President Trump’s first foreign trip, in May, was Riyadh. Saudi Arabia – the world’s second largest oil producer (after Russia), the world’s biggest military spender as a proportion of GDP, the main sponsor of Islamist fighting groups across Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria and Iraq, the leader of a coalition in a devastating war against Yemeni rebels now in its third year – is a country one can do business with, even as the most ardent Kremlinologists in the West struggle to understand it. It is a place often defined by its contradictions, in which tribal codes of desert and oasis – puritanical, patriarchal, frugal and austere – co-exist and frequently clash with lavish displays of wealth and such emblems of modernity as air-conditioned shopping malls, designer boutiques and six-lane highways flashing with supercharged vehicles exclusively driven by men. Trump returned from his visit with a promise – he claimed – of $350 billion in Saudi spending on American armaments over the next ten years, with $110 billion right away, of benefit particularly to Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon. The State Department celebrated the deal as supporting ‘the long-term security of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region in the face of malign Iranian influence and Iranian-related threats’.

    But the last few months have seen a series of changes in the kingdom that make its future more unpredictable than ever. At the beginning of June, Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic ties with its neighbour Qatar, demanding that its al-Jazeera network be shut down for broadcasting propaganda and launching a regional stand-off that is far from being resolved. Then, two weeks later, there was what appeared to be a palace coup. Since the death in 1953 of the modern kingdom’s founder, Abd al-Aziz Al Saud (generally known as Ibn Saud), succession has passed down the line of his sons. The present king, Salman, reportedly Ibn Saud’s 25th son, inherited the throne in 2015 on the death of his half-brother Abdullah and is close to being the last of his generation. At 81 Salman is in fragile health: he has had two strokes and suffers from Alzheimer’s. On 21 June the doting king promoted his favourite son, the 31-year-old Prince Mohammed bin Salman (widely known by the initials MBS), to the position of crown prince, putting him in line to be the first of the third generation – Ibn Saud’s grandsons – to occupy the throne. According to the New York Times, MBS’s elevation at the expense of his older cousin, Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef (known as MBN), was the result of a well-executed plot. MBN had been highly regarded by the US and its allies: as head of the interior ministry and chief of Saudi intelligence he presided over operations against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP); he had attended training sessions with the FBI and was a powerful advocate of continued close relations with the Americans. In February the CIA honoured him with the George Tenet medal, in recognition of his ‘excellent intelligence performance in the domain of counterterrorism and his unbounded contribution to realise world security and peace’.

    On the night of 20 June, the eve of the Eid al-Fitr festival that ends the holy month of Ramadan, MBN was summoned along with other senior princes for an audience with the king. Shortly before midnight courtiers answering to MBS – who was already chief of the royal court as well as the world’s youngest minister of defence – removed his phones and pressured him to relinquish his posts. MBN at first refused but eventually gave in and is now said to be under palace arrest. Afterwards clips of MBN paying allegiance to his younger cousin were shown on Saudi media, to demonstrate a smooth transition, and it was put about – this time by US as well as Saudi officials – that MBN had been suffering from the effects of the ‘arsehole bomb’ attack in 2009, when an al-Qaida operative masquerading as a petitioner approached him and blew himself up with an IED hidden in his rectum. MBN survived the attack but was said to have become addicted to medication he had been taking to mitigate the effects of the trauma. Members of the Allegiance Council, a body of 34 senior princes established by King Abdullah in 2006 to resolve disputes by approving changes in the line of succession, were told that MBN had a drug problem and was unfit to be king. Despite private reservations, the council deferred to King Salman and rubber-stamped its approval, in a vote of 31 to three.

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  • ‘Can I ever return home?’

    Earlier this year, while in Pakistan, I visited my village where I share a house with my sister. Built nearly 300 years ago by an ancestor, it’s a traditional courtyard house with fountains, frescoes and wooden balconies. It’s also next door to a mosque mounted with powerful loudspeakers. Since we were staying the night, I sent a polite request to the mosque’s imam. Would he, just this once, just for the dawn prayer, in line with age-old tradition, call the faithful to prayer in his own voice, instead of using the loudspeaker? He obliged. Two days later someone sent an anonymous note to the house. Before you make any such demands again, it read, remember what happened to Salman Taseer.

