Feature

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.

 

Springtime in Tiananmen Square, 1989, Kate Phillips, the Atlantic.

While teaching English in Beijing, I witnessed one of the most tumultuous protests in modern history.

By May 4-the 70th anniversary of a famous student-led protest in Beijing-students were referring to a "movement for democracy." The students demanded not just an end to government corruption, but also wholesale change in the Chinese system. They argued that the Communist Party's economic reforms could not succeed without parallel political reform. They wanted a more accountable, open, pluralistic government with freedom of speech and press, and rule by law. Outside my second-story classroom windows, groups of undergraduates regularly interrupted our lessons with shouts of "Ba ke! Ba ke!"-"Strike class! Strike class!" Some young professors brought paper and paint to our sessions and made political posters on the hallway floor. Gregory told us how he'd gone to the Square one night with a homemade cartoon-a picture of a cat hanging from a noose, with a toppled stool below-and been greeted by wild cheering. The Chinese word for stool is homonymous with "Deng," and Deng Xiaoping had once described himself as a cat who could catch mice.

Mr. Wu, who had warmed to me in our private English tutorials, refused to be swept up in the excitement. "When we are young like that we have a lot of dreams," he said ruefully one day. We could hear crowds of singing undergraduates passing by on their way toward the university gates, which had long ago been flung wide open. Mr. Wu's lips tightened into a grimace. "Just remember, you cannot know who is really behind this."

 

The Burden of Being Messi, Jeff Himmelman, New York Times Magazine.

In much of Argentina, where Lionel Messi lived until he was 13, native speakers replace the "y" sound with a "sh" sound. Yo, the personal pronoun for "I," becomes "sho," and calle, which other Spanish speakers would pronounce "ka-yay," becomes "ka-shey." The sound gives Argentine Spanish a slurry softness that resembles aspects of the Portuguese spoken in Brazil. More important to this story, that "sh," and the fact that Messi has retained it all his life, has at times been the sole lifeline between the greatest soccer player in the world and the country he plays for.

Over the past nine years, Messi has led F.C. Barcelona to national and international titles while breaking individual records in ways that seem otherworldly. In 2012, he scored 91 goals in 69 games - a ridiculous number - for club and country, and he has been chosen by FIFA, soccer's governing body, as the best player in the world an unprecedented four of the last five years. He is something of a freak, a blazing left-footer whose legs and spatial intuition operate at electrifying speed, and his performances in Europe have already put him, at age 26, on the short list of the greatest players ever.

And yet, for all of that, Messi has never won widespread devotion in Argentina. The main resistance to him, beyond his uneven play for the national team thus far, is that he isn't Argentine enough.

 

Being Gay in Iran, Farhad Dolatizadeh, the Stranger.

Coming Out in a Country Where That Can Get You Killed, and the TV Documentary That Outed Me to the World.

I'm 16.

"May I ask you something personal?"

I know what's coming.

I look at my aunt as she takes her time to assemble the correct words. She is a tiny, sweet woman wearing a loosely draped head scarf, staring at me with shining dark-brown eyes. I love her more dearly than anything in the world. Of course I will tell her the truth. I can't think of a reason to hide from her. It isn't as if she might murder me or run around spreading my secret. She's not one of those closed-minded, brainwashed people who would automatically judge me. She spent most of her life outside of Iran, living and working as an architect in Norway and Germany. If there is anyone out there who would understand me, it's her.

"Are you gay, Feri Kitty?" she asks.

My name is Farhad, but since I was little, my aunt has affectionately called me Feri Kitty, referring to my soft spot for kittens.

"You call me Feri Kitty and expect me to be who? Robocop?" I snap. The bitch inside me has been growing day by day.

She just gazes at me. Eventually she smiles and wraps me in her arms. "It's okay. There's no need to be aggressive... everything is going to be okay."

I weep into her shoulder and can't respond.

This is my first coming out.

 

The Guardian at the Gate, Michael Wolff, British GQ.

