'Not From Here,' stories by Nathan Deuel

We're moving from Saudi to Turkey

Hagia Sofia

My new neighbor: Istanbul's Hagia Sofia. (Image by qyphon via Flickr)

Dear readers,

I’m sorry about my infrequent posting lately. Below are two reasons why, and by way of continuing apology, a link to my latest piece — a feature in the Brown Alumni Magazine about being alone in a room in Saudi Arabia with a young woman who wants to attend an ivy league university.

1. As I wrote with some emotion last month, my beloved dad Al Deuel passed away April 13 after a brief battle with cancer. We are all still crushed. And among other things, his passing came just days after my wife and I left Riyadh, which we no longer call home.

2. Instead, Kelly McEvers and I are most likely moving to Istanbul, where I will be based as she looks to rotate into Iraq as National Public Radio’s new Baghdad correspondent.

So over the next weeks and months, my focus will begin shifting from Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and the Gulf, to Turkey, Iraq, and the greater Middle East. If you have any advice, questions, or avenues of research you’d like Kelly or I to pursue, please don’t be shy.

For now, here’s a sample of that BAM piece about interviewing young women in Saudi for undergraduate admission to Brown — and also an appeal for your continued patience. Everything’s different now.

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Iraq, Islam, Kelly McEvers, Middle East, NPR, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, World, Writing, , , , , , ,

A visit to Faisal Shahzad's Pakistan village

The gate is locked at terror suspect Faisal Shahzad's family home in Pakistan. (Screen grab courtesy of The New York Times.)

A major shout-out for friend and colleague Adam B. Ellick, who submits another one of his knockout videos for The New York Times. Ellick is one of a new kind of journalist: a so-called “one-man-band,” who can parachute into a difficult place and assemble both front-page print stories AND three- to ten-minute video reports.

His latest dispatch is from the ancestral Pakistan village of terror suspect Faisal Shahzad. Check out the video — and see how Ellick’s reporting compares to other print pieces you’re reading now. Video’s pretty good, huh?

Previously: Ellick contributed an moving and challenging video primer on the spread of extremism in Pakistan’s Swat valley.

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Filed under: Faisal Shahzad, Islam, Pakistan, Religion, Taliban, Terrorism, World, , , ,

A tale of two Arabian cities

Yemenis sit in the old city of Sanaa as the mi...

The old city of Sana'a is like a fairy tale -- unless you start knocking on doors. (Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife)

It’s March 2010 and the clang of metal rings out down a dusty street in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen. Soldiers in blue camouflage hold oiled assault rifles, standing among a gathering crowd. One of the city’s dispensaries for cooking gas has just received a shipment. There’s a shortage of fuel all around the city, which is groaning under the twin strains of governmental dysfunction and an influx of refugees from the north. A jet streaks high above us, presumably en route to the border with Saudi Arabia, where the Yemeni military is targeting anti-government Houthi rebels and alleged cells of al Qa’eda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Some in the West have begun to call Yemen a failed state, but at least they’re calling it something.

I have come to Sana’a with my wife – who is on assignment for American public radio – from our base in Riyadh, a historical friend to its southern neighbor. People say that Yemenis built Saudi Arabia – and it’s true that big companies of Yemeni origin, such as the massive Bin Laden Group, were responsible for a lot of the early contracts to build roads and infrastructure in the Kingdom.

But warm relations between the two countries soured in 1990 and 1991, when Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in power since 1978 and at that point presiding over a united north and south Yemen, joined Cuba in voting against a United Nations resolution authorizing force to eject Iraqi troops from Kuwait. Saudi Arabia was outraged by the decision and began deporting Yemeni guest workers. Nearly a million were eventually removed. The absence of dollar infusions from Saudi’s booming oil economy – and the loss of millions in US and European support, likewise rescinded in response to that UN vote – didn’t help things for Yemen, which faced dwindling petroleum revenues that are expected to slow to a stop soon.

Coming from the comparative wealth and restrictions of Riyadh, I am eager to see Sana’a, which I’ve read is poorer in cash and resources, but richer in less quantifiable terms. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Al Qaeda, Israel, Oil, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, War, World, Yemen, , , , , , ,

Wahabi-lite: The disorienting half-freedoms of Qatar

West Bay, located in Al Dafna

En route from Saudi to NY, a stop in Doha. (Image via Wikipedia)

So I’ve only been in Qatar about 24 hours, but already I am in a kind of gentle culture shock. Riyadh, where I have lived the last 18 months, is a land of men, cars, and dusty buildings behind walls. You rarely ever see women, and there are only two skyscrapers. That’s why my trip to the local grocery store here in Doha was so bizarre.

Doha is a moonscape of new skyscrapers — some finished, some in progress — all perched on the baked sands of a half-moon bay. Our tower is on the so-called west side, a short walk from one of the major malls. Picking my way along the scarred half kilometer — some sidewalks complete, others a gash of rubble — I spied south Asian workers in dusty boots and jumpsuits. But I also saw what I took to be a British woman, in a t-shirt, smiling!

This sounds like pedestrian stuff, but to my eyes it felt like scandal. (Could it be possible that it had been so long since I’d seen a woman walk so casually?) Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Doha, Islam, Middle East, Qatar, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, World, , , ,

VIDEO: The ever-changing map of the Middle East

Hi there, I’ve just gotten set up in Doha, Qatar, where we’ll be based for the next week or so. Out my window, I have a view of the Gulf, the Pakistani embassy, and several construction pits. Leaving Riyadh is always a relief; the weight of Islam — so close to Mecca — is heavy there, and it’s hard to take the long view.

