Lindsey Hilsum is International Editor of Britain’s Channel 4 News and the author of In Extremis: The Life and Death of the War Correspondent Marie Colvin. Her previous book was Sandstorm: Libya in the Time of Revolution. (December 2019)
Guest House for Young Widows: Among the Women of ISIS
by Azadeh Moaveni
Our Women on the Ground: Essays by Arab Women Reporting from the Arab World
edited by Zahra Hankir, with a foreword by Christiane Amanpour
“You go home now and attend to your work, the loom and the spindle, and tell the waiting-women to get on with theirs,” says Hector to his wife, Andromache, in the Iliad. “War is men’s business.” The eight-year-long conflict in Syria gives the lie to that age-old view. The twin burdens of responsibility for children and for family “honor” may still fall disproportionately on women, but their role has not been limited to keeping the home fires burning and preparing sons for battle. In Syria, women are journalists, filmmakers, and fighters.
Salman’s Legacy: The Dilemmas of a New Era in Saudi Arabia
edited by Madawi Al-Rasheed
Daring to Drive: A Saudi Woman’s Awakening
by Manal al-Sharif
In June the circus came to town. Nothing remarkable, you might think, except that the town was Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, where until two years ago all forms of entertainment were banned. The mutaween—the religious police—had carefully vetted the circus I attended, and the ankle-length black leggings and sparkly long sleeves of the lady with the dancing Dalmatians had passed muster, as had the body-hugging dark costumes worn by a group of androgynous flamenco-style dancers. It was a particular joy to be in the audience, watching the delight of both children and adults, oohing and aahing at the tightrope walkers and convulsing with laughter at an act involving a large poodle leaping in and out of a garbage can. In the intermission I canvassed opinion. It was a few days after women had been permitted to drive legally for the first time, and spectators understood that this was about more than the right to go to the Big Top.
No Turning Back: Life, Loss, and Hope in Wartime Syria
by Rania Abouzeid
Brothers of the Gun: A Memoir of the Syrian War
by Marwan Hisham and Molly Crabapple
Every few seconds my iPhone lights up with new posts on a WhatsApp group linking doctors in the Damascus suburb of eastern Ghouta to journalists in the outside world. News of Russian and Syrian government bombardment comes more or less in real time: “Before three hours in Ghouta, Russian plane tracked ambulances and hit both ambulances and hospitals.” “Dr Hamza: I have treated twenty-nine cases so far, the majority are children.” Visuals are captioned in Arabic and English: “Photos of shelters that local residents dug under their homes.” The journalists, who include correspondents from The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other international newspapers, use the group to clarify the numbers of casualties and check locations of attacks, while broadcast media request Skype interviews from inside the war zone.
The Impossible Revolution: Making Sense of the Syrian Tragedy
by Yassin al-Haj Saleh, with a foreword by Robin Yassin-Kassab
The Caliphate at War: Operational Realities and Innovations of the Islamic State
by Ahmed S. Hashim
The battle against ISIS in Syria is nearly over—attacked by the regime and its allies on one hand and the US-backed coalition on the other, its leadership is on the run, and the territory it controls diminishes by the day. Elsewhere in Syria, a frequently violated, Russian-orchestrated “cessation of hostilities” is in place. The revolution failed, and the wars it spawned are either changing form or limping to a bitter, ragged, whimpering end. The lines on the map are still shifting, but although Syria may never be unified in the way it was before 2011, the Assad government, with Russian and Iranian help, is reconsolidating power in the main urban centers. New conflicts are brewing.
Those of us who have experienced war—survivors, soldiers, reporters, aid workers—are haunted by what we cannot unsee. The images recur in nightmares, or distort a vista that hides a personal horror. I wince every time a new visitor extols the beauty of the hills of Rwanda—those of us who witnessed the 1994 genocide do not see neat fields and forests, but ditches of bodies with their throats cut and piles of skulls hidden in the folds of the hills. We lurch between wanting to spare others and a desperate need for them also to see the pictures in our heads. It’s not just that we can’t get rid of the ghosts, but that the pastoral scene boosts government propaganda that Rwandans live in harmony now and no longer fear the neighbors who killed their parents and grandparents. Whatever they say, we know how the past speaks—or shouts—to the present.