    Taseer, governor of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province, was assassinated in January by a fanatical member of his own security guard for proposing a review of Pakistan’s contentious blasphemy laws. Taseer was a flamboyant figure who made no secret of his liberal views and lifestyle. Ecstatic lawyers showered his murderer with rose petals and mullahs led thousands in street demonstrations in support of the blasphemy law. Some Pakistanis who live in the west and enjoy every one of its hard-won liberties, set up Facebook pages lauding Taseer’s murderer as a hero. Middle-class kids, who salivate over Angelina Jolie and dream of a green card, condoned the murder of “an immoral, westernised liberal”. Taseer’s murder and its aftermath marked a turning point in my relationship with my homeland.

    I live in London. I moved here 15 years ago from Lahore, when I married a London-based Pakistani. My London life is full and varied. I have good friends, engrossing work and live in a nice part of town. My children go to good schools, my husband’s work is prospering. We live with security and the rule of law. I have a deep affection for Britain because I spent my late teens and university years here. Much of what I am, I owe to my UK education.

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  • Twists in Regeni’s disappearance in Cairo

    The target of the Egyptian police, that day in November 2015, was the street vendors selling socks, $2 sunglasses and fake jewelry, who clustered under the arcades of the elegant century-old buildings of Heliopolis, a Cairo suburb. Such raids were routine, but these vendors occupied an especially sensitive location. Just 100 yards away is the ornate palace where Egypt’s president, the military strongman Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, welcomes foreign dignitaries. As the men hurriedly gathered their goods from mats and doorways, preparing to flee, they had an unlikely assistant: an Italian graduate student named Giulio Regeni.

    He arrived in Cairo a few months earlier to conduct research for his doctorate at Cambridge. Raised in a small village near Trieste by a sales manager father and a schoolteacher mother, Regeni, a 28-year-old leftist, was enthralled by the revolutionary spirit of the Arab Spring. In 2011, when demonstrations erupted in Tahrir Square, leading to the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, he was finishing a degree in Arabic and politics at Leeds University. He was in Cairo in 2013, working as an intern at a United Nations agency, when a second wave of protests led the military to oust Egypt’s newly elected president, the Islamist Mohamed Morsi, and put Sisi in charge. Like many Egyptians who had grown hostile to Morsi’s overreaching government, Regeni approved of this development. ‘‘It’s part of the revolutionary process,’’ he wrote an English friend, Bernard Goyder, in early August. Then, less than two weeks later, Sisi’s security forces killed 800 Morsi supporters in a single day, the worst state-sponsored massacre in Egypt’s history. It was the beginning of a long spiral of repression. Regeni soon left for England, where he started work for Oxford Analytica, a business-research firm.

    From afar, Regeni followed Sisi’s government closely. He wrote reports on North Africa, analyzing political and economic trends, and after a year had saved enough money to start on his doctorate in development studies at Cambridge. He decided to focus on Egypt’s independent unions, whose series of unprecedented strikes, starting in 2006, had primed the public for the revolt against Mubarak; now, with the Arab Spring in tatters, Regeni saw the unions as a fragile hope for Egypt’s battered democracy. After 2011 their numbers exploded, multiplying from four to thousands. There were unions for everything: butchers and theater attendants, well diggers and miners, gas-bill collectors and extras in the trashy TV soap operas that played during the holy month of Ramadan. There was even an Independent Trade Union for Dwarfs. Guided by his supervisor, a noted Egyptian academic at Cambridge who had written critically of Sisi, Regeni chose to study the street vendors — young men from distant villages who scratched out a living on the sidewalks of Cairo. Regeni plunged into their world, hoping to assess their union’s potential to drive political and social change.

