• Life Inside ‘Islamic State’: Diaries

    In five diary entries, a Syrian man describes the horror of everyday life in the IS stronghold of Raqqa.

    Ever since ‘Islamic State’ took control of Raqqa in Syria, little has been known about day-to-day life there. The penalty for speaking to western media is beheading. Few dare to talk.IS forbids people from leaving Raqqa without permission. They have introduced tough controls on internet cafes, tightened the monitoring of mobile phone networks and banned the sale of televisions.

    But over the last year, Mike Thomson of Radio 4’s Today programme has made contact with a small, anti-IS group called Al-Sharqiya 24. One of its members agreed to write a series of diaries for the BBC about life in Raqqa. We have changed some details of his story, read by an actor, to protect his identity.

    Read more.

    ...

  • To Syria And Back

    By her own account, Samantha Sally had a comfortable life for years in Elkhart, Ind., with her Moroccan husband and their children.

    But on a family vacation to Turkey in 2015, Sally says her husband, Moussa Elhassani, tricked the entire family into crossing the border into Syria.

    She described that fateful moment in an interview with CNN last spring in Syria:

    “The position I was in was to stay with my son or watch my husband leave with my daughter. I had to make a decision. I thought we could walk back across the border again,” she said.

    Read more.

    ...

  • Austenistan

    Two sisters attempt to use a 19th century novelist to outwit modern Pakistani restrictions on women. And a war reporter discovers the power of drawing room comedy to understand her own family. Listen to story here.

    ...

  • Mentally Ill Inmates Punished For Their Symptoms

    By some accounts, nearly half of America’s incarcerated population is mentally ill — and journalist Alisa Roth argues that most aren’t getting the treatment they need.

    Roth has visited jails in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Atlanta and a rural women’s prison in Oklahoma to assess the condition of mentally ill prisoners. She says correctional officers are on the “front lines” of mental health treatment — despite the fact that they lack clinical training.”

    Most of [the correctional officers] will talk about how this is not what they signed up,” Roth says. “Most of them have not had much training in dealing with mental illness — or they’ve had none at all.”

    Read more.

    ...

  • The Mafia Under the Spotlight

    It is thought to be the most powerful Mafia organisation in the world and yet few people have heard of it. The ‘Ndrangheta crime syndicate has used the enormous wealth derived from its control of Cocaine smuggling to spread its tentacles far and wide around the world. The crime organisation began as bandits in the late 19th century in Calabria in southern Italy and is now thought to be operating in 50 countries. The ‘Ndrangheta shuns the limelight but earlier this year a brutal murder brought it unwelcome attention. Investigative reporter Jan Kuciak was shot dead while investigating possible links between the ‘Ndrangheta and the government in his native Slovakia. Suddenly the Mafia was in the news. For Assignment Andrew Hosken travels to Slovakia and Italy to investigate the killing and the ‘Ndrangheta’s global reach and power.

    Read more.

    ...

  • Sisters’ journey into the Syrian jihad

    It was October 2013. ISIS had splintered off from al-Qaeda earlier that year.

    The militant group grows stronger and attracts recruits from all over the world, many from Western Europe.

    Ayan and her younger sister Leila are Somali-Norwegian teenagers living in an affluent neighborhood outside of Oslo. They leave their adopted homeland to travel to Syria and marry ISIS fighters.

    Author Asne Seierstad shares the family’s story in her latest book, “Two Sisters: A Father, His Daughters and Their Journey into the Syrian Jihad.”

    At first, says Seierstad, Ayan and Leila’s mother is worried that the girls are becoming “too Norwegian” and sends them to classes with a charismatic Quran teacher. And that’s when the parents notice a change.

    Read more.

    ...

  • Arrest of Egyptian satirist

    Twenty Egyptian policemen in plainclothes broke into the home of a young satirist on Sunday morning in the suburbs of Cairo. Authorities whisked away vlogger Shadi Abu Zeid and confiscated his computers, cash and electronics. But he was neither taken to a local police department nor charged in a civilian court. His whereabouts remained unknown for more than a day, until Monday evening, when his sister posted online that he had appeared at a state security prosecutor’s hearing in Cairo.

