Daughters of Diaspora: two Algerian sisters, one in Texas, one in Paris
MAY 17, 2015
Djida waited until just before they left their home in Algiers to tell her 10-year-old daughter, Nada, that they were going to a new life in France.
You can take one thing with you, she told her. A neighbor, a police officer, was waiting in his car to ensure they made it to the airport safely.
It was June 18, 1994, and Algeria was in the third year of what would become known as the Black Decade, a savage civil war that broke out after the government invalidated elections set to be won by the Front of Islamic Salvation. While the government would eventually win the war, the death toll mounted to more than 150,000 civilians.
Women had become easy prey in a battle of competing visions of what Algeria should be — observant or secular — and some were brutally killed for wearing the veil, while others paid the same price for refusing it. [full story]
A Foggy Future in Coal Country
FEB 13, 2015
WHITESVILLE, W. Va. — Only minutes after turning off Interstate 64, cell service disappears and a world that seems untouched by time appears in the fog-covered valleys that unfold along sinuous Coal River Road.
There are none of the chain businesses that make towns across America look disconcertingly similar. The houses that dot the roadside were last updated long ago, and many of the arteries that branch off the main thoroughfare and into the hills above remain unpaved.
Though so much wealth has been extracted from these once coal-rich mountains, there are no visible traces of any windfall to the people or the land that made it possible. There is no sign that any thought was ever given in preparation for a day that could have been foreseen, a day when coal wouldn’t be king in the country’s choice of energy sources and when the people here wouldn’t be needed. [full story]
In exile, Syrians build the country they never could under regime
DEC 12, 2014
Leaders stitch together a civil society in Lebanon, hoping to take programs back home
BEIRUT — For six years, Fadi Hallisso faithfully followed all the steps required to become a Jesuit priest. He gave up his career as a civil engineer in Syria. He spent two years of his novitiate in Cairo, reflecting deeply on his calling, including a month spent in silence. He took three vows, pledging poverty, celibacy and obedience.
But last spring, he quit. [full story]
Neighbor Against Neighbor: Tracking the Exiles of Green Mosque Road in Kurdistan
OCT 18, 2014
MAKHMOUR, Iraq — On this nameless street, colloquially known to residents only as Green Mosque Road, the high walls that line the sidewalks make each house a compound unto itself, with only roofs and treetops visible to the outside. But behind these walls, neighbors say they shared their lives — weddings, funerals, holidays and meals — and lived as one family.
The Kurdish Mohsens and the Arab Mareis, whose houses are at opposite ends of their block, broke bread together for years, whether in their homes or on picnics in the cooler mountains above their town, some 60 miles south of Mosul. Mohammed Mohsen, 20, remembers that at their last outing in the spring, they laughed endlessly over a generous feast — though the Mareis’ cooking was never quite as good as his mother’s.
But a few days after the town of Makhmour was liberated from the forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), an angry mob came to set fire to the empty Marei house. [full story]
After repelling ISIL, PKK fighters are the new heroes of Kurdistan
OCT 17, 2014
ERBIL, Iraq — The body of Zanyar Kawa is making its final journey to Sulaymaniyah, in northeastern Iraq. The slain fighter died 500 miles from his hometown battling the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, in Kobane, a Syrian town near the Turkish border.
Though an Iraqi Kurd, Kawa did not die serving the Iraqi Kurdish security forces, known as the peshmerga. Rather, he was killed fighting alongside guerrillas associated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which seeks self-determination for Kurds in Turkey and across the region. Both Turkey and the United States consider the PKK a terrorist organization.
Nearly a hundred people have gathered on a grassy plaza in the city’s center to receive Kawa’s body and accompany it home. PKK flags are flying, along with banners of Abdullah Öcalan, the group’s founder. While most in the crowd are Turkish Kurds who live in exile, there are Iraqi Kurds, too. [full story]
Syrian artists find bittersweet success in exile in Beirut
NOVEMBER 15, 2014
BEIRUT — The opening of artist Khaled Takreti’s new show in Beirut has all the hallmarks of a see-and-be-seen event in the Lebanese capital. There’s location, with a gallery tucked behind the Four Seasons. There’s money, with paintings starting at $30,000. There’s people-watching, with a number of impossibly beautiful women gliding around the slick white space on improbably high heels.
Arabic, French and English are all being spoken interchangeably, though frequently with the elongated syllables of the Syrian drawl. Yes, Paris-based Takreti is himself Syrian — but his talent is revered far beyond Syria or the Middle East, a transcendence that means he can draw a crowd from anywhere. [full story]
Organic for the People
AUGUST 9, 2014
NEW YORK — At a Saturday-morning farmers’ market in the underprivileged East New York section of Brooklyn, Joanna White is buying a bundle of freshly harvested beets, even though she’s pretty sure her teenage daughter will never agree to taste them. But White says that improving her family’s diet has meant trying new things, so she’s going to follow a recipe she picked up from a New York City health-department stand.White, an information-technology trainer at New York University’s Langone Medical Center who just moved here from the nearby Bedford-Stuyvesant section, is delighted to have found the market. “Before, I had to leave my ZIP code to get my food,” she says. [full story]
In South Carolina, Building a New Generation of Iraqi Faculty
JULY 13, 2014
GEORGETOWN, S.C. — Weaving through the marshes between the Waccamaw River and the Atlantic Ocean on a Boston whaler fishing boat, three scientists from the southern Iraqi city of Basra are suddenly homesick.