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  • Julian Assange, a Man Without a Country

    The Ecuadorian Embassy in London is situated at the end of a wide brick lane, next to the Harrods department store, in Knightsbridge. Sometimes plainclothes police officers, or vans with tinted windows, can be found outside the building. Sometimes there are throngs of people around it. Sometimes there is virtually no one, which was the case in June, 2012, when Julian Assange, the publisher of WikiLeaks, arrived, disguised as a motorcycle courier, to seek political asylum. In the five years since then, he has not set foot beyond the Embassy. Nonetheless, he has become a global influence, proving that with simple digital tools a single person can craft a new kind of power—a distributed, transnational power, which functions outside norms of state sovereignty that have held for centuries. Encouraged by millions of supporters, Assange has interfered with the world’s largest institutions. His releases have helped fuel democratic uprisings—notably in Tunisia, where a revolution sparked the Arab Spring—and they have been submitted as evidence in human-rights cases around the world. At the same time, Assange’s methodology and his motivations have increasingly come under suspicion. During the Presidential election last year, he published tens of thousands of hacked e-mails written by Democratic operatives, releasing them at pivotal moments in the campaign. They provoked strikingly disparate receptions. “I love WikiLeaks,” Donald Trump declared, in exultant gratitude. After the election, Hillary Clinton argued that the releases had been instrumental in keeping her from the Oval Office.

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  • Mideast Peace Play a Trump-Era Sensation

    When Donald Trump became president, he touted his plans to make many previously unthinkable deals—including the most elusive one of all, between Israel and the Palestinians. “There’s no reason there’s not peace between” them, he insisted this spring. “None whatsoever.”

    A few months later, the deal looks more predictably distant, and these days White House officials resort to anonymity to speak of “productive” meetings and plans to “continue our steady engagement.” Few of those who closely follow the issue think peace—or even a serious new round of negotiations—is at hand.

    Which may help explain why Oslo, a three-hour, serious-minded play about a few months back in 1993 when Middle East peace finally seemed to be within reach, is the unlikely Broadway hit of 2017, a critical success that just won this year’s Tony Award for best play and is soon to be made into a movie. Call it wish fulfillment, or a belated recognition of what could have been—especially at a moment when the Oslo dream of a permanent two-state solution is, if not dead, at best on permanent life support.

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  • My Mosul photos for free

    My name is Kainoa Little, and I am a Shoreline, Washington-based conflict photographer. I was in Mosul in April and May 2017, documenting Iraqi forces as they fought Islamic State militants to liberate the city.

    I tried and failed to find newspapers and wire services who would purchase my photos. But the soldiers had fed me and given me a seat in their Humvees, and the refugees had tolerated my presence on some of the worst days of their lives. They very rightly expected that I would tell their story.

    The worst uncertainty for me as a freelancer in conflict isn’t that I won’t be able to pay my rent; it’s that no one will see the story, and then I will have failed to give a voice to the voiceless. So I have tried to share them where I can, and hopefully people can imagine some of the human tragedy and triumph playing out in Mosul.

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  • Turkey’s indigenous culture fears extinction

    A legal battle over the ownership of dozens of churches, monasteries and other property in southeastern Turkey has embroiled one of the world’s oldest Christian communities.

    Turkish authorities have seized approximately 50 properties, totaling hundreds of thousands of square meters, from the Syriac Orthodox Church on grounds their ownership deeds had lapsed, church and community leaders said.

    An appeal by the fifth-century Mor Gabriel, one of the oldest working monasteries in the world, against the confiscation was rejected in May by a government commission charged with liquidating the assets.

    Among the properties are at least two functioning monasteries erected 1,500 years ago, said Kuryakos Ergun, the chairman of the Mor Gabriel Monastery Foundation. The loss of these monuments threaten the survival of one of Turkey’s oldest indigenous cultures.

    “Our churches and monasteries are what root Syriacs in these lands; our existence relies on them. They are our history and what sustains our culture,” Ergun said. “While the country should be protecting this heritage, we instead see our culture is at risk.”

