Max Rodenbeck is the Middle East Bureau Chief of The Economist. (December 2015)


How She Wants to Modify Muslims

Ayaan Hirsi Ali at the Goldwater Institute, Phoenix, Arizona, December 2007

Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now

by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Ayaan Hirsi Ali bluntly declares her intention in the introduction to her new book: “To make many people—not only Muslims but also Western apologists for Islam—uncomfortable.” Discomfort, alas, comes easily when the subject, as in the Somali-born author’s three previous books, happens to be the sorry state of Islam.

Iraq: The Outlaw State

An image from Clanking of the Swords IV, a recent film by the Sunni jihadist guerrilla group that now calls itself the State of the Islamic Caliphate, on the border of Iraq and Syria

Frankenstein fi Baghdad [Frankenstein in Baghdad]

by Ahmed Saadawi

The Corpse Washer

by Sinan Antoon, translated from the Arabic by the author
The use of seemingly gratuitous cruelty as a form of display—as a talisman of godlike power and an advertisement of worldly success—has old roots in Iraq. Some can be traced just outside of Mosul in the fields of dusty ruins that mark the sites of Nineveh and Nimrud, great cities of the ancient Assyrian empire.

The Father of Violent Islamism

Sayyid Qutb in prison in Egypt, where he was executed in 1966

Sayyid Qutb and the Origins of Radical Islamism

by John Calvert

Sayyid Qutb: The Life and Legacy of a Radical Islamic Intellectual

by James Toth
Religion, religion…. This is the battle cry of the feeble and the weak person who defends himself with it whenever the current threatens to sweep him away. —Sayyid Qutb, 1938 Humanity will see no tranquility or accord, nor can peace, progress or material and spiritual advances be made, without total …

The Agony of Syria

Residents of Tall Rifat, a small town north of Aleppo, after a Syrian army helicopter launched rockets at a local school, July 12, 2012

The Syrian Rebellion

by Fouad Ajami

Syria: The Fall of the House of Assad

by David W. Lesch
In the face of the current uprising, now in its eighteenth bloody month, Bashar Assad has ordered a sustained use of heavy weaponry against his own people that may be unmatched by any state in modern times. The gory internecine wars in Bosnia, Chechnya, and Sri Lanka saw governments behave with similar savagery, but against what they claimed were separatist revolts. In trying to crush an inclusive, nationwide, and initially peaceful pro-democracy movement that from its inception was unquestionably backed by the vast majority of Syrians, the Assads’ army has wreaked devastation akin to that in Grozny or Jaffna or Sarajevo, only across swathes of a country with a far larger population, devastating scores of villages, dozens of towns, and all three of Syria’s biggest cities.


Bin Laden’s Death: Why the Arab World Shrugs

A newspaper stall in Islamabad, May 3, 2011

News cameras may zoom lustily into Middle Eastern crowds that vow vengeance. Pundits can cleverly parse the praise for a fallen warrior voiced by the usual Islamist hotheads. Cooler analysts will fret over the uses of assassination as a tool of policy, or over the finer points of Muslim doctrine regarding burial at sea. Yet for the most part the demise of the world’s most wanted man has been met, across the Arab and Muslim worlds, with a very untelegenic shrug of indifference.

How to Deal With Yemen

A Yemeni woman walking on the main road leading to the mountain village of Kawkaban, north of the capital Sanaa, January 10, 2010

It’s hard to imagine a longer or more pressing “to do” list than that of Yemen’s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh. Quite apart from the attempt by Yemeni jihadists to plant parcel bombs in US-bound cargo planes, he is beset with trouble: Recent times have seen a hideous surge in hunger among Yemeni children and a plunge in the level of ground water supplies and oil reserves. A war against northern rebels has raged for six years, smashing towns and villages and turning 350,000 people into refugees while draining the central government’s already shallow coffers. In the south, would-be revivers of the defunct 1968–1990 People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen are gaining force, threatening to split the nation in two and snatch the richest oilfields, to boot. And then of course there’s the daily chore of keeping family, clan and a web of cronies happy, while appeasing tribal sheikhs, religious leaders, opposition parties and the haughty Western diplomats who supply vital top-ups of aid.


Perhaps it was the squirrels and peacocks leaping in the foliage overhead. Or maybe the way the rambling grounds of the Diggi Palace divided into separate tableaux—here Gulzar, a venerated Urdu poet, recited before a rapt audience, there a pair of London publishers toasted a trio of hard drinking and smoking Kashmiris, while over on the lawn tablas thumped and sittars whined. All this made it hard not to feel like a figure in an outsized miniature, such as those late paintings of the great durbars of the Raj, in which suited British officers faced off against far more splendidly plumed native rulers. Yet the Jaipur Literature Festival, now in its fifth year, is determinedly void of pomp and hierarchy.