To the American woman who brought them here, physicist Zaid Alattabi says wistfully, “Dr. Jenny, you make us remember our country.”
Amjed Alabresm and Dawod Almayahi, a microbiologist and physicist, respectively, nod in agreement. They will not see their home again for another five years. Their country has sent them and hundreds of other Iraqi graduate students to the United States with a mission to quickly learn English and earn Ph.D.s so they can return to teach at Iraq’s universities. Once the academic jewel of the Arab world, Iraq’s institutions of higher learning have been decimated by years of war and sanctions. [full story]
Can Iraq's lost marshes be restored?
JULY 13, 2014
Long before Jenny Pournelle joined the University of South Carolina (USC) as a research fellow in the environment and sustainability program, she identified James Morris, director of the Baruch Institute for Marine and Coastal Science and the university’s expert on marsh restoration, as the person who could best help answer a question that had haunted her for more than a decade: Could Iraq’s southern marshes be brought back?
Pournelle, an archaeologist, has spent much of her academic career investigating the ancient civilizations that thrived along southern Iraq’s marshes. Her dissertation focused on the critical role that the wetlands, destroyed by Saddam Hussein in 1991, played in sustaining urban life over many millennia. Since 2012, because of the relationships she formed in Iraq while studying the country’s marshes, she has served as the informal facilitator of Iraqi-government-funded programs that have brought hundreds of graduate students to American universities, many of them to USC.
Urban green: Hoop houses replace rowhouses in Baltimore’s Sandtown
MAY 18, 2014
Baltimore, MD -- In Sandtown, Douglas Wheeler looks out with satisfaction over the abandoned city block turned farm where he works growing all sorts of greens and lettuce — “but never iceberg” — and remembers how it used to be.“This lot was a garden of trash,” he says. “With rats all over the place.”Before they were demolished in 2005, the block had 27 rowhouses, most of them long boarded up and abandoned, transformed from icons of Baltimore pride to casualties of the blight brought on the city by deindustrialization, unemployment, addiction and the war on drugs. [full story]
9/11 museum’s ‘un-nuanced’ film misses opportunity to educate, heal
MAY 15, 2014
For a group of interfaith representatives, scholars and historians, when the National September 11 Memorial Museum opens today with a ceremony featuring President Barack Obama, it will have missed a great opportunity and failed an important mission. [full story]
Sickle cell disease: The forgotten survivors
APRIL 20, 2014
In 2010, Clarence Anderson IV told his mother, Evangeline, “OK, Mama, you did take care of everybody. Time for you to be happy.”
It was her 44th birthday.
He said, “What’s gonna be is gonna be.”
“You’re right,” she joked, as if she would ever wash her hands of her baby boy, after everything she had done to keep him healthy and living a full life. Seven months later, at age 21, he was dead.
Looking back now, she thinks he knew his end was coming. But it was a death that wasn’t foretold. Clarence wasn’t dying. His illness — sickle cell disease — had meant a lot of physical pain, strokes and time spent in hospitals. But it wasn’t terminal, and it hadn’t stopped him from doing anything, including playing football for a season in high school. [full story]
Ravaged by war, Syrians mourn the slain father of Homs
APR 7, 2014
After three years of civil war, during which brutal killing has become commonplace, many Syrians were left stunned Monday by the murder of a Dutch Jesuit priest gunned down in Homs, the besieged city that had been his home since the mid-1960s and which he refused to abandon, even as it came under heavy attack and its residents starved.
Francis Van Der Lugt, or Abouna (father) Frans as he was known to Syrians, touched the lives of many, not only Christians. A Jesuit, he belonged to the same order as Pope Francis, and his impact was felt far beyond the doors of the monastery where he ministered. His initiatives “Al Ard” (The Land) and “Al Maseer” (The Path) introduced many Syrians to each other and to their country — often for the first time. His steadfast commitment to providing relief to all Syrians in a time when he could have easily escaped the country as it descended into its current abyss, earned him wide respect and love. [full story]
NEW YORK CITY — Clarence Aaron says he had no idea how much prison time he could face until the day he was sentenced. A first-time offender, the college football star, who rose from the housing projects in Mobile, Alabama to Southern University in Baton Rouge, La., thought he was looking at no more than 10 years for his role in a drug conspiracy — driving twice from Mobile to Houston to pick up cocaine, for which he was paid $1,500.