The Middle East, after all, has been conquered and reshaped countless times. What feels like an intractable situation — Israel! Palestine! Iran! Iraq! Al Qaeda — is really just the latest upheaval in a crazy part of the world.

For a little perspective, check out this map of the last 5,000 years as it shifts and bleeds with the comings and goings of empire. (Via the always excellent Saudi Jeans.)

[youtubevid id=”idWkkIKW_yU”]

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Filed under: Al Qaeda, Doha, Islam, Middle East, Qatar, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, World, , , , , , ,

Israel Settlements: Freeze them or put democracy on ice

Bush, centre, discusses the Middle East peace ...

Saner day: Bush with Sharon and Abbas. (Image via Wikipedia)

New Yorker editor David Remnick offers a cold assessment of the question of new settlements in East Jerusalem. Basically, he says, Netanyahu must figure out how to reboot himself as a more reasonable actor in this drama, or risk ever again being able to talk to his Arab partners.

The essential question for Israel is not whether it has the friendship of the White House—it does—but whether Netanyahu remains the arrogant rejectionist that he was in the nineteen-nineties, the loyal son of a radical believer in Greater Israel, forever settling scores with the old Labor élites and making minimal concessions to ward off criticism from Washington and retain the affections of his far-right coalition partners. Is he capable of engaging with the moderate and constructive West Bank leadership of Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad, and making history? Does there exist a Netanyahu 2.0, a Nixon Goes to China figure who will act with an awareness that demographic realities—the growth not only of the Palestinian population in the territories but also of the Arab and right-wing Jewish populations in Israel proper—make the status quo untenable as well as unjust?

via Obama and Israel : The New Yorker.

There really aren’t many reasons for optimism. Especially if Obama — who has deeply felt, proven sympathies for Israel — is portrayed there as a member of the P.L.O.

Then again, who would have believed health care reform was going to pass…

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Filed under: Barack Obama, East Jerusalem, Israel, Middle East, The New Yorker, World, , , , ,

You are not alone; we are all alone

Northwestern Afghanistan

Northwestern Afghanistan is both real and more real than you can imagine. (Image via Wikipedia)

Another dream. I’m at a crowded airline terminal, and all the other waiting passengers are American high schoolers: Rowdy, urban, multi-cultural, coiled with teen-aged energy.

Under the fluorescent lights, against the soft hush of the industrial carpet, a hefty boy with tanned skin, dark hair, and pimples stands to give a Heil Hilter salute.

He’s rooted there there, tall — is he Mexican, from Latin America? he’s a citizen, though — ramrod and with a blank face, giving this awful salute.

Catcalls ensue. “No he didn’t!” “Oooooh.” “Damn, that boy crazy!”

But he just stands there, rigid, unmoving, this real boy doing something real. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Afghanistan, U.S. Military, War, World, Writing, , , , ,

Yemen blew my mind

The old city of Sanaa

Some of the old quarter's so-called mud skyscrapers date back 2,000 years. (Image via Wikipedia)

Sorry for my absence around here. I just got back from a week in the heartbreaking city of Sanaa, the current capital of the fragile Republic of Yemen.

During my short visit, I feel like I saw as many hawks as pigeons, and as many fighter jets as hawks. And there were guns and daggers everywhere.

I’ll be back in full effect in the coming days. Thanks for your patience.

Filed under: Middle East, World, Yemen, , , ,

Obama's Middle East opportunities

Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud (R)...

Obama meets this fall with Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah. (Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife)

Over and over, the smartest people in the room seem to be the good men and women of the International Crisis Group. Consider their crystal clear take on President Obama and the Middle East, from the final paragraph of an op-ed in today’s Washington Post:

The longer the United States remains encumbered by rigid mental habits, the longer it denies itself the means to influence events. Already, Washington has accepted bystander status regarding moves by Syria, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Worse, it can do little to prevent more ominous and increasingly likely developments — a confrontation between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon, or between Israel and the Palestinians over Jerusalem– all of which carry serious risks of spillover. President Obama is seldom better — and never more himself — than when he escapes the deceptive comfort of inherited certainties. His administration must start by discarding a reading of the region in which “moderates” fight “militants,” and “moderates” prevail. That vision has no local credibility or local resonance. It has no chance.

via Robert Malley and Peter Harling – Shifting allegiances in Middle East mean opportunities for President Obama – washingtonpost.com.

If you live in a country where booze is legal, spill some on the ground for Chas Freeman and his failed nomination. When you’re done, read the whole piece by Malley and Harling. Then wait for it all to come true: Among other things, the U.S. just named a new ambassador to Syria — filling that post for the first time since 2005. Warning: Don’t hold your breath.

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Filed under: Barack Obama, Islam, Middle East, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, World, , , , , , , ,

Building a beautiful arch

Picture showing Armenians killed during the Ar...

Image via Wikipedia

Christopher de Bellaigue, in his new book Rebel Land, describes the “petty and dishonorable” feeling of  interviewing old women in the small town of Varto, where the author is researching a book about painful and sensitive subjects — genocide, Armenians, Turks.

Why not let sleeping dogs lie? Why not leave this poor woman alone, why jog her memories? And then arch of your design starts to fill, and it seems like a beautiful arch, with lessons for us all, and you press greedily on.

Writing in The New York Review of Books several years ago, de Bellaigue wrote  about a period of Turkish history. For his failure to accurately account for the mass killings of Armenians, he was vilified by readers and taken to task by Review editor Robert Silvers.

This new book seems, in part, to be atonement. Words beget words.

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Filed under: Books, Genocide, New York Review of Books, Turkey, World, Writing, , , , , ,