    Egyptian authorities have yet to disclose charges facing Abu Zeid, a comic known for his YouTube channel. Experts say he is likely to be tried under the stringent 2015 counter-terrorism law that has indiscriminately been deployed against perceived dissenters. The Egyptian Embassy — which distributed two press releases on Monday afternoon about monetary policy — did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

    “This is not an exceptional case, and it’s not about satire,” said Nancy Okail, executive director of the Washington-based Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy. One might argue that the primary difference between Abu Zeid and the thousands of others currently detained in Egyptian custody is that we know the young comedian’s name.

    Read more.

    ...

  • The Merchant of Syria

    It has been seven years since the war in Syria began. In that time it has cost the lives of some 350,000 people. Diana Darke’s new book, “The Merchant of Syria: A History of Survival” is a biography of Abu Chaker, a textile merchant who left his country to build up a business empire in the 1970s in Yorkshire. Dan Damon heard how the story of his tumultuous life reflects that of his country. Listen to the story.

    ...

  • Deportation in America

    A tougher stance on immigration is the signature position of the Trump Administration, and the President’s first year in office has been marked by sharply increased numbers of arrests of unauthorized immigrants. In this hour, we explore immigration and deportation from the perspective of a Wisconsin diary farm, a conservative Washington think tank, the mother of a deportee, and a sanctuary church where a woman is hiding in plain sight from immigration enforcement.

    Listen to radio story.

    ...

  • Changing lives of those who cannot speak

    Millions are robbed of the power of speech by illness, injury or lifelong conditions. Can the creation of bespoke digital voices transform their ability to communicate?

    Listen to radio story.

    ...

  • Mohsin Hamid on leaving home

    With millions of people on the move around the world, the novelist Mohsin Hamid has set his latest novel against the backdrop of the refugee crisis. He tells Kirsty Wark how he imagined those fleeing home passing through mysterious black doors into other parts of the world. The lawyer and sociologist Carol Bohmer examines the culture of suspicion which greets migrants when they arrive. She looks at how officials judge the line between truth and deception, and increasingly label people as liars, criminals or terrorists. While many countries are looking to fortify their borders, the former Portuguese Europe Minister Bruno Maçães believes we need to think on a super-continental scale. He travelled overland from the edges of Europe to the heart of Asia arguing for a new world order. But the theatre director Robert Hastie is more interested in what connects people to the land and their origins, as he revives Peter Gill’s play The York Realist – a reflection on the rival forces of place, class and longing. Read more.

    ...

  • A Good Book

    Daniel Hahn, a judge for this year’s Man Booker International Prize, asks what really makes a good book.

    Listen on BBC website.

    ...

  • Author Flees After Threats & Ban

    Abbad Yahya is used to controversy. For the last five years, the young Palestinian novelist has been writing books that have been criticized for including sex and politically unpopular opinions.

    Yahya, who’s 28, expected similar complaints about his fourth novel, Crime in Ramallah, published in Arabic late last year, which chronicles the lives of three young men affected by a woman’s murder in the city where the Palestinian Authority has its headquarters.

    “I thought the book may raise some noise and provoke writers, intellectuals or readers,” he says. “But I was really shocked when I started to read what people are writing about me.”

    In February, angry Palestinians wrote on his Facebook page, and their own pages, that they wanted to lynch Yahya and burn bookstores and libraries carrying Crime in Ramallah.

    They were especially outraged that one of the characters in the book, Noor, is a gay man who, in one scene, seems to be defiling the memory of Yasser Arafat, the late Palestinian leader who remains a revered figure.

    Read more.

    ...

  • A Story Of Displacement

    At the very start of Hala Alyan’s novel Salt Houses, a woman buys a coffee set — a dozen cups, a coffee pot, a tray. It’s a simple act that unexpectedly becomes painful. The woman is Palestinian — part of a family displaced after the founding of Israel — and the tray reminds her of an old one she lost in one of the family’s many moves.

    Alyan builds her story on little moments like that — a peek into the lives of several generations, forced to relocate and resettle. Her characters are lost and looking for a home.

