Christopher Dickey

Stories by Christopher Dickey

  • EUROPE'S DREAM DEFERRED

    In the Gare de l'Est, one of the elegant old train stations of Paris, there are reminders of why the European Union was created. They are the plaques commemorating the dead. Today tourists coming from Germany and points east take little notice of the inscriptions that call on them to remember the thousands of French who left this station for the "torture and death camps" of Nazi Germany in World War II, and the "70,000 Jews, among them 11,000 children," who were sent to their extermination. Then Europe's borders were lines of death. Today they barely seem to exist. The trains do not stop at the frontier. Nobody asks for the papers of the passengers onboard. Tourists, business people, commuters and students buy their tickets with the same euro currency in Paris they would use in Berlin or Rome or Madrid. Asked what those plaques might have to do with the current vision of a single European Union, 18-year-old Jean Mayant says, "I don't see any relationship....
  • SYRIA'S ODD MAN

    Bashar al-Assad was never cut out to be a dictator. A week after his Army completed its abrupt retreat from Lebanon, the introverted Syrian leader summoned about two dozen minority-party politicians to a gathering at the People's Palace, the private fortress erected by his father, Hafez al-Assad, on a mountaintop above Damascus. The meeting's purpose wasn't to defend the pullout or to intimidate anyone who dared to criticize it. Instead, the 39-year-old Assad focused on the agenda for next week's congress of the ruling Baath Party. As his guests sipped tea and lemonade, he listened to their thoughts on political and economic liberalization and pledged himself to the cause of reform. Only once did he sound like an old-fashioned president for life, launching into a grim warning about secret Islamist plots to take down his regime.No one ever had to ask about the true nature and calling of Bashar's father. The old man removed any possible doubt back in 1982, when he crushed an uprising...
  • 'This Process Will Go On'

    If the European Union had "founding fathers," then Max Kohnstamm, 91, was one of them. When French voters rejected the European constitution on Sunday, and Dutch voters appeared to give it the coup de grace yesterday, many analysts wondered if the last half-century's efforts to unite Europe might be coming to an end. Not Kohnstamm, who brings a longer view to the debate, and probably a wiser one, than anyone alive.Born in Amsterdam in 1914, Kohnstamm joined a student resistance movement during World War II, but was soon arrested and interned. After the defeat of the Nazis, and the return of the Dutch monarchy, Kohnstamm served as personal secretary to Queen Wilhelmina. In the 1950s, after French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman first proposed the creation of a European "coal and steel community," which was the forerunner of the Common Market and the European Union, Kohnstamm became one of the closest associates of the organization's visionary president, Jean Monnet.Kohnstamm, who now...
  • Shadowland: Writing Lolita in Tehran

    A curious query from Iran: "Has everyone noticed the spooky absence of graffiti in our public toilets since the arrival of Weblogs?"I confess, this little detail of modern life in Tehran--which tells you so much about young people desperately in need of self-expression--might have slipped right by me if I hadn't been sent a new book called "We Are Iran: The Persian Blogs." Written by Nasrin Alavi (a pseudonym), and due for international publication this fall, it's a survey of the personal diaries that Iranians post online. Five years ago, there were none. Now there are many tens of thousands. And you won't get a better glimpse of the obsessions and frustrations that exist behind the imposed cliche of the black chador; ideas and passions that thrive despite the rule of what Alavi calls "mutant Islamists."Some of the bloggers' language is very tough: "I s--- on the whole of Hezbollah." Some is deeply evocative: "Have you ever been forced into exile? Has it ever happened that you just...
  • DELUSIONS OF GRANDEUR

    Deep in rural France, the ancient village of Sarran (population: 300) boasts a strange museum. It's a 4 million euro building, constructed at the expense of today's French and European taxpayers, and very modern, to be sure. But its spirit harks back to the cabinets de curiosite of the 18th century, in which the great dilettantes of the French Enlightenment accumulated vast eccentric collections that often revealed the hidden corners of their minds. Sarran's cabinet is all about French President Jacques Chirac, who traces his family roots and his political origins to this region of Correze....
  • Delusions of Grandeur

