In response to:
“And the Oscar Goes to… A Simplified Story of Syria’s Civil War,” NYR Daily, February 6, 2020.
To the Editor:
Since December 1, when the Syrian regime and Russia resumed their assault on Idlib, 832,000 civilians have been displaced, most of them children. Two hundred and eighty-six civilians were killed in the month of January alone. The last bastions of the revolution, Saraqeb, Kafranbl, and Ma’arrat al-Nu’man, have fallen. This is the biggest displacement of the war yet—and the majority of those fleeing were already refugees, once, twice, even six times over.
Still convulsed from the so-called refugee crisis of 2015, the West worries about migration, but less so about its causes.… Seguir leyendo »
Syria’s unfinished civil war may be the most amply documented conflict in history. Much of it has been broadcast live, with participants and observers posting breathless, hand-held footage from the first ecstatic protests in 2011 to the many lurid horrors that came afterward. Yet this tsunami of images seems often to obscure rather than clarify a complex war with many sides. The fact that photos and video clips have been so often adopted and brandished by Syrian partisans in defense of their warring narratives, which contend both online and in the streets, has further numbed our senses. “I was there,” all these witnesses seem to shout.… Seguir leyendo »
Before Shiyan, a city in Hubei province, went into quarantine, the sum of thirty yuan (about $4) could buy two cabbages, enough spring onions for two soups, a large white radish, two lettuces, a potato, and ten eggs. Not any more. Wanting to record the hiked prices, I took two photos of price cards in my local district’s largest supermarket. Immediately, a shop assistant approached. “You can’t do that,” she said. “Please delete them.” Even after I agreed, she stood peering over my shoulder to see my phone, to make sure that the images were gone. “You could report her,” a local resident told me later: national orders have forbidden merchants to raise their prices.… Seguir leyendo »
Jared Kushner said he read twenty-five books about the Middle East before hatching the Trump “Deal of the Century,” the White House plan for Israel and the Palestinians. I wonder if one book was the novel Let It Be Morning, by Sayed Kashua, first published in Israel in 2004. In it, Kashua, who was born in the town of Tira in Israel’s Wadi Ara, an area also known as “The Triangle,” envisions a day when a peace agreement between Israel and a newly independent Palestinian state brings change to his village:
Many rolls of barbed wire are blocking the road… they stretch as far as the eye can see… the wire runs around the entire village… In the distance we see that besides the tanks blocking the road, there are others in the fields.… Seguir leyendo »
Two days before he was sworn in to preside over the US Senate impeachment trial of President Donald J. Trump, the Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts conducted a hearing on a different case entirely: concerning whether two former aides to former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie were properly convicted for running afoul of US anti-corruption statutes.
The Bridgegate trial, as it came to be known, was a result of an extraordinary abuse of power. Christie, a Republican, had set up a series of both rewards to entice and punishments to deter local elected officials in New Jersey.
His particular aim, back in 2013, was to run up the totals of Democratic mayors who had endorsed him during his gubernatorial campaign for re-election that year—to build a record of bipartisan support in anticipation of his own 2016 presidential bid.… Seguir leyendo »
At a mud-caked intersection this month, some hundred-and-fifty feet from the front line, a lanky militia fighter approached and then abruptly turned around when he saw me, a Westerner. I’ve been covering Libya’s conflicts for years and noticed some minor but distinctive details about his appearance: a do-rag tied around his head, an olive green tactical vest, and perhaps a certain military bearing. The Libyan commander I was with confirmed it, with a chuckle: “That’s not a Libyan look.”
Fifteen minutes later, I was inside a poured-concrete villa that served as the living quarters for a group of war-hardened Syrian fighters.… Seguir leyendo »
A few days into the wave of strikes in December against French President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reforms, a rumor went around that he’d recently met the boss of US investment fund giant BlackRock, Larry Fink. It’s true that since becoming president, Macron has met with Fink on several occasions. It’s true also that the firm has taken a clear interest in French government policy on retirement savings. But the rumor was false.