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  • The Arab World’s Coming Challenges

    Fifty years after the Six Days War, the Middle East remains a region in seemingly perpetual crisis. So it is no surprise that, when addressing the region, politicians, diplomats, and the donor and humanitarian community typically focus on the here and now. Yet, if we are ever to break the modern Middle East’s cycle of crises, we must not lose sight of the future. And, already, four trends are brewing a new set of problems for the coming decade.

    The first trend affects the Levant. The post-Ottoman order that emerged a century ago – an order based on secular Arab nationalism – has already crumbled. The two states that gave weight to this system, Iraq and Syria, have lost their central authority, and will remain politically fragmented and socially polarized for at least a generation.

    In Lebanon, sectarianism remains the defining characteristic of politics. Jordan has reached its refugee-saturation point, and continued inflows are placing limited resources under ever-greater pressure. As for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there is no new initiative or circumstance on the political horizon that could break the deadlock.

    The Middle East is certain to face the continued movement of large numbers of people, first to the region’s calmer areas and, in many cases, beyond – primarily to Europe. The region is also likely to face intensifying contests over national identities as well, and perhaps even the redrawing of borders – processes that will trigger further confrontations.

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  • Who are the new jihadists?

    There is something new about the jihadi terrorist violence of the past two decades. Both terrorism and jihad have existed for many years, and forms of “globalised” terror – in which highly symbolic locations or innocent civilians are targeted, with no regard for national borders – go back at least as far as the anarchist movement of the late 19th century. What is unprecedented is the way that terrorists now deliberately pursue their own deaths.

    Over the past 20 years – from Khaled Kelkal, a leader of a plot to bomb Paris trains in 1995, to the Bataclan killers of 2015 – nearly every terrorist in France blew themselves up or got themselves killed by the police. Mohamed Merah, who killed a rabbi and three children at a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012, uttered a variant of a famous statement attributed to Osama bin Laden and routinely used by other jihadis: “We love death as you love life.” Now, the terrorist’s death is no longer just a possibility or an unfortunate consequence of his actions; it is a central part of his plan. The same fascination with death is found among the jihadis who join Islamic State. Suicide attacks are perceived as the ultimate goal of their engagement.

    This systematic choice of death is a recent development. The perpetrators of terrorist attacks in France in the 1970s and 1980s, whether or not they had any connection with the Middle East, carefully planned their escapes. Muslim tradition, while it recognises the merits of the martyr who dies in combat, does not prize those who strike out in pursuit of their own deaths, because doing so interferes with God’s will. So, why, for the past 20 years, have terrorists regularly chosen to die? What does it say about contemporary Islamic radicalism? And what does it say about our societies today?

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  • Al-Aswany: “Revolution, a human change”

    Those 18 days were the most beautiful days of my life,” Egyptian novelist Alaa al-Aswany says of the January 2011 demonstrations in Cairo’s Tahrir Square that swept his country into revolution, and forced dictator-president Hosni Mubarak to resign at the extraordinary, euphoric high point of the Arab spring.

    “When you live through such a big event, you are not able – or I am not able – to write a novel about it directly. You should have a distance. I have this distance now and I’m writing a novel about the revolution,” Aswany says in his deep-voiced, accented English, as we talk over glasses of hot chocolate in a cafe on Edgware Road, London.

    At first glance, his new novel – a belated arrival in its English translation, having been published in Egypt three years ago – looks like something quite different: a retreat, perhaps, from the maelstrom of Egypt’s present. Set in the 1940s, The Automobile Club of Egypt is a Middle Eastern upstairs-downstairs tale of servants and masters, Egyptians and colonials, decadent royals and family life.

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  • My Shattered Istanbul

    I’ve been told Istanbul is best at the winter, when a light snow coats its rooftops and skinny minarets reach into a dark sky, when the cobblestones are wet and the tourists are few. I do not know that place. Istanbul to me is a hot, relentless chaos that smells of salt and sour bread and fumes. Any possibility of a cold lingering fog over the strait dissolves under the loud summer sky; I cannot imagine it.

