For more than a century, The New York Times Magazine has provided in-depth coverage and analysis of important issues from around the world. But bestselling author Scott Anderson holds the unique distinction of having a full issue of the magazine devoted to his recent work on the Middle East. That speaks to the quality of his work, as well as to its immense relevance.
His August 2016 story, “Fractured Lands: How the Arab World Came Apart,” is now available as a paperback book. The book is an expanded version of the original magazine story, and it provides valuable insights into what has happened in the region since the invasion of Iraq and the subsequent series of anti-government uprisings known as the Arab Spring.
The protests began after Mohamed Bouazizi, a poor Tunisian fruit-and-vegetable seller, set himself on fire in December 2010 in protest over government harassment. Protesters poured into the streets, calling for economic reform and new leadership. The protests spread throughout the Arab world, and dictators fell. But while the West first cheered these citizen protests and the sentiments that fueled them, the countries soon slid into chaos. The aftermath has led to brutal civil war in Syria, a foothold for Islamic extremists and a global refugee crisis.
Supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, Anderson’s account takes us back to post-World War I to explore how geographical boundaries defined by European countries helped shape the events of the past several years, and introduces us to people whose lives have been forever altered because of them. Anderson’s fascination with the Middle East began as a young boy when he traveled the region with his father. He spent 18 months reporting from there for his latest work, getting to know the six people he features in his book. His subjects are from different countries — Egypt, Libya, Syria, Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan — and they have very different stories. But they share one commonality: Their lives have been completely upended since the invasion of Iraq 14 years ago and the subsequent Arab Spring.
In “Fractured Lands,” Anderson introduces us to Dr. Azar Mirkhan, a urologist in Kurdistan who was dragged into war. Mirkhan is haunted by a spot along the road to Sinjar, a place where he tried to prevent ISIS gunmen from murdering thousands of civilians a couple of years ago. Despite knowing it was going to take place, he was helpless to stop it. Today he is heavily armed wherever he travels and sums up daily life by borrowing a line from one of his favorite movies, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” “When you have to shoot, shoot; don’t talk,” Mirkhan says, quoting from the film. “That is us Kurds now. This is not the time to talk, but to shoot.”
Khulood Al-Zaidi, another subject of Anderson’s book, was in her early 20s when she began to work for women’s causes in Iraq. The past decade of her life has been marked by glimmers of hope, followed by despair. She fled her country and has devoted much of her life to trying to keep herself and her family safe but finds herself trapped in the middle of a refugee crisis.
Anderson has reported from Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, Northern Ireland, Chechnya, Sudan, Bosnia, El Salvador and many other strife-torn countries. He is a frequent contributor to The New York Times Magazine, the author of novels “Moonlight Hotel” and “Triage,” and several nonfiction books, including the bestseller “Lawrence in Arabia,” which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for 2013. His experiences and compassion come through in “Fractured Lands,” offering a thoughtful and timely assessment of the Arab crisis in a relatable way — a human way.
Bob Kustra is president of Boise State University and host of Reader’s Corner, a weekly radio show on Boise State Public Radio. Reader’s Corner airs Fridays at 6 p.m. and repeats Sundays at 11 a.m. on KBSX 91.5 FM. An interview with Anderson airs today. Previous shows are online and available for podcast at http://boisestatepublicradio.org/programs/readers-corner.
“Fractured Lands: How the Arab World Came Apart” by Scott Anderson; Anchor Books ($15)