Graeme Wood

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Mastermind

Originally appeared in The Daily.

The Hunt for KSM: Inside the Pursuit and Takedown of the Real 9/11 Mastermind

By Terry McDermott and Josh Meyer

Hachette, $22.95

The best-known photograph of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, admitted mastermind of the September 11 attacks, is one of those images that cannot be unseen. Bleary-eyed and disheveled, he sports a stubbly double-chin, and so much body hair that you’d think he could be lifted up by the scruff of his neck, like a kitten. Within hours of the photograph’s release, shortly after his capture in Pakistan in March 2003, Internet jesters noted a resemblance to the hirsute porn star Ron Jeremy (himself a prolific producer of cannot-be-unseen images).

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This Very Old House

Originally appeared in The Daily.

House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East

by Anthony Shadid

Mariner Books; 336pp.
A century of warfare in Lebanon has sent most Lebanese into exile, flung to the corners of the earth like shrapnel from a rocket blast. These 12 million overseas Lebanese — three times the number still in the country — keep their identity strong by marrying other Lebanese, sending their kids to Lebanese schools and, often, tithing money to their co-religionists in the old country.
Among the Christian faction of this diaspora was the late Anthony Shadid, the two-time Pulitzer winner who died of an asthma attack while reporting in Syria earlier this month for the New York Times. He grew up in Oklahoma, in many ways disconnected from Lebanon: He spoke English at home, and he never visited Lebanon until his early 20s. But the Lebanese force was strong in this one, and eventually he returned to the site of his family home, the subject of “House of Stone,” his third and final book. Read the rest of this entry »

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Freed Press

Late last year, USAID hired me to teach a seminar about journalism to Libyan journalists.  I wrote about the experience in the current Atlantic.

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The Gaddafi Family File

The Daily published a Gaddafi family tree, partially written by me.  Check it out here.

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The latest from Tahrir

I filed a post for TheAtlantic.com from Tahrir.

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Trotsky and Tahrir

Originally appeared in Bookforum (Summer 2011).

Bibliomancy—the ancient practice of opening a sacred text to any page, then mining a random line for prophecy and advice—is not one of my
standard journalistic research methods. But for those who write about the Middle East, 2011 has been an exceptionally demanding year. With
autocracies toppling and teetering decades ahead of schedule, untold shelves of books on Arab politics now need revision (or pulping). Could the methods of yore be any worse? The medieval bibliomancers liked to consult Virgil, Protesters and soldiers celebrate in Cairo, February 2011. And the ancient Chinese—along with plenty of hippies— preferred the wisdom of the I Ching. Back home after covering the Egyptian revolution and the fall of President Hosni Mubarak on February 11, I tried both. I hoped the Aeneid would yield something apropos about Carthage, but instead I landed on a verse about naval architecture; my random page in the I Ching was “Ta Kuo” through “Wei Tzu” in the index). Any relevance to Arab revolution was opaque.

But I am happy to report that bibliomancy of a more recent vintage has held some promise. It is a special book whose every page offers an insight and an expertly deployed phrase. In this season, more than in most, Leon Trotsky’s energetic and embittered The History of the Russian Revolution is ripe for bibliomancy, and capable on any page of furnishing an aperçu uncannily relevant to the Arab world today. It is also among the most thrilling works of history ever written. Trotsky wrote “a history of the forcible entrance of the masses into the realm of rulership over their own destiny,” which should in itself sound similar to much of the masters-of-our-fate liberation rhetoric in common currency in revolutionary Arabia. In its characters, but even more so in its depiction of the eddies and microcurrents of collective action during the crucial February Revolution, it is riveting and intelligent, capable of nourishing any reader who wants to know what the Arab Spring feels like from inside.
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Tale of a Lost City

Originally appeared in The Daily.

Bashar Assad’s father Hafez destroys Hama and kills thousands

Up until Friday, it was possible to imagine that Syrian dictator Bashar Assad had a softer touch than his brutal father Hafez. One hint: His American biographer, the former minor-league baseball pitcher David W. Lesch, reported in 2006 that Bashar likes the soothing tones of Phil Collins music. But over the last few days, Bashar has responded to protests by killing at least 120, including dozens at funerals in cities all over Syria. If Hafez Assad is gazing up at his son from Hades, he can be certain that the family business of brutality is still going strong.

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Holy Treasure

Originally appeared in The Daily.

In December 1945, an Egyptian peasant named Muhammad Ali Samman and his brother wandered away from their village in central Egypt, hoping to scoop up a few buckets of soft dirt to fertilize his crops. Digging next to a large boulder, Muhammad Ali found a mysterious earthenware jar about 3 feet tall. He and his brother backed away from it, worrying that it might contain a genie. Then, on further reflection, they considered that it might contain gold, and they smashed it apart, thereby releasing a force in some ways more disruptive to traditional Christianity than any genie could have been. Read the rest of this entry »

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