Longform’s Picks of the Week

The best stories from around the world.


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.


State of Deception, by Ryan Lizza, the New Yorker

Why won’t the President rein in the intelligence community?

Wyden, who said that he has had “several spirited discussions” with Obama, is not optimistic. “It really seems like General Clapper, the intelligence leadership, and the lawyers drive this in terms of how decisions get made at the White House,” he told me. It is evident from the Snowden leaks that Obama inherited a regime of dragnet surveillance that often operated outside the law and raised serious constitutional questions. Instead of shutting down or scaling back the programs, Obama has worked to bring them into narrow compliance with rules-set forth by a court that operates in secret-that often contradict the views on surveillance that he strongly expressed when he was a senator and a Presidential candidate.

“These are profoundly different visions,” Wyden said, referring to his disagreements with Obama, Feinstein, and senior intelligence officials. “I start with the proposition that security and liberty are not mutually exclusive.” He noted that General Alexander had an “exceptionally expansive vision” of what the N.S.A. should collect. I asked Wyden for his opinion of the members of the review panel, most of whom are officials with ties to the intelligence establishment. He smiled and raised his eyebrows. An aide said, “Hope springs eternal.”


Turkey: ‘Surreal, Menacing, Pompous…,’ by Christopher de Bellaigue, the New York Review of Books

The closest model to what might be called a viable Islamic democracy — the Turkish model — is collapsing before our eyes.

On May 27, small numbers of environmentalists occupied Gezi Park, in Istanbul’s Taksim Square, protesting against plans to replace the park with a shopping center inspired by the design of an old Ottoman barracks. Over the next few days they were joined by others expressing dissatisfaction with what they regard as the government’s meddlesome Islamist agenda. The police responded violently and the agitation grew; by the time of the brutal eviction of a huge crowd from Taksim Square, more than two weeks later, some 3.5 million people (from a population of 80 million) had taken part in almost five thousand demonstrations across Turkey, five had lost their lives, and more than eight thousand had been injured. Clearly, the “Gezi events” were about more than trees.

The unrest of this summer divided Turks on the same issues that have caused civil strife elsewhere in the region: among them political Islam, ethnic and sectarian divisions (involving the Kurdish and Alevi minorities), and authoritarian rule. Although a meltdown on Egyptian lines is implausible, a transition to Islamic authoritarianism is not. That would do further injury to the idea that Islam and democracy can share the public sphere. It would also be the end of an experiment of which Turks are justifiably proud.

‘A Graveyard for Homosexuals,’ by Katie J.M. Baker, Newsweek

Spurred by zealous American missionaries, Ethiopia has declared war on gay men.

But, while Ethiopia prohibits foreign LGBT-related activism, it welcomes international religious groups that preach homophobia. Thus, “religion is used as proxy for discrimination,” explains Ty Cobb, director of Global Engagement at the Human Rights Campaign, by groups who “couch hateful rhetoric in faith-based terms.”

Last year’s anti-gay conference and others like it are organized and funded by United for Life, a Western Evangelical Christian organization that receives funding from the U.K. and U.S. In May 2013, United for Life hosted a workshop during which police told government officials, religious leaders and health professionals that “homosexual family members and neighbors” were likely to sexually abuse children. A representative from the Ethiopian Inter-Religious Council Against Homosexuality announced that the council was making “promising” progress in convincing the government to introduce the death penalty to punish “homosexual acts.” United for Life’s president, Seyoum Antonius, has made it clear that he won’t quit anti-gay advocacy until Ethiopia adopts the death penalty. One of his rallying cries is, “Africa will become a graveyard for homosexuality!”

Missing American in Iran was on Unapproved Mission, by Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman, AP

An investigation has revealed that Bob Levinson, an American who went missing in Iran in 2007 was working for the CIA.

In March 2007, retired FBI agent Robert Levinson flew to Kish Island, an Iranian resort awash with tourists, smugglers and organized crime figures. Days later, after an arranged meeting with an admitted killer, he checked out of his hotel, slipped into a taxi and vanished. For years, the U.S. has publicly described him as a private citizen who traveled to the tiny Persian Gulf island on private business.

But that was just a cover story. An Associated Press investigation reveals that Levinson was working for the CIA. In an extraordinary breach of the most basic CIA rules, a team of analysts – with no authority to run spy operations – paid Levinson to gather intelligence from some of the world’s darkest corners. He vanished while investigating the Iranian government for the U.S.


Back in the USSR, by Michael Weiss, Foreign Policy

The Ukraine protests aren’t about the dream of Europe, but the fear of a Belarusian nightmare.

Try finding a cohesive working c
ultural definition of Europe and see where that gets you. No one’s ever spoken seriously of the “great European novel,” except maybe Susan Sontag. “Lie back and think of Europe” is a phrase that’s probably only ever uttered by right-wing commentators terrified of supposed Muslim demographic trends on the continent. Even the apocryphal comment often attributed to Henry Kissinger — “Who do I call if I want to speak to Europe?” — was meant to inspire titters about the prospect of getting nations that used to love to go to war with one another to act as collective decision-makers on matters of foreign policy. 

And yet, Ukraine is now entering its third week of protests in thermometer-shattering cold, and risking a nasty state crackdown, all because President Viktor Yanukovych put the kibosh on an association agreement that would have given Ukraine greater trade opportunities with the European Union. That this is an event both intelligible and singular for a former Soviet satellite that lies on the fault line between East and West was best captured by Timothy Snyder, that great historian of fault-line nations (and fault-line national tragedies), in a short essay in the New York Review of Books: “Would anyone anywhere in the world be willing to take a truncheon in the head for the sake of a trade agreement with the United States?” Implicit in the question is an acknowledgement that for the countries of the former Soviet Union, identity is shaped as much by what one does not aspire to be as by what one does.

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