Christopher de Bellaigue’s latest book is The ­Islamic Enlightenment: The Struggle Between Faith and ­Reason, 1798 to Modern Times. (June 2020)

Follow Christopher de Bellaigue on Twitter: @bellaigueC.


The Pillage of India

An East India Company official, probably the Scottish surgeon William Fullerton of Rosemount, with attendants; painting by Dip Chand, circa 1760–1764

The Anarchy: The East India Company, Corporate Violence, and the Pillage of an Empire

by William Dalrymple

Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India

by Shashi Tharoor
In 1700 India is estimated to have accounted for 27 percent of the world economy and a quarter of the global textile trade. A considerable number of employees of the East India Company made fortunes from off-books trading in textiles, saltpeter, indigo, opium, salt, tobacco, betel, rice, and sugar; sidelines also included selling Mughal-issued tax exemptions and lending money to distressed Indian grandees. Neither the directors in London nor the Mughal authorities approved of such freelancing. But the directors didn’t particularly mind, provided that the thirty-odd ships that sailed east every year from England’s south coast returned laden with luxury imports, along with a share of the taxes collected from the Indian enclaves that the company controlled.

The River

Hindu pilgrims bathing in the Ganges, Prayagraj, India, 2013

Unruly Waters: How Rains, Rivers, Coasts, and Seas Have Shaped Asia’s History

by Sunil Amrith

Ganges: The Many Pasts of an Indian River

by Sudipta Sen
In 1981, Sunil Amrith tells us in Unruly Waters, the historian Bernard Bailyn drew a distinction between what he called “manifest” processes in history, by which he meant those that were apparent to people at the time they happened, and “latent” processes, whose occurrence—and hence significance—were only discerned later. In …

The Seduction of Jihad

The Interpol notice issued in October 2013 after the Juma sisters left Norway for Syria

Two Sisters: A Father, His Daughters, and Their Journey into the Syrian Jihad

by Åsne Seierstad, translated from the Norwegian by Seán Kinsella
Having a conspicuous authorial presence in reportage serves as both an overture and a safeguard. It establishes a complicity between author and reader, allowing the two to learn at the same pace. And it makes the author’s motives and methods more transparent than they might otherwise be. If the author …

The New Europeans

Visitors at an amusement park in London during an Eid celebration, July 2014

La Fracture [The Fracture]

by Gilles Kepel

Al-Britannia, My Country: A Journey Through Muslim Britain

by James Fergusson
Europe has become more anti-Muslim as it has become more Muslim. Though it is hard to find many cultural affinities between the Pakistanis of Bradford, the Algerians of Marseille, and the Turks of Berlin, Islam remains the main determinant of identity for millions of people. That this is the case in hitherto multicultural Britain and laïque France suggests that, for all the differences between the two countries’ systems and the relative tolerance of the British one, neither has been able to solve the problem of Muslim integration. As long as this remains the case, and as long as the Muslim population continues to increase so quickly, Islam will continue to cause apprehension among very large numbers of Europeans.


World Cup 2018: English Romance

England player Harry Maguire talking to his fiancée Fern Hawkins after the game against Colombia at Spartak Stadium, Moscow, Russia, July 3, 2018

Nine months before the UK leaves Europe, the terms of our disengagement have gone from unclear to opaque, and the government is vulnerable to internal revolt. But the good news eclipses the bad, doesn’t it? And all that—and Boris Johnson, and the Brexit question of what is to happen to the Irish border, and the future of our blight-ravaged high streets—is marginalia. As a nation, England has to concentrate on the task at hand and ignore peripheral distractions. Come on, football, you know you want it.

Britain: When Vengeance Spreads

For all the gestures of inter-communal solidarity that have been given much publicity since the June 18 attack outside a London mosque, the more significant and ominous sentiment has been one of vindication. Anecdotal evidence, the prevalence of online Islamophobia, and a spike in cases of anti-Muslim taunting in the street suggest that many Britons, from small towns in southern England to depressed, working-class areas in the north, feel that “they” had it coming.

Iran: The Miracle That Wasn’t

Iran’s presidential election on May 19 will in all likelihood be won by the incumbent, the moderate cleric Hassan Rouhani. In 2015, two years after he came to power, Rouhani pulled the country back from the brink of confrontation with the West when he guided Iran toward the historic nuclear deal with the Obama administration. But the economic miracle that was promised by the Rouhani government hasn’t happened, and the sense of anti-climax is palpable—a disillusionment that has broadened into a general contempt for politics, politicians, and promises that aren’t kept.