    The Palestinian-American author writes from experience. She says she imagined her fictional characters with her own displaced family members in mind.

    “I definitely think there was an intergenerational trauma that went along with losing a homeland that you see trickle down through the different generations,” she says.

    Read more.

    ...

  • Hope, rebellion & power in a music video

    But upon its release this summer, “Roman” unexpectedly became an anthem for women’s empowerment.

    “I definitely didn’t have that in mind when we were writing the song,” says Sinno. He says the meaning of the song was only transformed when the band met Jessy Moussallem, a film director, who pitched the idea that the music video should be about patriarchy.

    In the video, a woman in a hijab contorts in a modern dance in an abandoned concrete building. She leads other women, many in brightly colored abayas —the conservative, loose-fitting robe worn by some Muslim women — to a beach. They hold hands and make kaleidoscope patterns through dance. Their expressions are defiant; they radiate self-respect. Later, a covered woman rides a galloping white steed.

    Read more.

    ...

  • “Our Man in the Middle East”

    BBC’s Jeremy Bowen presents a personal history of the Middle East in a series of radio episodes. Visit series.

    ...

  • German Professor Supports Refugees

    It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the size of the refugee problem confronting the world today. According to the U.N. Refugee Agency, more than 30,000 people are forced to flee their homes every day because of conflict or persecution.

    But one energetic university professor in Germany decided that bemoaning and hand-wringing wasn’t solving anything, so she decided to take action.

    Carmen Bachmann is a professor of tax and finance at Leipzig University. There are some 6,000 political refugees living in Leipzig, and the government is only able to supply their basic needs. She could have helped by volunteering for relief agencies that collect clothing or furniture for the refugees, but that didn’t seem to her the best use of her time.

    “I’m a full professor,” she told me when I visited her Leipzig office. “I thought my contribution to [easing] this problem is what my profession is.”

    Read more.

    ...

  • From Airwaves to Earbuds

    Podcasting and other forms of on-demand digital audio are growing. Edison Research reports that, based on a survey conducted in January and February 2016, an estimated 155 million Americans over 12 had listened to some form of online radio in the preceding month, and 57 million had listened to a podcast.

    The runaway success of the podcast “Serial,” which originated within the public radio show “This American Life,” helped spark interest in the medium, which is reaching new audiences, giving rise to new voices and creating new revenue streams.

    Seeking to accelerate positive change, Knight Foundation made several recent investments to support the advancement of journalism and public information programming delivered through podcasting and on-demand audio formats. This report summarizes initial findings from the experiences of several recent Knight grantees working in this rapidly emerging field: Project Carbon, which comprises grants to NPR and several local public radio stations to build out the digital infrastructure of public radio; Radiotopia, a new podcasting network developed by Knight partner PRX Inc.; WNYC Discover, a mobile podcasting application; and a Knight Enterprise Fund investment in Gimlet Media, a private podcasting company started by public radio veterans.

    Read more.

    ...

  • Lahiri Finds Freedom In Italian Memoir

    In 1999, Jhumpa Lahiri won a Pulitzer Prize for her very first book, Interpreter of Maladies. Her 2003 novel, Namesake, was turned into a movie, and she went on to publish Unaccustomed Earth and The Lowland.

    But Lahiri wasn’t satisfied. “I’ve always been searching to arrive at a certain voice that will probably elude me forever,” she tells NPR’s Ari Shapiro. So Lahiri is trying something new — very new.

    She wrote her new memoir, In Other Words, in Italian. “One week after moving to Rome I started writing in my diary in Italian. That was the first step I took on this road, and I haven’t really stopped yet,” she says.

    Read more.

    ...

  • Carnegie: Collapse of the Middle East

    The Middle East is facing what a new study calls a collapsing regional order. The Arab Spring may have swept away authoritarian regimes, but they weren’t replaced with what a new report from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace says the region needs – pluralistic societies with minority rights. The study’s called “Arab Fractures.” Marwan Muasher is a co-author, also a former deputy prime minister of Jordan. It came out just as the Trump administration announced a ban on travel from several Middle Eastern countries – a ban Muasher says affected his colleagues.

    Read more.

