Christopher de Bellaigue is the author of Rebel Land: Unraveling the Riddle of History in a Turkish Town. His research for the article in this ­issue was supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
 (December 2015)


France at War

French CRS anti-riot police near the French National Assembly, Paris, France, July 5, 2016

Days after the Nice attacks, French politics has shifted toward militarism, xenophobia, and the all-powerful state. France is hurtling toward a presidential election that will bring more hostility, fear, and division, and be fought against the expectation of further attacks. In the meantime, the racial profiling and frisking of Arabs in the street, the police raids in the middle of the night will intensify, contributing to further alienation of French Muslims.

Turkey: The Fakir vs. the Pharaoh

Embroidered images (left to right) of Atatürk, exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and Turkish President Abdullah Gül, Gaziantep, Turkey, 2014

Turkey’s political crisis has divided the two groups dominating Turkish life: Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his AKP, on the one hand, and an exiled spiritual leader, Fethullah Gulen, whose movement has sweeping influence in the police and the judiciary, on the other. The conflict could end a decade of political stability and economic prosperity.


Dreams of Islamic Liberalism

Muhammad Abduh, Egypt’s senior judicial authority at the start of the twentieth century and an admirer of Darwin. He is now ­recognized, according to Christopher de Bellaigue, ‘as one of the most influential liberal Islamic thinkers.’

Reading Darwin in Arabic, 1860–1950

by Marwa Elshakry
During the spring of 1910 a young Iranian who was studying to be a mullah would climb to the roof of his house to observe a mysterious projectile as it moved across the night sky. Ahmad Kasravi did not know what he was seeing but he was instinctively skeptical of …

Iran & the Bomb: The Endgame

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, second from left, and his cabinet ministers meeting with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei about Israeli air strikes on Gaza, Tehran, July 2014
In the summer of 2002 an Iranian opposition group thought to have been fed intelligence by Western spy agencies revealed the existence of a secret uranium enrichment facility outside the central Iranian town of Natanz. It was the beginning of a long, rancorous, and so far intractable battle of wills between a revolutionary state seemingly determined to acquire the expertise necessary to build a nuclear bomb and an international coalition, led by the United States and including other nuclear weapons states, that has been trying to prevent this from happening.

Iran: A New Deal?

Secretary of State John Kerry (left) and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (right) at a meeting about Iran’s nuclear activities, United Nations headquarters, New York City, September 2013
On a recent trip to Tehran I visited a friend I hadn’t seen since June 11, 2009. We had met on the eve of that year’s presidential election, and my friend, a prominent campaigner against the incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, had alluded somewhat unnervingly to the possibility of vote-rigging and violence.


Turkey Chooses Erdogan

Supporters of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan wave flags as they gather in Istanbul's central Taksim Square on July 18, 2016

Since a group of senior military officers, backed by thousands of armed soldiers, came close to toppling him on the night of July 15, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has sought comfort in the bosom of his angry, exhilarated people. The country has spent the past three weeks in a state of collective hyperventilation. The combination of nationalism and religiosity is like nothing I have seen in twenty years of following Turkish politics.

Hunting the Truth in a Paris Ghetto

Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan in Jacques Audiard’s Dheepan, 2015

The three main characters of Jacques Audiard’s Dheepan join together opportunistically in the Sri Lankan refugee camp from which they will head westwards, but the question of whether Dheepan, Yalini, and Illayaal will end up caring for each other—becoming, in the process, a “real” family—isn’t simply of human interest. In their new home, safety and security can only be found by pooling income, morale, skills, and acquired local knowledge.

Persia: The Court at Twilight

Dancers and musicians at the Qajar court, photograph taken by Antoin Sevruguin, late nineteenth century

The two hundred-odd images in “Eye of the Shah: Qajar Court Photography and the Persian Past” were executed for the most part by a small number of court and portrait photographers using an ultra-modern medium in a land still run according to the divine writ of kings, where the Shah’s harem contained hundreds of wives, concubines, and eunuchs, and many people continued to keep slaves. It’s in this confrontation—between the bastinado and the wet collodion method—that the principal interest of “Eye of the Shah” lies.

A Song Against Jihad

A scene from Abderrahmane Sissako's Timbuktu, 2014

One comes away from Mauritanian filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako’s Timbuktu not only despising the tyranny of Islamic extremism, but also strangely buoyed by the sense that its exponents may be redeemable through the dignity and beauty of their victims.