    Deep in rural France, the ancient village of Sarran (population: 300) boasts a strange museum. It's a 4 million euro building, constructed at the expense of today's French and European taxpayers, and very modern, to be sure. But its spirit harks back to the cabinets de curiosite of the 18th century, in which the great dilettantes of the French Enlightenment accumulated vast eccentric collections that often revealed the hidden corners of their minds. Sarran's cabinet is all about French President Jacques Chirac, who traces his family roots and his political origins to this region of Correze....
  • Shadowland: Body Counts

    The morning news from Iraq today brought fresh chronicles of slaughter. Yes, even more than usual. American troops are waging an offensive they call Operation Matador in a remote stretch of desert near the Syrian border, while suicide bombs are going off in Iraq's towns and cities, including the capital. Who's winning? Who's losing? Who knows?The military and political future of Iraq remains so uncertain that the Pentagon in recent months has gone back to the Vietnam-era practice of citing bodycounts as measures of success. We're told, for instance, that "as many as 100" insurgent fighters have been killed by the Matador forces. But of course that's just a guesstimate, while the toll on the Americans and their Iraqi allies is all too concrete. Today alone, the insurgents managed to kill more than 60 would-be Iraqi military recruits and civilian bystanders in urban Iraq. The Americans are drawing lines in the sand, it would seem, while Tikrit and Baghdad are bathed in blood....
  • Shadowland: 'Sharon Had Better Listen'

    Prince Saud al-Faisal has always made an elegant impression, but the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia looked especially at ease--palpably relieved, in fact--wearing a poplin suit, a silk tie, and receiving visitors at a Paris apartment yesterday. He was coming from Texas, where he'd been part of the delegation led by Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah in meetings "at the ranch" with President George W. Bush last week. He's now on his way to Morocco, Egypt, Syria and other points east to follow up.The good news, said Prince Saud, is that the strategic relationship between his country and the United States is back on track and going strong. The tensions of the last few years have faded into the background: the damning fact that 15 of 19 hijackers on September 11, 2001, came from Saudi Arabia; the diatribes against the Saudis (and their ties to the Bushes) by characters as varied as filmmaker Michael Moore and CIA veteran Robert Baer have receded into the shadows. As we sat in antique French...
  • Angel of Mercy

    The last e-mail Marla Ruzicka sent me was in January, when I'd just gotten out of Iraq after a brief visit, and she was getting ready to go in for a long one. She said she'd had a rough few months, since the last time we'd seen each other there, and I asked her what she meant, and how she was doing. Marla, 28, was unforgettably energetic and excited and committed and funny, a quintessential ultra-blonde California girl as goofy at first glance as a young Goldie Hawn, but as genuinely committed to helping people as, well, as anybody I ever met in my life, and more effective than most. Her cause was support for the victims of war; her specialty was cajoling and compelling the United States military to compensate the innocent people it injured and the families of those that it killed. But work in Iraq had gotten so risky that even Marla (whose e-mail address was marlainbaghdad@yahoo.com) thought it prudent to stay away for a while.How had she been feeling? Her note on Jan. 12, so frank...
  • Prayers for New Life

    CATHOLICS CELEBRATE A LEGACY, AND CONTEMPLATE MANY DIFFICULT CHOICES AHEAD.
  • Overexposed

    For a day last week, I was blind. My eyes were bandaged; no light came in. The injury was the result of an accident that seemed perfectly stupid (as I suppose all accidents are). I had come to Rome to cover the death of Pope John Paul II, and been caught up in the relentless rush of 24/7 news coverage, talking on one television show after another. A faulty high-powered light blasted my face with ultra-violet rays while I stood on a rooftop overlooking St. Peter's. Only a few hours later did I feel my skin burning as if I'd spent a day in the Death Valley sun, and excruciating pain in my UV-corroded eyes.After a pre-dawn trip through a couple of Roman emergency wards, with the help of a friend and colleague whom I rousted out of bed at 4:30 a.m. I was able to settle down alone in the blind world of a hotel room. I was, let's be straight about this, terrified. But I was also fascinated, because almost immediately--much faster than I would have thought--my other senses started trying...
  • CSI: Beirut