Instead, Aaron, then 24, received a triple-life sentence — more than anyone else charged in the conspiracy, though he was not the buyer, the user, the supplier or the dealer. Prepared to pay with a few years of his young life, Aaron was stunned to learn he was going to die in prison."Only at the county jail, when it settled in, did I realize what I was faced with," he says. Since Aaron went to prison in 1993, lawmakers across party lines and government branches have gradually rolled back the measures associated with the tough-on-drugs era in which he was sentenced: inflexible mandatory minimums, broad and unfettered prosecutorial discretion and a disparity in how crack and cocaine were treated by the criminal justice system. [full story]
Dead broke, not deadbeat: Baltimore rethinks welfare policy
JAN 15, 2014
BALTIMORE — When Darnell met his sister's friend Charlotte after his release from prison in 1997, he was sure God had sent her. While locked up, he'd often prayed for divine help.
Darnell and Charlotte had their first date at an IHOP. (They declined to provide their last names because of privacy and legal concerns.) Within six months, he told her he wanted to get married.
At first Charlotte didn't think much of the proposal, but Darnell went ahead and put the liquor on layaway. When he could finally afford to rent a hall, he cooked all the food for the reception, and they did what no one else they knew was doing: They got married. [full story]
For DC, a mayoral candidate fluent in Anacostia, art and Arabic
JAN 31, 2014
Andy Shallal, an Iraqi-American businessman who preaches fair-labor practices, tries his hand at politics
Washington, D.C. — On the morning of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, mayoral candidate Andy Shallal, 58, posed for a photograph in front of the Lincoln Theater, one of the last remnants of Washington’s historical “Black Broadway,” with some of the city’s progressive black artists. It’s a community that Shallal has long been part of as a local muralist and activist, even though he is not African-American. Most people, however, assume he is. [full story]
Fleeing anti-gay law, Russians head to New York for New Year's Eve
DECEMBER 31, 2013
NEW YORK — Neither Ded Moroz (Father Frost) nor his young snow-maiden assistant, Snegurochka — traditional New Year’s Eve figures in Russia — made an appearance here at a party of exiles celebrating their homeland's biggest holiday.
But inside this small bar on the Lower East Side, there were many other reminders of New Year's Eve in Russia, which during Soviet times replaced Christmas as an appropriately atheist year-end bash. Caviar, vodka and tinsel were abundant, and revelers were treated to an impromptu performance of the song "I Like That You Are Not Mad About Me" from the 1970s Soviet film "Irony of Fate," shown perennially during this season back home. [full story]
Behind the search for a white Jesus
DECEMBER 24, 2013
Fox News host Megyn Kelly recently felt so aggrieved by a black woman’s tongue-in-cheek essay suggesting Santa could just as easily be a penguin as be a bearded white man that she used her massive prime-time platform to provide a public service announcement. “For all you kids watching at home,” Kelly said, “Santa just is white.” So was Jesus, she said.
Exasperated by what she saw as the opening of another front in the “war on Christmas,” Kelly simply declared Santa’s and Jesus’ whiteness as historical fact. But there’s a reason Christians from the lands where Jesus was from don’t depict him with blond hair, blue eyes and white skin, and it has more to do with history and geography than with contemporary American culture wars. [full story]
If you were there, you remember Mandela's 1990 tour of the US
DECEMBER 12, 2013
As the world began to mourn Nelson Mandela’s death last week, Leticia Miranda wondered if she had really seen the South African leader in person when she was 4 years old. Was the memory she was carrying around real? Or just something she saw on television?
But a call to her parents confirmed that, yes, they had indeed driven up from their home in San Jose, Calif., to see Mandela at the Oakland Coliseum, the last stop of his historic visit to the U.S. in 1990. [full story]
Rediscovering 'Little Syria' after the storm passed
OCTOBER 27, 2013
NEW YORK — When Superstorm Sandy hit Lower Manhattan, historian Todd Fine’s mind went to the little white church on Washington Street — and he began to panic.
For two years, Fine and Carl Antoun, who co-founded Save Washington Street, had been trying to rescue the two buildings adjacent to what had been St. George’s Syrian Catholic Church from developers by convincing the city to recognize the buildings as historical landmarks. The two buildings and the church, which was recognized as a landmark in 2009, are the last remaining vestiges of what had once been a bustling neighborhood known as “Little Syria.” The quarter was destroyed in 1946 to make way for the entrance of the Battery Park Tunnel and further diminished in the 1980s as part of a revitalization effort that followed the construction of the World Trade Center towers. [full story]
After Sandy, resilience for some means rebuilding somewhere else
OCTOBER 29, 2013
On the night of Oct. 29, 2012, with the Atlantic’s waters quickly rising inside his bungalow home in the Fox Beach section of Oakwood Beach on Staten Island, N.Y., Frank Langello fled to the attic, aware that if the waters rose any more, he would be trapped. But he didn’t know what else to do. As Superstorm Sandy bore down, he had stayed behind rather than abandon his family’s pets, and now he listened in the darkness as the walls below collapsed under the weight of the ocean pressing against them.