    I come here every summer. Upon landing at Ataturk Airport, after bullying my way through customs, baggage claim, and the general anarchy that is Turkish travel, I am always greeted by the innocence of June or the blanket heat of July, and then by a taxi driver.

    He’ll weave through the traffic in a way that inspires a futile desire for a seatbelt. He’ll use the exit lane and shrug that it really is just faster. He’ll ask where I’ve come from and why, if my mother is Turkish, she lives in the U.S. He’ll assume my father is American and he’ll be right. He’ll tell me then about his family of taxi drivers and the twenty-six-year-old son he lost to a car accident last month. He’ll show me his son’s photograph on a cracked mobile, rendering me a mumbling fool. He’ll shed a rogue tear. Then he’ll drive me in fits through the choked and tangled backstreets off the freeway, down through Besiktas on its main thoroughfare, left and past the old palace, and onto the winding road that borders that wide, historic strait, the Bosphorus.

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  • The trauma of facing deportation

    Georgi, a Russian refugee who came to Sweden with his family when he was five years old, could talk at length about the virtues of the Volvo. His doctor described him as “the most ‘Swedeified’ in his family.” He was also one of the most popular boys in his class. For his thirteenth birthday, two friends listed some of the qualities that he evoked: energetic, fun, happy all the time, good human being, amazingly kind, awesome at soccer, sly.

    Georgi’s father, Soslan, had helped found a pacifist religious sect in North Ossetia, a Russian province that borders Georgia. Soslan said that in 2007 security forces demanded that he disband the sect, which rejected the entanglement of the Russian Orthodox Church with the state, and threatened to kill him if he refused. He fled to Sweden with his wife, Regina, and their two children, and applied for asylum, but his claim was denied, because the Swedish Migration Board said that he hadn’t proved that he would be persecuted if he returned to Russia.

    Sweden permits refugees to reapply for asylum, and in 2014, having lived in hiding in central Sweden for six years, the family tried again. They argued that there were now “particularly distressing circumstances,” a provision that allowed the board to consider how deportation will affect a child’s psychological health. “It would be devastating if Georgi were forced to leave his community, his friends, his school, and his life,” the headmaster of Georgi’s school, Rikard Floridan, wrote in a letter to the board. He described Georgi as “an example to all classmates,” a student who spoke in “mature and nuanced language” and showed a “deep gratitude for the school.”

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  • The journey of a trafficked girl

    It was close to midnight on the coast of Libya, a few miles west of Tripoli. At the water’s edge, armed Libyan smugglers pumped air into thirty-foot rubber dinghies. Some three thousand refugees and migrants, mostly sub-Saharan Africans, silent and barefoot, stood nearby in rows of ten. Oil platforms glowed in the Mediterranean.

    The Libyans ordered male migrants to carry the inflated boats into the water, thirty on each side. They waded in and held the boats steady as a smuggler directed other migrants to board, packing them as tightly as possible. People in the center would suffer chemical burns if the fuel leaked and mixed with water. Those straddling the sides could easily fall into the sea. Officially, at least five thousand and ninety-eight migrants died in the Mediterranean last year, but Libya’s coastline is more than a thousand miles long, and nobody knows how many boats sink without ever being seen. Several of the migrants had written phone numbers on their clothes, so that someone could call their families if their bodies washed ashore.

    The smugglers knelt in the sand and prayed, then stood up and ordered the migrants to push off. One pointed to the sky. “Look at this star!” he said. “Follow it.” Each boat left with only enough fuel to reach international waters.

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  • The Dirtbag Left’s Man in Syria

    Brace Belden can’t remember exactly when he decided to give up his life as a punk-rocker turned florist turned boxing-gym manager in San Francisco, buy a plane ticket to Iraq, sneak across the border into Syria, and take up arms against the Islamic State. But as with many major life decisions, Belden, who is 27 — “a true idiot’s age,” in his estimation — says it happened gradually and then all at once.