    No one is really laughing out loud, quite. The death count is already too high for that, and the clowns have still got guns and bombs, wiretaps and torture rooms. But there is, still, something grimly ludicrous about the disarray of Lebanon's secret police and security services right now. As one of my good friends in Beirut puts it, "We are seeing the collapse of this regime in a very embarrassing, very clumsy, almost comical way--but it's scary. You're just sitting here watching the whole thing come apart."The headlines of the last few days and hours are symptomatic of the chaos building beneath the surface. Lebanese Prime Minister Omar Karami, unable to form a new government, will resign again, maybe. Syria has notified the United Nations in a formal letter that after 29 years it will withdraw its troops from Lebanon "before the coming elections." But nobody's sure just when that is. Theoretically the elections will take place before the Lebanese parliament's term expires on May...
  • Shadowland: Left Behind

    The plane is late as I sit here writing in an airport lounge, watching helplessly the evanescence of the hours. I'd like to be back home in time for dinner, but I don't know if that's going to happen today. Of all days. My wife made reservations at a special place for a special occasion, the anniversary of the day we got married in Philadelphia 25 years ago.Then, too, the clock was ticking. That was the time of the Central American wars, and I'd only been able to take a few days off from covering the grim saga of slaughter in El Salvador. Most of us working that beat in March 1980 thought Archbishop Arnulfo Romero, who was speaking out publicly against the right-wing death squads run by the Army, would be targeted himself. And so he was, two days after my wedding in the United States. So my wife and I never had a honeymoon. The one-week anniversary of our marriage, I was at the archbishop's funeral amid the bursts of homemade bombs and the clatter of automatic weapons, as more than...
  • JIHAD EXPRESS

    The most fanciful park in Paris, and one of the least known, set among the city's poorest immigrant neighborhoods, is the Buttes Chaumont. A craggy mountain rises out of a taciturn lake, and a narrow path leads across what's called the "Bridge of Suicides." Muslim boys trained there last year for holy war in Iraq. Several were in their teens, born and raised in France, and many knew nothing more about guns and bombs than what they'd seen in movies. Some spoke no Arabic. But they heard the call to jihad that was raised by radical Islamist preachers, and they answered it. One died in Fallujah. Three are known to be imprisoned in Iraq, at least one of them in Abu Ghraib. Three others are jailed in France. One blew himself up in an attack on the road to Baghdad airport....
  • Shadowland: The Default Democratizer

    The good news from the Middle East seems to be getting better by the day. Over the weekend, Egyptian opposition politician Ayman Nour finally got out of jail in Cairo. Yesterday in Beirut, anti-Syrian demonstrators managed to turn out even bigger crowds than Hizbullah, and Syrian troops continue to withdraw. In Baghdad, not a moment too soon, the Iraqi parliament is actually getting ready to meet, ceremonially at least.Yet Shadowland readers keep reminding me about all that bad news I've reported in the past. Some are saying "Aha!" and telling me pessimism was misplaced all along. Others seem to find prophecies of doom more palatable, and credible. "Wow," wrote a guy in Denver, "I've yet to see anyone do such a 180 and become a Bush apologist." Another, a Mr. Hoffman (address unknown), went further in his response to the column called "The Rap on Freedom": "Apparently, Dickey must be on crack cocaine or a heroin addict. The Middle East has changed? It is now reforming?" In the...
  • AN ARABIAN SPRING