Both the nor’easter of 2010 and Hurricane Irene of 2011 had flooded the basement and left the Langellos without heat or hot water for weeks, but this was another thing entirely. Now he could feel the house swaying with Sandy’s gusts. He was certain the surging water would soon carry the whole edifice away, drowning all of them together — man, dogs and cat. [full story]
Robben Island comes to Manhattan
OCTOBER 3, 2013
NEW YORK — Watching a South African play performed by Palestinian actors speaking English dotted with Afrikaans and Xhosa in thick Arabic accents is, at first sound, cacophonous.
It happened on a New York City stage last week when Faisal Abu Alhayjaa and Ahmad Alrakh, actors from The Freedom Theatre (located in the heart of the Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank), performed South African playwright Athol Fugard's "The Island." The two-man show about political prisoners in apartheid South Africa takes place on Robben Island, the infamous prison where Nelson Mandela spent 18 years of his 27-year sentence. [full story]
Black men in Baltimore march to keep boys in school
SEP 6, 2013
Baltimore, MD -- On the last Friday of a particularly murderous summer, and with the first day of school on the other side of the weekend, the men have come out for the boys. They will walk 75-strong through Park Heights, one of the city's distressed neighborhoods, as dusk gives way to darkness (and often death) in an effort to encourage black boys as they return to the classroom to attend, to excel, to thrive.
Women have been asked to stay behind, not out of disrespect, but because this is something the men believe they need to do alone.
It's the men's absence – particularly as fathers – that march organizers see as the primal wound that leads so many of the city's young black boys to fail to realize their potential. And when the boys fail, it fuels the violence, which many eventually fall victim to themselves. [full story]
Western intervention debate finds Syrians resigned, uneasy
AUGUST 26, 2013
As the Syrian conflict escalates, with what appear to be chemical weapons killing unsuspecting families in their sleep and talk in Western capitals of armed intervention, M. no longer knows what to stockpile.
Like other Damascenes, M. (who requested anonymity for security reasons) has greeted each new phase of the conflagration with requisite preparation: First, she bought flashlights with rechargeable batteries once the daily electricity cuts began, keeping her home in darkness for hours; then, extra heating fuel and cooking gas which quickly disappeared in shortages as winter drew nearer and colder; rice, lentils, Mazola, and other non-perishable foodstuffs so her family wouldn’t go hungry as grocery shelves emptied; clean water for when there wouldn’t be any; and, as the lira plummeted, dollars from the black market because American currency might be the only way out, should her family need to leave suddenly. [full story]
Revenge of the blerds
AUGUST 21, 2013
Kat Calvin wants to see to it that the next time a black man in a hoodie is walking down the street, people will assume he's just an engineer instead of thinking, "He's probably robbing a house." She also wants every young black person in America to know, or know of, someone who is black and employed in a science or technology profession.
To see such a change, this teacher-turned-entrepreneur co-founded Blerdology ("blerds" are black nerds), a social enterprise that promotes technology initiatives and facilitates networking and collaboration among African American students and professionals in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). In addition to creating a community to serve its members, Calvin is hoping to transform how society sees African Americans and the aspirations they have for themselves. [full story]
‘You don’t look like a math major’
AUG 21, 2013
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — On the blackboard in this MIT classroom, a list of positives and negatives are represented not with pluses and minuses but with pluses and deltas. The Greek letter here stands for “change,” as it does in myriad formulas familiar to these undergraduate students of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
The distinction in symbols comes from a spirit that favors momentum to inertia, because here — where the ultimate goal is innovation — an outcome that isn’t positive needn’t be final or permanent.
The two graduate students who serve as advisers to this group of 11, POD 2, are leading them through a call-out session where everyone must share something good and something that needs to be changed from their past week as summer research interns. A young woman records the running tally. [full story]
The Road to Germany : $2400
Each of the millions of Syrian refugees who have fled their brutalized, unrecognizable homeland did so for uniquely personal reasons — the regime bombarding cities, the Islamic State threatening a return to the dark ages, the loss of jobs in a crumbling economy. Yet their quests cohered around one purpose: They all wanted better lives.
Some set out on a complicated journey to Europe with a crude graphic — a flowchart of the route from Turkey to Germany — as a guide. In its rudimentary geometry, refugees saw an impossible dream. In its illustrated stick figures, kicking their heels upon reaching the final destination, they saw themselves. They allowed an image, powerful and meditative in its simplicity, to shape their personal stories.
FP has done the same. In the following story, the odyssey of several refugees — men, women, and children — is presented in the form of a nonfiction comic. Each panel is based on firsthand reporting gathered by journalist Alia Malek: [full story]
The Hills of Alawistan
MAY 27, 2013
TARTOUS, Syria — Above the Syrian coastal town of Tartous, groups of Alawite men and boys were amassing at different landings along a road that winds higher and higher, away from the Mediterranean and into the hills. We saw them assembling as we traveled the same path, taking advantage of a day off to get out of the city.