It broke the WikiLeaks story, then the Snowden scandal, now Alan Rusbridger's crusading newspaper is trying to break America. But with its US campaign on the brink of disaster, has the deadline passed to beat a dignified retreat?

The Guardian, financed through a trust created by its then owners in the Thirties, has traditionally been organised as something like a private-equity firm, with investments in a variety of businesses whose profits went to supporting a newspaper. Earlier this year, with the newspaper costing more than the investments yielded, it liquidated most of its holdings, converting itself into an entity more like a wealth-management company or, perhaps, even a family office, wherein capital could be tapped to support the interest of the family.

One of those interests is Edward Snowden - at a cost far from accounted for.

Curiously, the Guardian  may well be the best-funded newspaper in the world. But, at its current losses, there is also something finite to that money - even a willingness for it to be finite. Between business discipline and philosophical mission, it would choose the latter. Between exigencies and martyrdom, martyrdom.

 

The Massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane, Shane Harris, Foreign Policy.

An American lawyer finds new evidence about one of World War II's most notorious war crimes, seven decades after D-Day.

McKay Smith is used to keeping secrets. A lawyer with the Justice Department's National Security Division, he advises U.S. intelligence agencies on the legality of some of the country's most highly classified operations. The division oversees electronic surveillance and counterterrorism, and on a daily basis Smith might find himself eyeballs deep in classified memoranda and documents that will probably never see the light of day in his lifetime. The discovery of a 70-year-old military intelligence report written by a young Army Air Corps lieutenant, however, stopped Smith cold and led him to take on a new, public role.

Three years ago, Smith obtained a copy of a once-secret "escape and evasion report," in which one Lt. Raymond Murphy describes in precise detail how he bailed out of his flaming B-17 bomber over Avord, France, on April 28, 1944, and survived for the next four months behind enemy lines before making his way to England. Murphy had been part of a mission to attack a German-held airfield less than six weeks ahead of the D-Day landing at Normandy, which marks its 70th anniversary this Friday. Amid the harrowing stories of the airman's hard parachute landing, his efforts to avoid capture by German soldiers, and his exploits with French Resistance fighters, Smith spotted two barely legible lines, handwritten in pencil, at the end of the neatly typed document: "About 3 weeks ago, I saw a town within 4 hours bicycle ride up the Gerbeau farm where some 500 men, women, and children had been murdered by the Germans. I saw one baby who had been crucified."

Smith, a self-made World War II historian with an outsized passion for document research, concluded that based on Murphy's description of the scene and his location at the time, the young airman had seen the aftermath of a notorious massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane, a town in west-central France. On June 10, 1944, four days after the Allied landing at Normandy, a unit of the Waffen-SS, the Nazi Party military wing, descended on the village and killed 642 men, women, and children. It was one of the largest mass murders of French civilians during the German occupation, and an act of retribution against the townspeople for their perceived assistance to the French Resistance and the invading American forces.

CATHERINE HENRIETTE/AFP/Getty Images; DANIEL MIHAILESCU/AFP/Getty Images; JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images; Bethany Clarke/Getty Images; AFP/AFP/Getty Images

Feature

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.

 

Life in the Valley of Death, New York Times Magazine, Scott Anderson.

Amor Masovic has the gaze and mournful air of a man who never gets enough sleep. For nearly two decades, his job has been to find the mass graves containing thousands who disappeared during the Bosnian war. He is very good at what he does, and he has a mind for numbers. When I first met him in the summer of 2012, Masovic calculated that he and his colleagues at the Bosnian government's Missing Persons Institute had found more than 700 mass graves, containing the remains of nearly 25,000 people.

"I think we've found all the larger ones now," Masovic told me as we sat in a smoke-filled cafe in Sarajevo. He had just returned from another foray into the field; his boots were still caked in mud. "But that still leaves a lot of smaller ones." Exactly how many more depends on the definition of "mass grave." If you go by the current definition (a grave that contains three or more people), then Masovic's guess is that there are 80 to 100 still to be discovered. Of those, he suspects that 15 to 20 contain more than 50 bodies.

