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Longform’s Picks of the Week

Longform’s Picks of the Week

Every weekend, Longform highlights its favorite international articles of the week. For daily picks of new and classic nonfiction, check out Longform or follow @longform on Twitter. Have an iPad? Download Longform’s new app and read all of the latest in-depth stories from dozens of magazines, including Foreign Policy.

When the Jihad Came to Mali
Joshua Hammer • New York Review of Books 

A history of how Tuareg separatists, jihadists, cigarette smugglers, and narcotraffickers have turned Northern Mali into “the globe’s most significant terrorist threat.”

On my second morning in Mopti, the French seized Timbuktu. Fighters from al-Qaeda and Ansar Dine paused before fleeing to commit one last act of desecration: they set fire to hundreds of manuscripts at the city’s Ahmed Baba Center, a library that I had visited in 2006 and 2009. Timbuktu’s citizens had buried thousands of other ancient books in holes in the desert and elsewhere, and prevented a far graver loss. “We are joyful,” I was told by Azima Ag Mohammed Ali, the Tuareg who had been my guide in 2009. In November 2011 Azima’s last client, a German backpacker, had been shot dead outside a Timbuktu hotel after resisting gunmen’s attempts to kidnap him. Azima got there a few minutes later and “saw his body lying in the street.” Three other Europeans had been dragged off and still remain hostages in the desert. After nearly a year’s absence, Azima was preparing to return home to Timbuktu with his wife and children to try to start his life again in the city.

Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images

Prince Alwaleed and the Curious Case of Kingdom Holding Stock
Kerry A. Dolan • Forbes

Investigating the real worth of an image-conscious Saudi billionaire. 

Any reporter who shows an interest in Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal of Saudi Arabia can expect at some point to get a little gift from His Royal Highness. A driver will courier over a thick, tall green leather satchel, embossed with the oasis palm logo and name of Alwaleed’s Kingdom Holding Co., weighing at least 10 pounds. Like Russian nesting dolls, the green leather satchel reveals a green leather-bound sleeve, which in turn encases a green leather-bound annual report. About the only thing not shrouded in leather are thin versions of a dozen of the best-known magazines in the world, each boasting the prince on its cover.

Fayez Nuraldine/AFP/Getty Images

“You Have All the Reasons to Be Angry”
Eve Fairbanks • The New Republic

A mine massacre and the fight for South Africa’s future. 

On the morning of Thursday, August 16, 2012, as thousands of striking South African miners marched in circles atop a pile of red rocks, the police lined up their tanks in front of it. Roughly 30 feet high and 50 feet across, the rock pile was the closest thing to a mountain for miles, jutting out of the flat expanse of the mining area called Marikana, 60 miles northwest of Johannesburg. The miners, who had been on the hill for six days demanding a raise from their employer, the platinum giant Lonmin, were unbowed. Cloaked in tribal blankets, they sang protest songs and waved knives and knobkerries, wooden batons given to boys at their tribal initiations as a symbol of power.

The miners’ strike has an integral place in the history of South Africa. Ever since mining began here at the end of the nineteenth century, poor shaft workers have chafed against the mining-enriched white establishment. Mine strikes in the 1980s kicked South Africa’s black-liberation struggle into high gear, setting the stage for the fall of the white-run apartheid government. On the face of it, the strike at Marikana seemed like a continuation of this classic conflict between rich white and poor black: Lonmin is headquartered in London and has mostly white managers.

Alexander Joe/AFP/Getty Images

The Inside Story of How the White House Let Diplomacy Fail in Afghanistan

Vali Nasr • Foreign Policy 

A former Obama administration official on a “deeply disillusioning experience.”

The true key to ending the war, Holbrooke often told us, was to change Pakistan. Pakistan was the sanctuary that the Taliban insurgency used as a launching pad and a place to escape U.S. retaliation. But to convince Pakistan that we meant business, we first had to prove that America was going to stay. 

But how? Pakistan’s double-dealing was in part a symptom of its bitterness over having been abandoned and then treated as a rogue state after a previous Afghan war, against the Soviets, had been won in 1989. Pakistan was also deeply insecure about India’s meteoric rise and growing strategic value to the West. Pakistanis were playing things very close to the vest. We had to get them to open up. Could we convince them that their strategic interests in Afghanistan could be addressed? If so, perhaps in time they might reassess their interests in a way more favorable to ours.

Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

That’s Not a Droid, That’s My Girlfriend
Aubrey Belford • The Global Mail 

On the development of companion robots in Japan.

But while Kozaki has aged, Kobayakawa has not. After three years, she’s still 16. She always will be. That’s because she is a simulation; Kobayakawa only exists inside a computer. 

Kozaki’s girlfriend has never been born. She will never die. Technically, she has never lived. She may be deleted, but Kozaki would never let that happen.

Because he’s in love.

Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images