On this new spring Sunday, they were waiting for the corpses of Alawite soldiers — conscripts in the Syrian Army — to arrive from below. A funeral procession was building, one motorcycle at a time, one open-cabbed truck at a time, each laden with several passengers. The mothers and wives were recognizable in their black clothes with sheer white scarves draped around their necks, which have become public uniform once a family has been anointed with loss. [full story]
Turkey's War on Journalists
DECEMBER 22, 2011
ISTANBUL —When the terrorism trial of jailed Turkish journalists Ahmet Sik and Nedim Sener began in Istanbul on Nov. 22, only a handful of their colleagues — far fewer than expected — gathered in protest outside the courthouse that will decide their fate.
A mosaic of the smiling photographs of many of Turkey’s detained journalists was laid out on the ground at the foot of a swarm of TV tripods, their cameras aiming for a glimpse of the defendants. Sik and Sener’s case is perhaps the most high-profile example of what critics see as the Turkish government’s crackdown on critical voices, which has transformed it into one of the world’s leading jailers of journalists.
A Play About Syria as a Country in a Coma
JULY 23, 2017
When one’s entire life is spent waiting, how does one measure the time? In the play “While I Was Waiting,” which on Saturday wrapped up a run as part of the Lincoln Center Festival, Omar (Mustafa Kur), a former telecom worker from the less affluent and besieged Damascus suburbs, gives us the sum of his life in days—10,749 to be precise. We quickly learn, however, that these only account for twenty-nine of his thirty-one years, as he has spent the past two years no longer alive but not quite dead, suspended in a state of unconsciousness after the pummelling he received in Syrian prisons. [full story]
For Syrian-Americans, the Travel Ban Feels Alarmingly Familiar
FEB 5, 2017
On Saturday morning, I woke up to a panicked message from my friend Kinan Azmeh, in Beirut. He wanted to know, “Do you think I can no longer go back to America?”
A virtuoso on the clarinet and a brilliant composer, Kinan was fresh from a concert in Germany where he had débuted his latest work with the cellist Yo-Yo Ma, with whom he tours as a member of the Silk Road ensemble. [full story]
Unlawful Detention on U.S. Soil
DEC 22, 2011
When his wfie and children arrived to visit Shukri Abu-Baker at the secretive federal prison known as a Communications Management Unit (CMU) in Terre Haute, Indiana, this past fall, they were forced to sit in silence and stare at him through Plexiglass. The twin phones on either side of the partition wouldn’t work. They raised their voices to be able to hear each other, but the guards immediately told them to stop. Their communications, after all, had to be recorded and monitored live by someone in Washington, DC.
The Abu-Bakers had scheduled their visit over a month in advance. The Federal Board of Prisons (BOP) knew they were coming. The family made the fifteen-hour trip from Dallas to Terre Haute in a rented van, spending a total of $2,000 so they could spend eight hours that weekend seeing and talking to Shukri. [full story]
Democracry 101 For Egypt
SEPT 12, 2011
Tonight’s class at the School for Politics, in the Egyptian Democratic Academy (EDA), focuses on socialism versus liberalism and the meaning of a civil state. The students are men and woman in their 20s or beyond, who’ve arrived at the end of their work or university day to spend the next four hours on a balcony turned classroom. The heat is only occasionally broken by a single rotating fan, and the noise from the traffic below is relentless. But no one seems to mind, and all eyes are on Esraa Nouh, the 25-year-old teacher. She wants to know: what have her students heard about liberalism? [full story]
GITMO in the Heartland
MAR 28, 2011
On the evening of May 13, 2008, Jenny Synan waited for a phone call from her husband, Daniel McGowan. An inmate at Sandstone, a federal prison in Minnesota, McGowan was serving a seven-year sentence for participating in two ecologically motivated arsons. It was their second wedding anniversary, their first with him behind bars. So far his incarceration hadn’t stopped him from calling her daily or surprising her with gifts for her birthday, Valentine’s Day and Christmas. But Jenny never got a call from Daniel that night—or the next day, or the next.
It was only days later that Jenny heard from a friend that Daniel was in transit, his destination Marion, Illinois. She quickly researched Marion and learned that it housed both a minimum- and a medium-security facility. Daniel, however, was classified as a low-security prisoner, a designation between minimum and medium. Even though he had a perfect record at Sandstone and had been recommended for a transfer to a prison closer to home, Jenny still didn’t think it was likely that Daniel would be stepped down to minimum security. But it made no sense that he would be moved up to medium security. [full story]
SEPT 23, 2010
In 1921 heartthrob Rudolph Valentino, starring in the black-and-white film The Sheik, introduced Americans via the big screen to the Arab—the progenitor of today’s loosely defined, hysteria-inducing, mosque-building, uppity enemy. In the movie, Arabs were portrayed as exotic, temperamental, prone to rape and having small hands.
Those were the good old days.
Today’s Islamophobic rapture, with its equally absurd extremes of Koran bonfires and public service announcements in which Muslims have to remind their fellow Americans that they are (good) Americans too, should not come as a surprise. Arabs and Muslims have a long history of being perceived and portrayed as utterly foreign to America. [full story]
The Syria the World Forgot
JUNE 8, 2013
LAST month, while we waited at the Lebanese border for our papers to be processed so that we could return to Syria, a woman traveling in our shared taxi pointed at the clouds gathering in the sky and said, “The Orthodox will be happy.”