It didn’t matter: France’s social media networks went into overdrive. A YouTube video showing images of an earlier Macron–Fink meeting with the caption “Pension reform is BlackRock reform” went viral.… Seguir leyendo »
Because the Chinese government depends on repression to stay in power, it sees the defense of human rights as threatening. But to prevent global criticism of its tightening domestic crackdown, Beijing is increasingly undermining the international system for protecting human rights, putting everyone in greater jeopardy.
To maintain its grasp on power at home, the Chinese Communist Party has constructed an Orwellian high-tech surveillance state and a sophisticated Internet censorship system to monitor and suppress public criticism. Now, China has begun to use its growing economic and diplomatic clout to extend that censorship abroad, silencing critics and carrying out the most intense attack on the global system for enforcing human rights seen since its emergence in the mid-twentieth century.… Seguir leyendo »
In a major speech in May 2018, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo outlined how the Trump administration sought to make Americans more secure from attack by Iran, deny that adversary a path to acquiring nuclear weapons, stop Iranian-backed terrorism, and reduce Iranian influence in the Middle East. By affirming these objectives, Secretary Pompeo was broadly adhering to the bipartisan consensus on US–Iranian policy that has prevailed for the last half-century. But to achieve these goals, President Trump and his administration adopted a radically different strategy from the previous administration’s.
President Obama and his administration made denying Iran a nuclear weapon their highest priority, and then deployed a mix of coercive and engagement policies—economic sanctions, cyber-attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities, as well as direct bilateral diplomacy—to persuade the Iranian government to negotiate an agreement to constrain Iran’s nuclear weapons program, which came to be known as Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).… Seguir leyendo »
The Haddad family have moved since I first visited them in Jordan last year in 2018: they’re still living in the same building in East Amman, but this time ten-year-old Saber led me past the door of the apartment I knew and up to the next floor. It was cosier, because it was smaller, and therefore cheaper—150 Jordanian dinars a month (about $210) rather than 250 dinars ($350) for the more spacious floor below. Spacious, yes, but the old one felt more desolate as a result. The furniture seemed sparse, if, on occasion, innovative. The baby’s cradle was a plastic vegetable crate, lined with blankets, hung from a water pipe in the ceiling, free to swing.… Seguir leyendo »
Assam, India—In this northeastern state of India, a plague of documents is afflicting nervous citizens. Home to around 30 million people, Assam is a kind of cartographic anomaly wedged between India’s neighbors China, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and Myanmar. The oppressions of bureaucratic record-keeping owe much to the country’s former colonial government, but today the malignant paperwork serves a different ideology, that of saffron-hued Hindu nationalism.
The governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has forced all residents of Assam to prove they are citizens, or face incarceration, deportation, or drastic marginalization. It is here in Assam that the BJP’s process of legal harassment of Muslim Indians began—harassment that has set off a wave of protests nationwide, in which dozens have died, thousands have been jailed, and mobs have attacked minority communities.… Seguir leyendo »
Surveillance video footage showing the murder of a businessman in Moscow in 2013; Russian police identified Vadim Krasikov as the suspected attacker, seen escaping on a bicycle. Krasikov is now in prison as chief suspect in another assassination, in Berlin in August 2019, that German authorities say was commissioned either by Russia or Chechnya.
