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.
“Born Red” by Evan Osnos, the New Yorker.
How Xi Jinping, an unremarkable provincial administrator, became China’s most authoritarian leader since Mao.
“After Mao, China encouraged the image of a ‘collective Presidency’ over the importance of individual leaders. Xi has revised that approach, and his government, using old and new tools, has enlarged his image. In the spirit of Mao’s Little Red Book, publishers have produced eight volumes of Xi’s speeches and writings; the most recent, titled ‘The Remarks of Xi Jinping,’ dissects his utterances, ranks his favorite phrases, and explains his cultural references. A study of the People’s Daily found that, by his second anniversary in office, Xi was appearing in the paper more than twice as often as his predecessor at the same point. He stars in a series of cartoons aimed at young people, beginning with ‘How to Make a Leader,’ which describes him, despite his family pedigree, as a symbol of meritocracy — ‘one of the secrets of the China miracle.’ The state news agency has taken the unprecedented step of adopting a nickname for the General Secretary: Xi Dada—roughly, Big Uncle Xi. In January, the Ministry of Defense released oil paintings depicting him in heroic poses; thousands of art students applying to the Beijing University of Technology had been judged on their ability to sketch his likeness. The Beijing Evening News reported that one applicant admired the President so much that ‘she had to work hard to stop her hands from trembling.'”
“Operation Red Falcon” by Ronen Bergman, the Atavist Magazine.
He was one of Israel’s greatest spies. Then he brought his own country to the brink of war.
“In September 1948, in the midst of Israel’s War of Independence, 14-year-old Yehuda immigrated with his family to Israel. They were welcomed in the new country by Gil’s uncle, a former member of Etzel, the extremist guerrilla militia that fought against the British Mandate and the Arabs before the State of Israel was established. New immigrants were being given homes abandoned by the Arabs who had fled or were expelled from areas conquered by Israeli forces. Gil’s family was allocated a house in Jaffa, but not long after moving in he left for a kibbutz, where he stayed until he was conscripted into the army at age 18.
In 1964, the IDF sent Gil to train military forces in Chad and Cameroon. The training of African military and intelligence forces was part of a strategy known as the periphery doctrine, instituted by Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion. The idea was to foster alliances with the countries just beyond the hostile Arab states encircling Israel. In exchange for weaponry and military and intelligence training, Israel received permission to use those countries as covert bases to act against the Arabs.”
“The Deadly Global War for Sand” by Vince Beiser, Wired.
Paleram Chauhan, a 52-year-old Indian farmer, was shot dead during the summer of 2013. The reason: his opposition to a gang of criminals stealing his village’s sand to sell on the black market.
“Sand mining has erased two dozen Indonesian islands since 2005. The stuff of those islands mostly ended up in Singapore, which needs titanic amounts to continue its program of artificially adding territory by reclaiming land from the sea. The city-state has created an extra 130 square kilometers in the past 40 years and is still adding more, making it by far the world’s largest sand importer. The collateral environmental damage has been so extreme that Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam have all banned exports of sand to Singapore.
All of that has spawned a worldwide boom in illegal sand mining. On Indonesia’s island of Bali, far inland from the tourist beaches, I visit a sand mining area. It looks like Shangri-la after a meteor strike. Smack in the middle of a beautiful valley winding between verdant mountains, surrounded by jungle and rice paddies, is a raggedy 14-acre black pit of exposed sand and rock. On its floor, men in shorts and flip-flops wield sledgehammers and shovels to load sand and gravel into clattering, smoke-belching sorting machines.”
“I Followed my Stolen iPhone Across the World, Became a Celebrity in China, and Found a Friend for Life” by Matt Stopera, Buzzfeed.
This really weird thing happened to me. Then it got even weirder. Then it turned insane. Do I have a story for you.
“The story begins in early 2014 when I was in the East Village at my favorite bar, EVS. I’ve said this multiple times so far, but I swear it’s on St. Marks and it’s not douchey. Also don’t start going there, because it’s my bar and it’s impossible to find a not-crowded bar in New York City with a good happy hour. So yeah, don’t go there. Anyway, it’s like February 2014 and I’m out drinking my $20 happy hour bottle of wine when someone comes into the bar and swipes my phone off the table. Honestly, it’s genius. I applaud the person who took my phone. I bet you he stole 20 phones that night. It’s the perfect place to steal phones. Bravo. Genius. Anyway, I call my phone and it goes straight to voicemail: the international sign of death. I was never seeing that phone again. The phone was gone…
Our meeting is so quick and crazy I barely remember any of it. It’s scary being bombarded by cameras! I finally understand what it’s like to be Kim K leaving LAX. It’s jarring, especially because everyone looks like shit after a flight. FML. I get rushed into a car with Brother Orange’s face on it. It’s amazing. I have a total ‘celeb in a car moment’ as photographers swarm it. It’s insane. We take off for the hotel, which is about an hour and a half away. Everything is crazy. Bro gives me back my iPhone. I notice a small dent that I made from this one time I dropped it. It’s so weird. Me and Bro Orange start talking through our translators.”
“The Hunted” by Umar Farooq, Foreign Policy.
Uzbekistan’s president has jailed, tortured, and murdered his opponents at home. Now, he’s hiring hit men to track down and kill dissidents abroad.
“The Uzbek president’s unrelenting pursuit of his critics has pushed peaceful opposition out of the country. For a man known to boil his critics alive, a usurper lurks around every corner. He has even imprisoned his globe-trotting, pop-singer princess of a daughter, Gulnara Karimova. On March 29, Karimov was re-elected to a fourth term, the second time he violated a constitutional two-term limit. Western observers criticized the election, in which the president won more than 90 percent of the vote, with a turnout of 91 percent.
Pious old Uzbek dissidents pray for the president’s life to end, while others hone their skills as jihadis in conflicts across Asia and the Middle East. In the last decade, thousands have joined militant groups fighting in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and over the last few years, hundreds of battle-hardened Uzbeks have joined the Islamic State in its effort to establish a theocracy in Syria and Iraq. Many of the Uzbek jihadis have teamed up with Chechen rebels who hold Russian passports.”
Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images; ALEXANDER ZEMLIANICHENKO/AFP/Getty Images; PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images; Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images; Lintao Zhang/Getty Images