    For several years, Belden had been reading about Rojava, a large swath of northern Syria that had been carved out by a Kurdish political party and its military wing, the YPG (or People’s Protection Units), in the ruins of Syria’s civil war. The YPG had become one of the most effective bulwarks against ISIS, so much so that the Pentagon had offered support, and Western volunteers, many of them military veterans, had started enlisting. But Belden was less interested in the YPG’s battlefield victories than in what it was trying to build: a semi-autonomous region operating under a more or less socialist system. To Belden, who’d identified as a Marxist since he was a teenager, Rojava looked like Spain in 1936: Capitalism reigned supreme, and fascism was on the march, but here was an opportunity to halt the latter and foment revolution against the former. After several months of wondering whether he was truly prepared to kill for his political beliefs, and several more figuring out how to actually join a Kurdish militia, Belden told his girlfriend that he was going to Syria to do humanitarian work and got on a plane.

    When I first talked to Belden, in November, he had been in Syria for two months and was looking forward to his first shower in weeks. “Incredibly filthy right down to the bone,” he said via text message. It was Thanksgiving Day in America, but Belden wasn’t celebrating. His tabor, or platoon, had spent the past three weeks advancing on Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto capital, clearing villages of ISIS fighters along the way. They were resting in an abandoned grain silo near Ayn Issa, where a U.S. Navy officer had just been killed by an IED. “Part of me knew what I was getting into,” Belden said. “But when I got here, it sort of hit me: Oh, shit, I joined a Third World army that’s fighting ISIS.”

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  • Saga of a Cairo Novelist Imprisoned for Obscenity

    On a scorching Saturday morning in July, Ahmed Naji stood in the crowded cage of a Cairo courtroom. The 31-year-old author had been convicted six months earlier of “violating public morality” for publishing a piece of literature. In his novel, Using Life, an irreverent portrayal of youth culture on the cusp of the 2011 Egyptian revolution, the protagonist performs cunnilingus, rolls hash joints and gulps from bottles of vodka. Censors had approved the book, which is also sometimes translated as The Use of Life, but when an excerpt appeared in Cairo’s premier literary review, Akhbar Al-Adab, an absurd series of events eventually led Naji to prison. Though he was released in December thanks to a high-powered team of Egyptian lawyers and campaigns from international arts communities, he lives in fear that anything he says or writes could land him back in Egypt’s most notorious prison. He described to Rolling Stone how self-censorship has entered into his considerations at the keyboard. “When you are writing, you are thinking… someone will read something or this could affect the case and so on,” says Naji. “It’s hard to move on and write.”

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  • Stories From Inside Solitary Confinement

    It is brutal. It is torture by definition. It destroys the mind, body, and soul, making rehabilitation next to impossible. It is also outrageously expensive, and it doesn’t work. Yet at the end of the Obama era, and the dawn of Trump’s, isolation is as widely used as ever in the American penal system. And this is what it feels like.

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  • Radio-Free Syria

    The overhead light in the blue Mazda 626 wasn’t working. Raed Fares, a Syrian activist whose video protests skewer ISIS and President Bashar al-Assad alike, reached up to fiddle with the light bulb before squeezing himself out of the driver’s side door. The street was in darkness. In the last few years, the Assad government cut most of the electricity (along with running water and mobile-phone service) to Kafranbel, the town in northwestern Syria where Fares lives. The only light came from an LED strip in his neighbor’s front doorway that was hooked up to a car battery. It was 12:45 a.m. on Jan. 29, 2014, and Fares, who often works until 4 a.m., had left the office early. As he fumbled to fit his key into the car’s lock, he heard the slap-slap of feed running toward him.

    Here they come, he thought.

    The feet stopped just in front of his car. The Czech pistol he usually carries was in his house, 15 feet away. In the watery glow of the light behind him, Fares could make out two ISIS soldiers. One, clad in a woolen mask, ammunition vest, windbreaker and unlaced boots, opened fire, spraying the car, the mud wall and Fares with bullets. Fares felt their heat seat through his canvas jacket and jean skirt and into the right side of his chest and shoulder. When he collapsed to the ground, a childhood nightmare returned: three black dogs, chasing him.