The last fortnight has seen new revelations in two separate cases of suspected Russian state murder. In one of these cases, the alleged hit squad was directly a unit of the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence service. In the other, German authorities recently concluded that there is “sufficient evidence” that the Russian state, or its federated southern republic Chechnya, is responsible for the execution-style killing of an ethnic Chechen asylum-seeker; as a result, two officers of the GRU have been expelled from the Russian embassy in Berlin.… Seguir leyendo »
The immediate, clear consequence of the UK election of December 12, 2019, is that Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party has succeeded where Theresa May’s failed in the last general election, in 2017—by winning an emphatic parliamentary majority that can pass the legislation necessary to facilitate Britain’s departure from the European Union. The faint irony of that two-year hiatus and the handover of party leadership from May to Johnson is that the latter’s deal is rather worse—from the Brexiteers’ point of view—than the one May repeatedly failed to get past Parliament. Nevertheless, the 2019 general election will go down as the moment British voters in effect voted a resounding “yes” in a de facto second referendum on Brexit and gave Boris Johnson a mandate to make his deal law and attempt to meet the latest Brexit deadline (January 31, 2020).… Seguir leyendo »
If I dream, it invariably takes the form of being hunted by men with guns—in a house, in a forest, on a street. Sometimes these dreams end with me being shot, sometimes with me stabbing someone. I only ever stab someone, even though, growing up, we had a gun, illegally, in the house—a double-barreled shotgun that my father kept beneath his bed and that we’d use occasionally for shooting rabbits. In my dreams I never see the face of the man I’m stabbing. I’ve had these dreams all my adult life. Maybe they’re common among people like me, maybe they’re not.… Seguir leyendo »
There is an old Argentine wisecrack that says: a person who leaves Argentina for six months, and then returns, finds the country completely transformed, but someone who returns after an absence of ten years finds that things are more or less as he or she left them. It is a joke but one whose accuracy would seem to be borne out by the results of the October 27 general election that repudiated the neoliberal government of Mauricio Macri and his Cambiemos (“Let’s Change”) party that had been in power since 2015, and instead made Alberto Fernández president and former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner the new vice-president.… Seguir leyendo »
Moad Rayan, a twenty-five-year-old Arab citizen of Israel, had planned to study engineering in England—but it was not to be. On February 1, 2009, he drove with a friend to his local supermarket in Kafr Bara, a town about fifteen miles east of Tel Aviv, and as he waited in the car outside, another car pulled up and two masked men got out, drawing their guns. They sprayed him with bullets and drove off. “Until today, no one knows why,” his father, Kamel, told me recently. Since Moad’s murder, the police have not found any suspects. “It’s not just my son,” said Kamel.… Seguir leyendo »
In mid-November, when protests against Lebanon’s venal, incompetent, and bankrupt government had already been taking place for three weeks, President Michel Aoun dismissed the demonstrators: if they weren’t satisfied with the country’s political leadership, they should “emigrate.” But young Lebanese have been doing just that, by the thousands, for decades. The country runs, to a large extent, on the money they send home. In 2018, the remittances of the huge Lebanese diaspora accounted for about 13 percent of the country’s GDP.
Until recently, there were three options for young people in Lebanon, a friend told me when I visited the country last month: you could join one of the country’s sectarian factions, trading loyalty for patronage; “go into internal exile, smoking pot with your ten friends”; or get out.… Seguir leyendo »
A small Turkish flag was standing on the desk of the offices of the Turkish-backed faction in a residential area of Şanlıurfa, in southern Turkey. The men in the room, most of them veteran fighters from eastern Syria, were expecting me and did their best to locate a Syrian revolutionary flag in time for our meeting in the summer of 2019. They could not find one. Everything about the meeting, its location, décor, and content, indicated to me that the men in the room were not the ones in charge. They hoped soon to launch an offensive on northeastern Syria, but had no idea when the real decision-makers, Turkish officials, would give them their marching orders.… Seguir leyendo »
For nearly six months, people around the world have watched the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong with one question in the back of their minds: When will Beijing lose patience and the repression begin? Journalists expecting to cover Tiananmen II flew in for the most promising global story of the year, its allure bolstered by the protesters’ ability to speak English and the easily digestible narrative of David vs. Goliath, democracy vs. authoritarianism, right vs. might.
This perspective was reflected in coverage of this past weekend’s district council elections. Although these usually hinge on intensely local issues, they were pegged as a chance for voters to give a verdict on the protests.… Seguir leyendo »
On the night of Evo Morales’s 2006 inauguration as president of Bolivia, the streets of La Paz, the country’s capital, were electric. A man who had once fed on discarded orange peels as a boy was becoming his nation’s leader. For the first time in the country’s history, the indigenous majority would look to the national palace and see one of their own, a president who came from among them and knew their lives firsthand. The streets were filled with both the humble and an assortment of Latin America’s glitterati: Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez zipped by in a tinted-window SUV; the aging Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano prepared to deliver an address.… Seguir leyendo »