She was referring to the annual contest between Syrian Catholics and Orthodox Christians — whose religious calendars diverge at Easter — that looks to meteorology to settle which church crucified and resurrected Jesus on the right weekend that year. The winning combo is a rainy Good Friday with a perfectly clear Easter Sunday. [full story]
Armenians Fleeing Anew as Syria Erupts in Battle
DEC 12, 2012
YEREVAN, Armenia — At the newly opened Cilician School in this former Soviet republic, the textbooks are in Arabic, photocopied from a single set flown out of war-torn Syria. The curriculum is Syrian, the flag on the principal’s desk is Syrian, and the teachers and students are all Syrians.
They are also ethnic Armenians, driven by Syria’s civil war to a notional motherland most barely know. [full story]
Syrian Arrests Are Said to Have Snared Tens of Thousands
JUNE 27, 2012
DAMASCUS, Syria — After Syrian secret police officers spotted Azam at a peaceful demonstration in the heart of this city, he said, they chased him down and dragged him off to prison, where he was tortured during his 40 days in confinement.
“They take people and forget them because there are so many others coming in,” said Azam, who asked to be identified by only his first name. He said he had been detained by air force security officers, members of one of more than a dozen secret police services in Syria.
Syrians Defy Leaders to Aid Those in Need
MAY 14, 2012
DAMASCUS, Syria — For 48 hours, the two Damascus residents struggled to reach the besieged city of Homs by car, trying to deliver boxes of blood bags so surgeons there could operate on the wounded. But gunfire made the roads impassable.
Finally, they strapped their contraband to their backs and, led by a shepherd through back roads and dirt paths, hiked 65 miles to the city.
As the violence across Syria reaches a treacherous new phase and the numbers of displaced and injured swell, such individual and ad hoc efforts have grown into an increasingly organized underground network of volunteers willing to brave injury and arrest to deliver relief supplies to those trapped, wounded or displaced by the fighting. [full story]
For Muslim New Yorkers, Final Rites That Fit
JAN 8, 2006
ERHAN YILDIRIM is singing in Arabic. His voice barely rises above the sound of the water that falls onto ceramic tiles after it spills over the lifeless body in front of him.
In mournful tones, Mr. Yildirim celebrates God -- "He is great, and there is no God but God" -- as he prepares yet another immigrant for a proper Muslim burial, one that will bring the man closer to his homeland than he has been in years.
On this late November day, Mr. Yildirim, who is trained to be an imam, then performs the man's last ablution. It is the same ritual that every Muslim performs in life before prayer: washing the feet, hands and face. Mr. Yildirim then washes the entire body with olive oil soap before fetching a pure cotton shroud and wrapping it around the naked body like a cocoon.[full story]
OCT 14, 2013
Two years ago, in September, Anto’s neighbors warned him: it was time for him to go. He would no longer be safe in these hills above the city of Idlib in northwestern Syria. He knew better than to doubt them.
A descendant of Armenians from Ottoman Turkey, he had inherited a dormant vigilance that now came to life. Anto’s father used to tell him, repeating what had been passed down through four generations: “Like we came from Turkey, we may also one day leave from Syria.”
With his neighbors’ warnings in his ears, Anto scrambled to secure some cash. He started to quietly sell off whatever he could from Abu Artin, a restaurant and inn that his family had operated every spring and summer since 1938. His grandfather had built Abu Artin, named for Anto’s great-grandfather, high in these hills as an escape for Syrians living in the swelter of those months in the cities and towns below. The land offered fresh air, their kitchen delectable food, and the men—Anto and his father and grandfather before him—impromptu musical performances that had made them famous with customers. [full story]
In Rebuke of Forgetfulness
By now, this should all be rather familiar, we’ve been here so many times before: where there is war, displacement always follows.