    The raucous noises of newfound freedom ricocheted through the late-night streets of Lebanon's capital last week. Car horns blared, a cappella renditions of the national anthem erupted, ecstatic teenagers danced and shouted and waved every red and white Lebanese flag--or red and white anything else--they could get their hands on. The Lebanese government, largely chosen and controlled by Syria, had fallen in the face of their protests. Now they wanted the Syrians themselves to get the hell out of the country, ending 15 years of overt occupation and three decades of covert manipulation. When Syrian President Bashar al-Assad announced on Saturday that he'd pull out partway, that satisfied nobody in the Beirut street. "He's lying!" said 19-year-old student Francois Mitri, holding the flag atop a red Mustang. "We want Syria out. We want our freedom!"Beirut felt like the heart of a Middle East shaking to life in a convulsion of newfound expectations. For people in the region, the last few...
  • Shadowland: Reality Checkpoints

    "I was terrified by checkpoints," remembers Giandomenico Picco, who was the United Nations' key hostage negotiator in Lebanon when so many Americans, Britons and Frenchmen were abducted there in the 1980s by factions of Hizbullah. In order to talk to the hostage takers, Picco would allow himself to be blindfolded and driven through back streets, following circuitous routes over uncertain political terrain in a land divided among feuding militias and occupied here and there by soldiers sent from Damascus. "There were Syrian checkpoints, there were God-knows-who checkpoints," says Picco, pausing at the recollection. "Yes, I was afraid. Things can go wrong. Things do go wrong."That's what happened with Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena at an American checkpoint in Iraq last Friday night. She had been held for a month by a little-known group of insurgents. She had pleaded pitifully for her life on videotape. After delicate negotiations and, according to the Italian press, a payment of...
  • HE HAS WILLPOWER--BUT NO 'LIVING WILL'

    Pope John Paul II went back to the hospital in Rome late last week for surgery to open up his breathing passage, and Dr. Rodolfo Proietti was waiting for him. Proietti led the team that treated the pontiff for flulike symptoms earlier in the month, and he had been impressed. "He is a patient with a very strong will," Proietti told NEWSWEEK in an exclusive interview at the beginning of the week. "He has a psychological ability to react to an illness that is very unusual," said the doctor.Even as the aged pope's body shuts down in the late stages of Parkinson's disease, his will to live--and to impose his will on the Roman Catholic faithful--remains as stubborn as ever. In the days before he was readmitted to the hospital because almost no air was able to pass through his inflamed larynx, the pope insisted on making public appearances. To the assembled crowd in St. Peter's Square he reiterated that the source of his authority is Saint Peter himself, "the rock," he proclaimed, on which...
  • Shadowland: The Rap on Freedom

    The gut-wrenching, sad, funny, depressing, seemingly semi-demented documentary "Gunner Palace" begins during a forgotten street fight in a forgotten corner of Baghdad in the forgotten summer of 2003, when everything was supposed to be getting a whole lot better for everyone in Iraq, and American soldiers started getting killed with stunning regularity. The rap music track by some of those soldiers in the shooting gallery--"I don't give a f---, I think I'm stuck in hell"--sets the tone. So does the narrator-director, Mike Tucker: "Most of us don't see this on the news anymore," he says over the staccato of Kalashnikovs. "We have reality TV instead. 'Millionaire.' 'Survivor.' Well, survive this: a year in Baghdad without changing the channel."One after another the soldiers tell Tucker, who codirected the film with his wife, Petra Epperlein, that the folks back home just don't have any idea what troops are going through in Iraq. The sunny optimism of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld...
  • 'PRECIOUS' SUFFERING

    The face in the window high above St. Peter's Square is small and distant and, even when viewed through a long lens, almost without expression. The voice quavers, just a few words breathed with excruciating effort, audible over loudspeakers, but only barely comprehensible. Few people can get close enough to Pope John Paul II to try to read the thoughts behind the mask of sickness on a Sunday morning, but some of those who have approached him say they've glimpsed the pain of a man with a vital mind, a man who has loved life enormously, trapped now in a body that brings him nothing but suffering. "You can see it in his eyes," says such a priest. "To be imprisoned like this must cause him tremendous agony."And yet--because he is the leader of a billion Roman Catholics; because he is the first pontiff of the satellite and Internet age, reaching out to billions more, and because he is John Paul II, who has ruled the church for more than 26 years--in that public experience of suffering...
  • Shadowland: Democratic Terrorists?

