Max Rodenbeck is the South Asia Bureau Chief for The Economist. (November 2019)

IN THE REVIEW

The Power of Arabic

A map of the world from Entertainment for He Who Longs to Travel the World, a geographical book from 1154 by the Arab scholar Muhammad al-Idrisi. The map shows the south at the top, as was customary in early Islamic cartography.

Arabs: A 3,000-Year History of Peoples, Tribes and Empires

by Tim Mackintosh-Smith
At the end of a qat party, typically close to sunset, there comes a moment when the effervescence settles, conversation slackens, and thoughts turn quietly inward. This Solomonic pause—Yemenis call it lahzat Sulayman—serves as a cue. Guests rise from their cushions; hosts slip back to their own pursuits. It is …

Captain Pakistan’s Wild Ride

Imran Khan

Reham Khan

by Reham Khan

Reimagining Pakistan: Transforming a Dysfunctional Nuclear State

by Husain Haqqani
When he was young and dreaming of a career in cricket, long before he dreamed of being prime minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan was told to trim his ambitions. He wanted not just to play the sport professionally; he wanted to be a fast bowler, a niche talent in what …

A Mighty Wind

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a rally in Saharsa, Bihar, August 2015

How the BJP Wins: Inside India’s Greatest Election Machine

by Prashant Jha

When Crime Pays: Money and Muscle in Indian Politics

by Milan Vaishnav
Hawa, a Hindi word for wind or air, carries a subtler meaning in Indian politics. A politician’s hawa is the tailwind that propels him to victory; it is the superior momentum that comes with being on a roll. For the past five years in the world’s biggest democracy, one man, one party, and one ideological current have pretty much cornered all the hawa. A puffing guardian spirit tangibly energizes Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister; despite his modest stature, the bearded sixty-seven-year-old can fill a room with a swirling air of quiet purpose or, some would say, menace. All across the country hawa can be felt ruffling the ubiquitous orange flags of his Bharatiya Janata, or Indian People’s Party (BJP), and stirring the long-suppressed ambitions of the Sangh Parivar, the “family” of Hindu nationalist groups that is the party’s ideological home.

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.

NYR DAILY

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.

Jaipur

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.