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  • Two Women, One Cause

    They make an unusual team. Amal Clooney is an Oxford-educated human-rights lawyer married to a film star. Nadia Murad was born in a poor Iraqi village and once aspired to become a teacher. Clooney is tall, dazzling and so recognisable that people walk up to her in the street and tell her they love her. Murad is small, shy and avoids eye contact. Yet among her people, the Yazidis, Murad is better known and more admired than any other woman on Earth. Murad is a symbol of survival for a minority threatened with extermination. She was once a slave of Islamic State (IS). And, almost alone among former prisoners of IS, she is willing to testify publicly and repeatedly about the terrible things the jihadists did to her.
    Clooney is Murad’s lawyer, and the two women are working to bring the leaders of IS before an international court for inflicting genocide on the Yazidis. The story of their campaign is an extraordinary one: a tale of pious savagery pitted against truth, law and the soft power of celebrity.
    It begins in August 2014, when Murad was a 21-year-old student. That month, IS fighters arrived in her village, Kocho, on the Nineveh plain. They were a terrifying mob, all of them heavily armed and many speaking languages that no one in Kocho understood.
    The jihadists saw Nadia and her neighbours as the worst sort of infidels. The Yazidi faith has no holy book, but draws on a mix of Mesopotamian traditions. Yazidis revere a peacock angel that temporarily fell from God’s grace; many Muslims regard this as devil-worship.

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  • The Muslim Brotherhood Today

    Islamist parties have been rocked by the dramatic political upheavals in the Arab world during the past five years. After a decade of patient political participation, outreach to the West, and careful positioning against al-Qaeda, several Islamist parties—all part of the broader Muslim Brotherhood movement—rapidly took over positions of political power in the wake of the 2010–2011 Arab uprisings. These parties won electoral victories in Egypt, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia, and they played key roles in Western-backed political coalitions in Syria and Yemen.

    However, these openings were just as quickly reversed. Tunisia’s Ennahdha Party stepped down from power in January 2014 in the midst of political turmoil, and Libya’s Islamists fared poorly when legislative elections were held in late June 2014. Most strikingly, the Egyptian military coup of July 3, 2013, overthrew Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood figure who had been elected president in 2012, and triggered an intense crackdown against the organization across the region.

    These reversals not only undermined short-term political gains by Islamist political parties, but they also disrupted carefully cultivated gradualist political strategies, discredited long-held ideological and strategic convictions, and reshaped the terrain of Islamist politics. Prior to the Arab uprisings, most Islamist parties presented fairly stable and predictable political strategies, organizational structures, and ideological positions. Both the political openings of 2011 and the harsh reversals in subsequent years placed new demands on these movements. Hasty, erratic political maneuvering replaced cautious long-term political strategies as Islamists struggled to grasp new opportunities and respond to new threats. Today, most Islamist parties find themselves navigating in uncharted waters as they struggle with new forms of state repression, social polarization, organizational distress, regional rivalries, international hostility, and intra-Islamist competition.

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  • The children of Islamic State

    A couple of questions had taken me to that cold austere corner of war with its concrete, mesh and bars. The broken man seated before me had been a child recruit of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Under Islamic State he had grown old, though it seemed somehow as if the shadow of a boy still loitered somewhere in the room.

    “Did you ever, on any occasion before, during or after killing, have cause to regret or doubt your actions?” I wanted to ask him. “Did you ever have any suspicion that what you were doing might be wrong?”

    If I knew the answer to those questions, if I knew whether at some point – when as a teenager he had cut the heads from five prisoners who were lying face down, side by side, shoulder to shoulder – he had felt a sense of doubt or wrongdoing or remorse or regret, then perhaps I could better understand what might happen to the children of the caliphate the day Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s edifice finally crumbles to dust.

    Could they be somehow retrieved and rescued, or would they be for ever lost to the darkness of unquestioning, murderous intent?

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