    Now, very suddenly, it does. In the days since former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri was blown up on Feb. 14 (while driving in front of the St. George, as it happens), Beirut has become the new epicenter for democratic hopes in the Middle East. A peaceful uprising has begun, mobilizing Lebanese who blame Syria for the bombing. Never mind that the Syrians deny responsibility, and sent condolences. Never mind the apologists who claim even the worst thugs in the Syrian intelligence services wouldn't be dumb enough to do away with the incredibly rich and well-connected Mr. Hariri."Oh no, no, no. That's missing the point completely," a woman who was out marching in the Beirut demonstrations told me on the phone. "The Syrians aren't that stupid? The Syrians are dictators. What they do is dictate. That's all they know how to do. Hafez al-Assad [who ruled Syria from 1969 until his death in 2000] used all the tools of violence, but he had political instincts and a strategy. This guy ...
  • DEMOCRACY: PHARAOH'S LONG SHADOW

    Just a few days ago, Egypt looked as if it might be edging toward greater economic, social and political freedoms--no mean achievement in a country older than the Sphinx, and just about as firmly stuck in the dust of its past. At the end of January, several cabinet members and Gamal Mubarak, the charismatic son of the president, were giving polished spiels to potential investors and the power elite in the snow-covered village of Davos, Switzerland. In Cairo, meanwhile, a "national dialogue" was shaping up to discuss the future of political parties before elections this fall. Ayman Nour, one of only about three dozen opposition members in the 444-seat Parliament, was calling for changes in the Constitution that might allow, among other things, a direct challenge to President Hosni Mubarak if he runs for a fifth term to extend his 24-year rule.Of such little steps are great hopes made in the Middle East. You put them together with the grand spectacle of voters braving the threat of...
  • Unmasking the Insurgents

    SHADOW WAR: THE ELECTIONS WON'T STOP THE BOMBERS, BUT QUALITY INTEL--AND LUCK--MIGHT HELP
  • Shadowland: If You Build Democracy, They Will Come

    But is it? The lessons are not so simple as they seem, I think. Not then, not now, and not in the many problematic elections I've covered in war zones over the last 25 years.The first lesson is fundamental, and one that President Bush understands better, perhaps, than many of his detractors. People want a voice. Give them half a chance, and they will vote. If you build democracy, they will come, even under threat of death.That's the good news, and for anyone who has seen firsthand what these sometimes bloody election days are like, the spectacle is at once humbling and ennobling.Look at the 1982 elections in El Salvador, a country with a population smaller than Baghdad's. "Thousands of Salvadorans walked miles along back roads, avoided guerrilla roadblocks and waited up to six hours in hot, sticky lines today to vote in the most scrutinized election in El Salvador's history," I wrote in The Washington Post that March. "Given the conditions, the people of El Salvador have come out on...
  • THE GENTLEMAN THIEF

    In the end, the "gentleman thief" broke down like a boy. Stephane Breitwieser, 33, who carried out some of the brashest art thefts the world has ever seen, sat sobbing in a French courtroom earlier this month. The scene would seem to be the closing chapter in the bizarre tale of a narcissistic loner driven to theft by an obsessive passion for art--and of a mother who destroyed much of the treasure, worth $30 million to $40 million, according to the London-based Art Loss Register. Breitwieser was convicted Jan. 7 of stealing more than 200 works of art from museums around Europe; his mother was convicted of receiving them. Their disappearance, declared the French indictment, is a "colossal loss to the heritage of humanity." But questions are now being raised about just how much of Breitwieser's haul is really gone for good.The young Frenchman's phenomenal stealing spree spanned seven years and seven countries. He pilfered from small, underfunded and understaffed museums from France to...
  • TRIBE VERSUS TRIBE