He has any number of methods for locating the graves. He goes by the testimonies of survivors or by cajoling people in Bosnia's small villages and towns into pointing him toward places they know about. Other times it's simply a matter of reading subtle changes in the landscape. "I've been doing this for so long," he said, "that I can be walking or driving somewhere, and I see a spot and think, Hmm, that would be a good place for a grave. I've found some that way." In fact, "grave" is often a misnomer. Masovic has found human remains in mineshafts and caves and dry lakebeds. "They're everywhere," he said. "Everywhere you can think of."

Of all the atrocities committed throughout Bosnia between 1992 and 1995, the one that compels Masovic the most is Srebrenica. In some respects, this is hardly surprising: Srebrenica has come to symbolize the Bosnian war's unspeakable brutality and the international community's colossal failure when confronting it. Located in a tiny valley in eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina, it was the site of one of the war's most desperate contests, a marooned enclave in which a couple of thousand government soldiers, along with as many as 40,000 mostly Muslim refugees, held out for three years against a siege by Serb separatist fighters.

 

Somaly Mam: The Holy Saint (and Sinner) of Sex Trafficking, Newsweek, Simon Marks.

Mam is one of the world's most compelling activists, brave and beautiful, and her list of supporters is long and formidable. Former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton and actresses Meg Ryan, Susan Sarandon and Shay Mitchell, as well as New York Times Pulitzer-winning columnist Nicholas Kristof, have all toured AFESIP centers in Cambodia. Queen Sofia of Spain has for years promoted Mam's cause and even visited her in the hospital last year when she fell ill. Mark Zuckerberg's former PR guru, Brandee Barker, whom The New York Times recently described as "perhaps the most sought-after image consultant in the startup world," is a board member for the Somaly Mam Foundation, and Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg is an advisory board member.

Mam has raised millions with a hectic schedule of meetings all over the globe with the good, the great and the super-rich-from the U.N.'s Ban Ki-moon to the pope. One day she will be speaking at the White House, and the next day she'll be enthralling schoolchildren in a remote corner of Cambodia.

Mam claims to have rescued thousands of girls and women from sex trafficking, a dangerous and formidable feat. Her story becomes even more inspiring when you hear her shocking tale of being sold into sexual slavery. In 2005, she published her autobiography, The Road of Lost Innocence, which became an international best-seller. Mam was one of Time's 100 most influential people in 2009 and has over 400,000 followers on Twitter.

She has done so much for so many, does it matter that key parts of her story aren't true? This is a story about a story-but not quite the amazing one Mam has been telling at cocktail parties in Manhattan and Beverly Hills, or on The Tyra Banks Show. Nonetheless, it's an astonishing tale.

 

In Kenya, Running with Chinese Characteristics, Roads and Kingdoms, Jon Rosen.

The morning air is crisp as the minivan plods down a red clay road, trailing the pack of runners as they head toward the escarpment, past schoolchildren, cows, and simple mud huts, eventually doubling back through the center of Kenya's pre-eminent running town.

Renato Canova, the man behind the wheel, has driven this route many times. One of the world's most accomplished distance running coaches, the 69-year-old Italian has been working with Kenyan athletes since 1998 and now spends much of the year in the Kenyan rift, an area famous for minting world-class athletes in events ranging from 800 meters to the marathon.

As usual, Canova is animated as he follows the progress of the run, occasionally pulling even with the pack to critique an athlete's form or offer encouragement. On this morning, though, there's an added layer of complexity. As Canova shouts out in heavily accented English, a young interpreter named Anna Lin repeats the words in Mandarin, and Wang Bin, a Chinese Athletics Federation administrator, yells out the window to the athletes.

These runners-Canova's latest protégées-are 16 members of China's national women's middle- and long-distance running team, in the early stages of preparation for the 2015 World Athletics Championships, to be held in Beijing in August 2015. On this February morning, midway through a six-week stint in Kenya, it's clear they have their work cut out for them.