    ...

  • IS Terror ‘All Over the World’

    New York Times reporter Rukmini Callimachi is known for her in-depth reporting on terrorism and the Islamic State. Her recent jailhouse interview with Harry Sarfo, a German citizen who joined ISIS and trained in Syria before disavowing the group, revealed the organization’s particular interest in recruits from Europe. “[Harry] was very much a desirable target for them, given his German passport and his experience living in London — two countries that they’re still trying to infiltrate,” Callimachi tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross.

    In addition to her on-the-ground reporting, Callimachi follows ISIS’ encrypted social media channels and communicates through social media with people connected to the terror group. She says that the group’s recruiting efforts are widespread and focus on both the “mentally unwell” and those who have been “radicalized since birth.”

    Callimachi says the individual motivations of the recruits don’t really matter as long as they contribute to the Islamic State’s primary objective. “The purpose of this group is to spread terror, to spread it all over the world, to make the kaffir, the infidel — which is us — feel as if they’re not safe anywhere,” she says. “That’s their end goal.”

    Read more.

    ...

  • Marjorie Liu: How Rejection Shaped Her Writing

    San Diego Comic-Con is over. Nerds from all around the world have packed up their costumes, wiped off their makeup and left the city. Many of them will bring home more than just collectibles and photos. They’ll also bring back memories of meeting their favorite artists and writers.

    Marjorie Liu is one of those writers; she wrote the epic fantasy comic book Monstress with Japanese artist, Sana Takeda. Throughout the weekend, fans flocked to their booth to meet Liu and have her sign their copies of the book.

    “Thank you guys so much for making this book,” 26-year-old Jessica Wooden said as she approached the table, “It’s eye-opening,” she laughed, “and it’s just great.” Liu looked up and smiled. “That means the world to us. Thank you so much,” she said, handing the book back to Wooden.

    Read more.

    ...

  • Syria’s Secret Library

    Away from the sound of bombs and bullets, in the basement of a crumbling house in the besieged Syrian town of Darayya, is a secret library. It’s home to thousands of books rescued from bombed-out buildings by local volunteers, who daily brave snipers and shells to fill it’s shelves. In a town gripped by hunger and death after three years without food aid, Mike Thomson reveals how this literary sanctuary is proving a lifeline to a community shattered by war. Produced by Michael Gallagher and translated by

    Listen to radio story.

    ...

  • ‘I Write About Awful People’ Gay Talese

    Journalist Gay Talese has never shied away from controversial topics. He took on the mafia in Honor Thy Father and dove deep into America’s sex life in Thy Neighbor’s Wife. But even Talese paused when he first heard about the Manor House Motel in Aurora Colo., back in 1980. Innkeeper Gerald Foos had outfitted his motel with a special platform which allowed him to spy on his guests — and he invited Talese to take a peek as well. Talese, a man of seemigly insatiable curiosity, did just that. But Foos demanded anonymity, so Talese decided not to write about the experience. Until now.

    His new book The Voyeur’s Motel is based on Foos’ journals, and Talese is already on the defensive about it. Last week, after the Washington Post unearthed some discrepancies in Foos’s story, Talese disavowed the book — then quickly changed his mind and now says the Postwas wrong, and he stands by his story. He tells NPR’s Lynn Neary that he was very upset when the Post initially confronted him, because “for 60-some years, I’d been a reporter who took pride in getting the facts right, and I was now told I got the facts wrong.”

    Read more.

    ...

  • The Island, the Sea, the Volunteer & the Refugee

    A new series in which Poets respond to stories underneath the world news headlines

    As the pressure in Greece from the humanitarian refugee crisis subsides, Poet Louise Wallwein who has a long-standing relationship with the Island of Kos, travels back to Kos Town where she worked as a volunteer helping arriving refugees during the past year . In the wake of an agreement with Turkey, as the numbers of migrants crossing the sea from Bodrum to Kos falls dramatically, she travels back to find out how the humanitarian crisis played out on their doorstep has affected the Islanders and to meet the refugees who are left behind.

    The trip inspired Louise to write a ballad based on what she has heard and seen.

    Listen to story.

    ...