Similarly, we should all know that as much as these are destructive forces, they are also integral in shaping the makeup of the many societies they touch, no matter how these countries emerge in the after – whether in triumph or defeat. And no one is really untouched. Most nations that we take for granted as cohesive today were themselves products of demographic shifts and movements, often as a result of conflict – either within their borders or from without. [full story]
Gina Cavallaro had drifted away from the soldier escorting her, wanting to take a picture of the Iraqi children trailing them as they patrolled Ramadi. She heard a lone gunshot and turned around, disoriented, trying to see where the shot had come from and where it had landed, when she saw him–Specialist Francisco Martinez–lying on the ground, his limbs spread as if he were making an angel in the sand. Cavallaro screamed. Martinez had been her escort on patrol a few days earlier and again that day. They had become fast friends, trading stories about the neighborhoods of San Juan and the never-ending Christmas celebrations of his native Puerto Rico, where Cavallaro, too, had grown up and begun her career in journalism. [full story]
Beyond the Cartoon Controversy: Q & A with Flemming Rose
It’s been fifteen months since the publication by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten of a series of cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammad, and the resulting furor in the Muslim world over what was considered a blasphemous violation of a central tenet of Sunni Islam—the prohibition of visual representations of the prophet. Though the riots have stopped and the flames coming from Danish flags and embassies have been extinguished, the controversy over where to draw the line between free speech and criticism of Islam persists. In September, Pope Benedict XVI quoted from a fourteenth-century text that referred to some of Mohammad’s teachings as “evil and inhuman,” touching off more riots. Later that same month, the Deutsche Opera postponed a performance of Mozart’s “Idomeneo” because of a scene that depicts the severed heads of Mohammad, Jesus, Buddha, and Neptune. Flemming Rose, the culture editor of Jyllands-Posten, claimed he solicited the cartoons to assert freedom of speech and to resist the self-censorship crippling the West when it came to “accommodating Muslim sensitivities.” In January, CJR ’s Alia Malek interviewed Rose by telephone about the cartoons and their consequences. [full story]
In Memoriam: Hrant Dink (1954-2007)
JAN 25, 2007
Friday’s murder of Armenian-Turkish editor and columnist Hrant Dink — though not the only instance recently of a foreign journalist brutally silenced — was different in that for those who follow global events or the media, Dink’s name was familiar even before his death.
At a time when Turkey continues to struggle to join the European Union, his prosecution (and arguably his persecution) under Turkish penal code 301 that criminalizes insulting “Turkishness” — a law that stinks of suppression of speech — had already made him a cause celebre. [full story]
After confessing to the world on camera that she and her British crew had trespassed into Iranian waters this past March, sailor Faye Turney pressed a cigarette to her lips and took a long, deep drag. The way she immediately reached for the fix and inhaled its relief seemed to belie everything she had just been prompted to say by her Iranian interviewer, from her admission of guilt to how her captors were friendly, hospitable, thoughtful, and compassionate. [full story]
The Al Jazeera Worldview, Now in English
NOV 16, 2006
Al Jazeera’s English-language channel launched yesterday as (AJE) Al-Jazeera English, not Al-Jazeera International as previously hyped. While viewers around the world were able to watch the glossy production on their televisions via satellite and cable, Americans for the most part could only see it in 15-minute free streams on the Web, or uninterrupted with a monthly subscription. [full story]
Home: Reflections for Anthony Shadid
AUG 2, 2012
This week, Anthony Shadid’s memoir House of Stone – which tells of the author’s attempts to rebuild his dilapidated family home in Marjayoun, Lebanon and in turn of a search for identity in a restless Middle East – was published in the UK. To celebrate, Granta is publishing a series of short meditations by writers including Teju Cole, Rawi Hage, Ha Jin, A.L. Kennedy, Yiyun Li and Santiago Roncagliolo on where we think of – if anywhere – when we think of going home.
As part of Anthony Shadid week, granta.com has also published an interview with the author, a travelogue by photographer Michael Robinson-Chavez on his time on assignment in Iraq with Shadid and a guide to Lebanese street food by Annia Ciezadlo. [full story]
Of Mustaches and Megalomaniacs
AUG 28, 2011
In the autumn of 1990, my father, who had been clean-shaven all his life, decided to experiment; he grew a moustache.
Nobody cool in America had a moustache in those days. Magnum PI, which starred Tom Selleck and his moustache, had already been off the air for a few years. Even worse, Saddam Hussein had a moustache. And more than anyone else in suburban Baltimore, where I was stuck in my junior year of high school, my father – with his moustache – looked a lot like Saddam Hussein. [full story]
David Degner & Alia Malek in Cairo: Permanent Revolution
JULY 20, 2011
On July 8th, Egyptians returned to Tahrir Square to remind the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) that it was they – the people – and not the generals that would be the guardians of the Revolution, even if the fall of Hosni Mubarak was made easier by the military’s abandoning of the Dictator. As of today, they have not left Tahrir.
Tents shelter folks as they sleep or discuss Egypt’s past, present, and future late into the night and early into the morning. The canvas surfaces also provide space to display slogans, party and coalition names, and political demands. The giant canopy overhead shields all from a sun that has been as steadfastly present as the revolutionaries. [full story]
Syria: When Official Memory is Amnesia
NOV 9, 2012
With those who would kill him waiting at each of the gates of Damascus should he try to escape, Saul of Tarsus, the man who would come to be known as Christianity’s St. Paul, fled nonetheless. Crouching in a basket, he was lowered over the city’s walls by his supporters, and he fled into the Syrian night.
It was nearly two thousand years ago that Saul, a soldier, came from Jerusalem to Damascus, dispatched and hell-bent on a mission to arrest followers of Jesus Christ—a man who, among other things, had led an affront to the ruling regime of Rome and the Jewish clergy. But instead, along the road to Damascus, his journey was interrupted by what Christian lore describes as the appearance of Jesus (post-crucifixion) in a light so strong that Saul was blinded. [full story]
When did we become like Syria?
