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Longform’s Picks of the Week

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FBI.gov; Wikimedia Commons/Dantadd; Win McNamee/Getty Images; Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images; FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images
FBI.gov; Wikimedia Commons/Dantadd; Win McNamee/Getty Images; Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images; FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images

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.

 

My Captivity, by Theo Padnos, New York Times Magazine.

Theo Padnos, American Journalist, on Being Kidnapped, Tortured and Released in Syria

I was now 20 months into my life as a prisoner of the Nusra Front: the abrupt departures, the suicide belts, the mercurial behavior of the Man of Learning, the desert convoys, the way I might be shot or spared at any moment — this was my world. I was almost used to it.

In October 2012, however, when I was first kidnapped, I used to sit in my cell — a former consulting room in the Children’s Hospital in Aleppo — in a state of unremitting terror.

 

In Brazilian City, Homeless Face ‘Extermination’, by Matt Sandy, Al Jazeera America.

Attempts to turn the investigation of at least 50 deaths over to federal authorities have stalled.

The memory of the 57 killed since August 2012 is preserved with a list kept by human-rights campaigners — some by full name, others by their street monikers: Hummingbird, Woodpecker, Cinnamon. The youngest was 13, the oldest 52.

The deaths have equaled about one in 20 of the city’s homeless population. In the two-year period, homeless people in Goiânia were murdered at a rate roughly ten times higher than in the rest of Brazil, although experts warned of the difficulty of gathering complete data.

 

An American Dream Deferred, by Eli Saslow, Washington Post.

Javier Flores hoped for a reprieve from President Obama, but he was deported to Mexico, leaving his family behind.

How much of these last 19 days had he spent waiting? And how much more time before then, home in Ohio, just hoping his circumstances might change? In June, he had watched on TV as President Obama promised he would stop deporting certain kinds of illegal immigrants by the end of summer. The president and his staff said they would bypass Congress by issuing an executive action to help people with clean criminal records and American-citizen children — people like Javier. “This means you!” an immigration advocate had written to him, and even though Javier had already been ordered deported he believed his miracle had come. He would be able to stay with his children, ages 10, 7, 4 and 9 months. He would be able to keep his job at the window factory, where he managed 30 people and paid $850 in U.S. taxes each month. “A perfect case,” the advocate wrote again, and all Javier had to do was wait for Obama to say the things he had promised to say.

But then July turned into August, and August turned into September, and Obama decided it was more politically prudent to delay his executive action until after November’s midterm elections. So instead of being offered his reprieve, Javier was sent back to the poorest state in Mexico, where the advocate had sent him one final note. “Sorry,” it read. “Terrible timing.”

 

The Great Paper Caper, by Wells Tower, GQ.

Frank Bourassa became the most prolific counterfeiter in American history—a guy with more than $200 million in nearly flawless fake twenties stuffed in a garage. How he tricked the Canadian and U.S. governments and got away with it all, well, that’s even crazier.

Frank’s self-image may be described as not merely healthy but hyperpituitary. When I asked him where he found the lunatic gumption not only to enter into the risky business of counterfeiting but to do so at the unheard-of scale of hundreds of millions of dollars, Frank replied with a shrug: “I can do anything I want. I can go to the moon. I’m good at figuring out stuff. I could do a heart transplant if I wanted to.”

Are we to take Frank at his word? Should he be allowed by NASA to attempt a lunar landing? Should he perform your father’s triple bypass? I will say only this: Do not discount someone who apparently launched a currency-fraud scheme so cunning that he was able to rook the Secret Service and the Canadian government and then walk away from the whole mess a free and wealthy man.

 

Questioning the Faith in the Cradle of Islam, by Carlyle Murphy, Foreign Policy.

In Saudi Arabia, a new generation is pushing back against the government’s embrace of fundamentalism. But is the kingdom ready for nonbelievers?

We are not witnessing a Reformation in the birthplace of Islam. Mosque and state remain closely bound in Saudi Arabia, basic law is derived from sharia, and the king is known as the “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques,” a reference to the holy places of Mecca and Medina.

But the religious attitudes of ordinary people are changing, as is the relationship between the House of Saud and its clerical establishment. This evolving religious scene is marked by less clerical control of social behavior, increasing diversity of religious thought, and more polarization between progressive and extreme right-wing versions of Islam. These changes have already diminished the monarchy’s ability to use religion to enforce social conformity and political obedience. And as the kingdom struggles with questions over succession and the Middle East’s escalating mayhem, these changes will bring added challenges to the House of Saud’s grip on power.

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