    When elections are held in Iraq at the end of the month, Iraqis will not see any of the 150,000 American troops stationed there guarding the polling places. Instead, voters will pass groups of armed, masked men wearing black balaclavas to hide their faces. The gunmen may look like terrorists, but they'll be Iraqi Army and police, hiding their identities to protect themselves from retaliation by insurgents, who rarely bother to hide their faces anymore. American officials are hopeful the much-beleaguered Iraqi forces will prove their mettle on Election Day, and preside over an election "by Iraqis and for Iraqis," as an American general puts it. Yet Iraq's rebellious Sunni minority is likely to see it differently: an election for Shiites and Kurds, guarded by Shiites and Kurds, to dominate the Sunnis who once ruled the country.The goal of American military planners has long been to use the new Iraqi military to build national unity. And officially, that hasn't changed. American...
  • TIP SHEET

    Travel: A Ski Run For Your MoneyBy Emily FlynnForget the Alps. Eastern Europe is booming with trendy ski spots--and at a quarter of the price you'd pay for posh pistes like France's Courchevel or Switzerland's St. Moritz, you get runs (green, blue and black) for your money. "There has been a massive increase in the popularity in skiing in Eastern Europe," says Chris Rand of the Britain-based tour company Balkan Holidays. "It's different, fun and easier on the wallet." Indeed, Balkan Holiday statistics show that about 90,000 northern European skiers are now hitting the Slavic slopes, up fourfold from just five years ago. TIP SHEET straps on the skis:Bulgaria boasts Eastern Europe's most fashionable resorts. Borovets (borovets-bg.com) just invested 150 million euros to make itself into a "modern European resort" with an additional 80 kilometers of family-friendly runs. Afternoon apres-ski activities include all-terrain vehicle safaris and sunset tobogganing. At night, parents can drop...
  • Shadowland: Sandbagged in Baghdad

    The sandbags, you see, are biodegradable. When they were first thrown up around U.S.-occupied buildings in 2003 nobody thought they'd have to last very long. The Iraqi insurgency looked like a minor headache back then, and sandbags were a short-term solution to what seemed a short-term problem. So some lowly American bureaucrat who bought into this vision brought eco-friendly sandbags that tattered and dissolved in sun and rain, leaving my friend's digs, today, surrounded by something less akin to a fortress than to a sandcastle.It's that same sort of short-term expediency with an eye on long-term ideals--and a remarkable obliviousness to miserable medium-term realities--that riled up some of those Democratic U.S. senators grilling Secretary of State-designate Condoleezza Rice this week. They wanted to talk about past mistakes and the highly problematic here and now. She wanted to prove she had that vision thing for the future. And, let's be straight, that vision thing really is...
  • THE NEW ACTIVISTS: VOICES ON THE EDGE

    For more than 30 years, much of the Muslim world has been sliding backward, away from modernity. Maybe the West and Israel, defeat and humiliation, dictators, emirs or mullahs are to blame. Or maybe it's one of those cycles of fanatic religiosity that afflicts every society from time to time. Some voices of reason, however, have to stand up and say, "Enough!"Well, at long last that chorus is growing. And if you listen to the most strident voices, damned if they don't sound like an all-woman band. They're way out there on the edge of the faith; their message and their lifestyles are so far from the torpid Muslim mainstream they're almost in the desert. Yet precisely because they're taking such radical stands, they're doing what dissidents often do: drawing fire from zealots, angering the complacent--and creating space for more moderate voices.Right now it's a 36-year-old Canadian Muslim, Irshad Manji, who's singing loudest. Her in-your-face book, "The Trouble With Islam," is a...