October 2013 Reading List

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Banksy's contribution from October 17 (photo source).
The most interesting event of the month was not the shameful US government shutdown but British street artist Banksy's New York "residency". Entitled "Better Out Than In", Banksy's city-wide experiment provoked reactions from comedic to awkward to insightful. See Banksy's record of the month's work on his website.

Happy reading:

Enduring Exile: A Family's Journey from Armenia to Syria and Back Again (Alia Malek, Guernica)
My favorite story this month; a poignant account of a family's search for home.

The Shadow Commander (Dexter Filkins, The New Yorker)
A profile of the obscure Iranian mastermind who has been calling the shots in the Middle East for decades.

Our Fear of Al-Qaeda Hurts Us More Than Al-Qaeda Does (David Rohde, The Atlantic)
Massive global surveillance, unaccountable drone strikes, and secret courts are killing the American brand.

Q v. K (Yasmine Seale, London Review of Books)
On the social ripples of Turkey's conversion from Arabic to Latin script—more interesting than it sounds. Also, see great reader comments, including one linking to the story of how a single Turkish typo drove one man to murder!

The New Arab Capitals (Ursula Lindsey, The Arabist)
When an Emirati royal published an op-ed this month calling the Gulf's sheikhdoms the "nerve center of the contemporary Arab world’s culture" and criticizing the decline of North Africa and the Levant, he set off quite a debate.

Mobile Money in a Dusty Land (Mark Hay, Roads & Kingdoms)
Can Zaad, Somaliland's mobile money service, help unleash the region's economic promise? (Also of interest to Somalia enthusiasts: Xan Rice's profile of Mogadishu restaurateur Ahmed Jama and his struggles to build small islands of normalcy in his homeland.)

Islamist Violence and a War of Ideas (George Packer, The New Yorker)
In the past dozen or so years, the so-called "global war on terror" has wasted trillions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives, and distracted so many in our world from more productive endeavors. George Packer reviews new thinking, including the Global Counterterrorism Fund and other "smart power" initiatives, that might just help us put this era behind us. (Also see this thought-provoking review of Akbar Ahmed's The Thistle and the Drone.)

'World's Most Travelled Man', Mike Spencer Bown, Heads Home After 23-Year Journey (Ryan Grenoble, Huffington Post)
Since leaving his native Canada in 1990, Bown has visited every country on earth, and found out that it is a big place. ("I would never have thought it would take so long to see it all. It's enormous.") His takeaway from the experience? "People are basically good and worth knowing whatever the race or culture they hail from." Amen.

A Journey to the East: Constantine and Timgad

Saturday, October 26, 2013 | Constantine, Algeria

A break in the shade at Timgad
In my many months in Algeria, my colleague Karima has invited me several times to her family home in Constantine, Algeria's third largest city and the capital of the eastern region. Over the recent Eid, I was finally able to take her up on the offer, and traveled there for four days with Karima, her sister Wassila, and brother-in-law Khaled.

This being Eid, I spent my much of my time in Constantine sitting around a table and eating with their extended family. Constantine is renowned for its cuisine, and true to form, I did my best to sample all of it and carry back as much as possible in my stomach to Algiers. Their aunt invited us for a special homemade Eid dinner—rich djari soup, fresh lamb kefta, and a mouth-watering rendition of chakhchoukha, an eastern Algerian delicacy of shredded flatbread stewed in a spiced tomato sauce and topped with chunks of chicken and mutton. No contest, it was the best meal I have eaten in Algeria.

Around Algiers: Getting to Know 'La Ville Blanche'

Wednesday, October 16, 2013 | Algiers, Algeria

The Grande Poste, Algiers' central post office, anchors downtown.
The country Algeria and its capital, Algiers, sound quite similar in English, but are in fact exactly the same word (الجزائر) in Arabic. Yet while every citizen of Algeria is an "Algérien", the residents of Algiers distinguish themselves with a special term—they are the "Algérois". And theirs is indeed a special city.

Though still a relative newcomer, I have gotten to know Algiers much better since relocating here in early June.

During the many trips I took previously, I found it impossible to get my bearings in this city, whose 6 million residents are sprawled over a series of rolling hillsides overlooking the Mediterranean. Since my move here in June, I have learned to find my way around parts of Algiers, but it remains challenging—mostly because there is hardly a straight street in the whole city. (No joke, a map of this place looks about as organized as a pile of spaghetti.)

That said, there are far less picturesque cities in which to get lost.