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.
“Fences: A Brexit Diary” by Zadie Smith, New York Review of Books
Much has been written since about the shockingly irresponsible behavior of both David Cameron and Boris Johnson, but I don’t think I would have been so entirely focused upon Boris and Dave if I had woken up in my own bed, in London. No, then my first thoughts would have been essentially hermeneutic. What does this vote mean? What was it really about? Immigration? Inequality? Historic xenophobia? Sovereignty? EU bureaucracy? Anti-neoliberal revolution? Class war?
But in Northern Ireland it was clear that one thing it certainly wasn’t about, not even slightly, was Northern Ireland, and this focused the mind on what an extraordinary act of solipsism has allowed this long-brutalized little country to become the collateral damage of an internal rift within the Conservative Party. And Scotland! It’s hard to credit. That two supposedly well-educated men, who have presumably read their British history, could with such utter recklessness throw into hazard a hard-won union of three hundred years’ standing—in order to satisfy their own professional ambitions—appeared that morning a larger crime, to me, than the severing of the decades-long European pact that actually prompted it all.
“Donald Trump’s Ghostwriter Tells All” by Jane Mayer, The New Yorker
“The Art of the Deal” made America see Trump as a charmer with an unfailing knack for business. Tony Schwartz helped create that myth—and regrets it.
Around this time, Schwartz, who was one of the leading young magazine writers of the day, stopped by Trump’s office, in Trump Tower. Schwartz had written about Trump before. In 1985, he’d published a piece in New York called “A Different Kind of Donald Trump Story,” which portrayed him not as a brilliant mogul but as a ham-fisted thug who had unsuccessfully tried to evict rent-controlled and rent-stabilized tenants from a building that he had bought on Central Park South. Trump’s efforts—which included a plan to house homeless people in the building in order to harass the tenants—became what Schwartz described as a “fugue of failure, a farce of fumbling and bumbling.” An accompanying cover portrait depicted Trump as unshaven, unpleasant-looking, and shiny with sweat. Yet, to Schwartz’s amazement, Trump loved the article. He hung the cover on a wall of his office, and sent a fan note to Schwartz, on his gold-embossed personal stationery. “Everybody seems to have read it,” Trump enthused in the note, which Schwartz has kept.
“I was shocked,” Schwartz told me. “Trump didn’t fit any model of human being I’d ever met. He was obsessed with publicity, and he didn’t care what you wrote.” He went on, “Trump only takes two positions. Either you’re a scummy loser, liar, whatever, or you’re the greatest. I became the greatest. He wanted to be seen as a tough guy, and he loved being on the cover.” Schwartz wrote him back, saying, “Of all the people I’ve written about over the years, you are certainly the best sport.”
“Confessions of a killer policeman” by Raghu Karnad and Grace Jajo, The Guardian
In a state bloodied by decades of armed rebellion, Thounaojam Herojit became one of India’s most deadly policemen – killing more than a hundred people. This year, he became something rarer still: an executioner who wanted to tell the world about his crimes.
When he began to kill, Thounaojam Herojit never intended to tell his wife – let alone the whole country. After an execution, he would go home and wait by the corrugated tin gate for her to bring him a towel and bucket. He bathed, right there in the lane, as their children did, to keep the pollution of death from entering their house. Each time, he would ask her to wash his uniform, even though his clothes looked clean. Eventually she caught on.
The worst days were ahead of Herojit – these were merely the most dangerous. He was a young police constable in Manipur, a province in the north-east of India bloodied by decades of separatist insurgency and state reprisal. But he was also a commando – part of an elite unit raised to fight the insurgents – and he was set to become their most effective executioner.
“Can This App Help Syrian Refugees Survive in Exile?” By David Lepeska, Narratively
Even once they find freedom, an endless maze of legal issues and language barriers stand in any immigrant’s way. One refugee coder is building the tools to break down those walls.
When the uprising against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad began five years ago, Mojahed Akil was a computer science student in Aleppo. Taking to the streets one day to protest with friends, he was arrested, flown to Damascus, beaten, and tortured. “They punched me over and over. They strapped my wrists to the ceiling and stretched my body as far as it could go,” the 26-year-old said calmly during a recent interview in the offices of his small tech firm in Gaziantep, Turkey, some 25 miles from the Syrian border. “This is very normal.”
Akil’s father, a businessman, paid the regime to release his son, who fled to Turkey. There, he ran into a massive language barrier. “I don’t know Turkish, and Turks don’t speak English or Arabic,” he recalled. “I had difficulty talking to Turkish people, understanding what to do, the legal requirements for Syrians.”
“The World’s Largest Refugee Camp Is Invited to Please Shut Down” by Ty McCormick, Foreign Policy
The Kenyan government says it will clear its country of Somali refugees before the end of this year. But it’s not saying how.
Noor knows what it means to return prematurely to a war zone. In May 2015, after Kenya renewed what has become a perennial threat to shutter the sprawling, windswept settlement on its northeastern frontier that houses more than 326,000 refugees, most of them from neighboring Somalia, she decided to sign up for the U.N.’s voluntary repatriation program. Better to go back on her own terms than risk being rounded up and deported without warning, she thought.
So in August, after waiting three months for the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) to process her application, she boarded a flight to the Somali capital of Mogadishu. She found her old house in Wardigle, a neighborhood whose name in Somali roughly translates to “stream” — or “channel” — “of blood,” still standing. But less than two months later, a mortar fired by al-Shabab militants crashed into her kitchen. The round sheared off her right breast, sliced a 3-inch gash in her left foot, and left shards of metal embedded deep in her left hip.
Image credits: Getty Images; Alex Wong/Getty Images; TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP/Getty Images; Carl Court/Getty Images; Ty McCormick/Foreign Policy
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