NOV 14, 2007
When visiting my grandmother’s house in Damascus a few years ago, I never could have imagined sitting one day in a U.S. court, listening to the U.S. government defend its covert transfer of a Canadian citizen to Syria to be tortured.
Yet, that’s precisely what happened last Friday in a U.S. circuit court in New York, with the beginning of Maher Arar’s appeal of a decision last year by a district court to throw out his suit against the U.S. government. Arar’s case was the first to challenge in court the Bush administration’s use of rendition — the process of secretly handing over people to other countries where torture is used during interrogations. [full story]
Bush civil rights nominee under fire
JULY 28, 2007
A deal that would see David Palmer, a Bush administration nominee, quietly confirmed to the powerful Equal Employment Opportunity Commission appears to be faltering. Momentum against Palmer’s confirmation has been building since former Department of Justice employees took the unprecedented step of formally accusing him of having an abysmal professional and personal record on workplace discrimination issues. [full story]
Bush's Long History of Politicizing Justice
MAR 30, 2007
The current U.S. attorneys scandal shows that the Bush administration was mistaken in its belief that it could politicize the nation’s top federal law enforcement agency, the Department of Justice, with impunity. The attorney general‘s chief of staff and the director of the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys have both had to leave their jobs, and Congress has begun grilling DOJ leadership. But having decimated another entire sector of the DOJ in plain sight for six years with little consequence, is it any wonder the Bush White House figured nobody would miss a few prosecutors? [full story]
How Lebanon Rescued Me
AUG 4, 2006
In March 2003, I fled to Beirut, Lebanon, wanting to escape the made-for-TV war on Iraq, the monotony of Washington, and the man who had become my boss, John Ashcroft.
Naturally, in this era of pretexts, the convergence of those events was itself also just an excuse. Even if my job as a trial attorney in the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department had not been increasingly meaningless under the Bush administration, I would have been fantasizing about returning to Beirut, as I had ever since it seduced me in the summer of 2000, when I first visited it as an adult. [full story]
America's big mistake on indefinite detention of terror suspects
DEC 28, 2011
The approval of indefinite detention of terror suspects by Congress and Obama maintains the premise that because of exigent circumstances, civil rights and civil liberties must be curbed. This is much like the argument used for decades from Cairo to Damascus.
From Tunis to Athens to Moscow to Wall Street, 2011 has been about dispatching with old ways and rulers, or at the very least, putting them on notice that business as usual is no longer acceptable.
Yet as the year hurtles toward its end, the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) has President Obama and Congress standing in stark contrast to that global momentum by ossifying the mistaken ways of what should be a former era. [full story]
After Osama bin Laden: In Arab world, America's troubled post-9/11 legacy lingers
MAY 5, 2011
BEIRUT — The shrug that greeted news of Osama bin Laden’s death here in the Arab world was not surprising given that most across the region never thought Mr. bin Laden belonged to them. To the contrary, bin Laden was seen as an American creation and to some, in recent years, an American phantom, who surfaced to justify American policies and military presence in the region. The details of his recent life, in a comfortable suburban home in a country supposedly allied with the US, were further proof to the more conspiracy-minded here that he was essentially in US witness protection and was merely terminated when he no longer served a purpose. [full story]
Ground Zero mosque as wedge issue: Muslims vs. 'real' Americans
AUG 17, 2010
NEW YORK — Like today’s other hot-button issues including gay marriage and illegal immigration, at the heart of the uproar over Cordoba House, the proposed Muslim community center located in lower Manhattan, is generally a struggle to define what makes an American truly, authentically American. And specifically underlying the Cordoba controversy, the fear of the radicalization of Muslim-American youth, and the growing Islamophobia spreading through the US (a Florida church is hosting “International Burn a Koran Day” on Sept. 11) is a suspicion that a Muslim cannot be a real American. [full story]
American Jihadis: Blame violence-prone boys, not Islam
APRIL 2, 2010
NEW YORK — The recent arrest in Yemen of Somali-American Sharif Mobley, accused of being a member of an Al Qaeda affiliated group, raises the question: Why are young American men abandoning this country’s promise and opportunities to pursue jihad in foreign countries with groups rooted in anti-Americanism?
From concerned citizens to journalists to think tank panels to Capitol Hill, everyone seems to think that the key to understanding “why” these men have turned against America lies in the pathology of Islam. But they’re missing something big. [full story]
Losing Syria, and my grandmother
JULY 20, 2017
I lost both Syria and my grandmother in 1980, when I was 6 years old. Though men — especially one man, Hafez al-Assad — dominated Syria, my early experiences of it were dominated by women, especially my grandmother. To me, she was Syria and Syria was her.
My parents were living in the United States but committed to returning home. Then two tragedies struck in quick succession. In June, while we were in Damascus as usual for the summer, my grandmother’s brother was murdered, with no consequences for the killer or killers — a commonplace occurrence in Assad’s Syria. In October, while visiting us in the United States to try to escape the grief, anger, and impotence she felt following her brother’s death, my grandmother suffered a stroke that left her “locked in.” [full story]
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