 

Did North Korea Kidnap an American Hiker?, Outside, Chris Vogel.

When 24-year-old David Sneddon disappeared hiking around western China, officials chalked it up to a drowning. Only a decade later did another scenario emerge: maybe David had been kidnapped and taken to North Korea.

In the Northern reaches of China's Yunnan province, just before the rolling hills and deep, river-carved ravines of the Yungui Plateau give way to cascading sheets of limestone and spectacular karst, two mountains-Jade Dragon and Haba Snow-jut three and a half vertical miles into the sky. Separated only by the Jinsha River, a 100-foot-wide whitewater tributary of the Yangtze, these scabrous peaks form one of the world's deepest river canyons:Tiger Leaping Gorge.

Etched into the steep terrain above the wild rapids, the 16-mile High Trail climbs more than 3,700 feet through the canyon's thick mountain brush and sheer cliffs. The trail, which usually takes two days to complete, is considered a must for trekkers searching for remote panoramic vistas in China, with Tibet looming to the west and Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam to the south. The route is littered with commercial guesthouses, where tens of thousands of tourists-almost exclusively from China or South Korea-can buy a hot meal and sleep in a real bed.

On August 11, 2004, He Shuchang, a local guide, had been trekking for hours with his two clients, a married couple from Hong Kong, when he spotted a pale Westerner marching up the mountain path in the twilight. The stranger wore a blue T-shirt and gray shorts, with a fanny pack tied to his waist and a floppy brimmed rain hat covering his prematurely balding head. He Shuchang was used to seeing the occasional Westerner. Still, when the man emerged over the rise, then politely asked in flawless Mandarin if he could join the group, He Shuchang was stunned. What was this stranger doing here?

The man introduced himself as David Sneddon, an American college student who was taking summer language classes in Beijing. He seemed charming and curious, peppering the Hong Kong couple with questions about themselves and alternating between Mandarin and English. The couple seemed to enjoy him, so He Shuchang let him stay. They hiked together for several hours, eventually reaching the far end of the gorge, where they all spent the night at Tina's Guesthouse. The next morning, David continued alone up the route away from the High Trail, vanishing as suddenly as he had appeared.

 

'Playing Straight into the Hands of al-Shabab', Foreign Policy, Jacob Kushner.

Kenya's counterterrorism approach following the Westgate Mall attack is crude -- and may actually be spawning more violence.

At around 7:30 p.m. on March 31, three blasts went off in Nairobi's Eastleigh neighborhood. The explosions, which police say were caused by grenades, killed six and injured around a dozen civilians congregating at two local cafes in the suburban area, which is dominated by ethnic Somalis.

The bombings were only the latest in a spat of terror attacks following the September 2013 siege of Westgate Mall by Somali gunmen, which left 67 people dead. In December, a grenade blast killed four people in Eastleigh. In late March, unidentified gunmen entered a church near the coastal city of Mombasa, killing six. In all, nearly a dozen attacks that bear the marks of al-Shabab, a jihadist group based in Somalia that was responsible for the Westgate attack, have rattled Kenya since last fall.

Police are taking a high-profile approach as they respond to these attacks, detaining thousands of Somalis and Kenyan citizens of Somali heritage. But stops and arrests are not based on intelligence. Rather, police officers simply scour ethnic-Somali neighborhoods, sweeping up civilians from the streets.

Terrorism analysts say this sort of policing may actually be making Kenya less safe. As indiscriminate profiling becomes the fabric of security procedures, hundreds of thousands of Kenyan-Somali Muslims -- a group from which al-Shabab affiliates are actively attempting torecruit -- have something to be angry about. The government's ethnic-focused, and often brutal, anti-terror tactics thus may be fueling the very attacks they are meant to suppress.

ELVIS BARUKCIC/AFP/Getty Images; Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Somaly Mam Foundation; TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images; KNS/AFP/Getty Images; TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images