Stories by Rod Nordland

  • Watching the Inauguration in Gaza City

    There were no cheers in the Ranoush Café in Gaza City when Barack Obama was inaugurated. A few dozen young Palestinians watched the proceedings on one of the place's four televisions, listening to Al-Jazeera's Arabic voice-over as they sucked on Hubbly Bubblies, which are big water pipes with burning charcoal in the bowl. Afterward, the patrons said they were tentatively pleased. "He will be such a change from Bush, and maybe he won't be under Israel's belly like all the other presidents," said Mahmoud Saqiya, 24, an IT engineer. If there was a consensus, that was it: cautious optimism. Many noted favorably that Obama spoke of reaching out to Muslims; indeed, he was the first president to use the word "Muslim" in an Inaugural Address.From Gaza to Goa, people have invested Obama with their hopes. Take Omar Tawel, a 24-year-old computer-science graduate who, like most young men in Gaza, is unemployed. During the campaign, Tawel got so fired up that he organized dozens of his English...
  • After Gaza, Israel Finds Itself Isolated

    Israel has never been more isolated. Its best friend, the United States, had vetoed 41 Security Council resolutions condemning Israel in the past three decades, but was about to vote for the Jan. 8 resolution denouncing the attack on Gaza when President Bush intervened, at the behest of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Still, in the face of unprecedented global criticism, the U.S. didn't dare veto, but merely abstained. Europe, never Israel's close ally, erupted in near unanimous outrage over Gaza, with fits of anti-Semitic violence in France, Sweden and Belgium.Israel is accustomed to attacks from the left and the U.N. This time, though, Amnesty International has accused Israel of war crimes (using white phosphorus against civilians), and the secretary-general was unusually outspoken. After Israel bombed five U.N. compounds, Ban Ki-moon called the attack "heartbreaking … outrageous and unacceptable." His condemnation of Hamas rocket attacks came later, in milder terms.Israel's last...
  • First Person: Rod Nordland in Zimbabwe

    When you hear the brutal details about Zimbabwe, it's hard to imagine how it can get any worse without the government collapsing, or Robert Mugabe resigning. The hyperinflation, the millions going hungry, the canceled anti-AIDS programs, the 3 million (out of a total 11 million) who have fled the country. Then you go there, as I did in June, and the most striking thing is the normalcy amid all that hardship. There's the group of nine high-school graduates meeting with the American ambassador before they head to the United States for college; at night they hide from marauding enforcers looking for opposition voters. Young men with clubs chant as they trot along a road after dark, looking for victims, but a white woman pushing a child in a stroller crosses just in front of them, unmolested. Mugabe is an Anglophile, and so are many Zimbabweans. Everyone's talking about the forthcoming elections—which Mugabe was clearly going to steal (and did)—and the vanishing or murdered opposition...
  • Worth Your Time: "The Ayatollah Begs To Differ"

    "A friend once told me that I was the only person he knew who was both 100 percent American and 100 percent Iranian," writes Hooman Majd in his engaging book, "The Ayatollah Begs to Differ" (published stateside this fall). The grandson of an ayatollah, and the son of a diplomat for the last shah of Iran, Majd grows up in America and comes of age during the Iranian revolution. To his own surprise, he finds himself bristling as Americans criticize his homeland. He becomes a cultural chameleon, equally at ease in the United States and in Iran, which he visits often and which he sees with American eyes and Persian sympathies. It's a viewpoint that may challenge Western readers' assumptions: Majd's Iran is a land where ayatollahs criticize each other and young people flout rules about wearing chadors. It's a land where Majd—who makes no secret of his admiration for the reformist President Mohammad Khatami—could go on to serve as the official translator for Khatami's successor and...
  • Africa’s Other Holocaust

    Barack Obama spoke often and passionately about Darfur while campaigning. But the African holocaust that will confront him first is the ongoing slaughter in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. More than 5 million have died in that conflict since 1996, and there's no sign of a letup. As rebels commanded by Laurent Nkunda, a renegade Congolese Army general, closed in on the city of Goma in recent weeks, the United Nations' 17,000 troops— its largest peacekeeping force in the world—proved too weak to stop the push or to prevent a rampage of rape and looting by government forces who were there to defend the city. The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously last week to send in 3,100 more troops, but "you would need a minimum of 100,000 soldiers to have a credible peacekeeping force in Congo," says Knox Chitiyo, an Africa expert at the Royal United Services Institute, a London think tank. Chitiyo thinks only an envoy of Obama's stature might be able to impose a settlement.What keeps...
  • Jewel Of Medina Publisher Firebombed

    Sherry Jones, whose historical novel about the Prophet Muhammad's favorite wife, Aisha, was dropped by Random House in August over fear of reactions from Muslims, may yet become another Salman Rushdie. The book, "The Jewel of Medina," was picked up by London publisher Gibson Square with plans for an October release. But on Sept. 26, a firebomb found its way inside the $5 million townhouse of Gibson Square's owner, Martin Rynja. Rynja, whose publishing house operates from his home, wasn't there at the time—reportedly, he'd been warned by authorities of the plot—and police rounded up three men, ages 22, 30 and 40, who were found at or fleeing the scene.While neither Rynja nor "Jewel's" U.S. publisher, Beaufort Books, could be reached for comment, Jones's agent has said the attack failed to derail publication plans, an indication that the author and her team aren't backing down. But it's worrisome that the same can likely be said for those intent on destroying "Jewel": Islamic radical...
  • U.S. and U.K. Struggle To Make Terror Cases Stick

    The global war on terror isn't going so well on the judicial front. Last week a London jury failed to convict eight British Muslims of a suicide plot to smuggle sports drinks full of explosives aboard transatlantic flights—the initial catalyst for banning liquids and creams onboard ever since. That's only the latest in a series of police failures in Britain, ranging from an alleged plot to spread nerve gas on the London Underground (which resulted in only four convictions for passport offenses and disorderly conduct), to the fatal police shooting of a Brazilian whom police mistook for a suicide bomber, to the release of all 10 Muslims rounded up in an alleged plot to bomb a Manchester United game (they were ticketholding fans). Scotland Yard stats show those are no exceptions: of 1,165 persons arrested under Britain's Terrorism Act (enacted in 2000), more than half have been released without charges and only 41 convicted, with an additional 114 trials pending.Still, authorities were...
  • General Agwai On UNAMID's Darfur Mission

    The general who heads up the U.N.-African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur came to London last week to talk up his much-maligned force, now almost a year old. "Many have said, 'UNAMID, you are so useless'," says Gen. Martin Luther Agwai. "I say if you go to the grass roots in Darfur, so many good little things are happening every day." Just last week, for instance, a UNAMID patrol intervened to stop two villages from fighting over cattle rustling. More good things might happen if Agwai had the 26,000 troops and 24 military helicopters promised by his U.N. Security Council mandate; so far, only 10,400 personnel and no choppers have deployed. The remaining manpower is delayed by a "nightmare of challenges," from crumbling infrastructure to rebel infighting.Agwai will be happy if he is able to achieve full deployment by the time his tour of duty ends next June. Will there be peace in Sudan by then? "You and I know there is no peace to keep in Darfur."
  • Petraeus Prepares to Leave Iraq for Afghanistan

    Gen. David Petraeus has no intention of doing a victory lap on his way out of Iraq. As he heads off next month to take over the U.S. military's Central Command, in charge of Afghanistan as well as Iraq, he leaves a country on the rebound. People in Baghdad feel so safe they are out on the streets at midnight. The scourge of Al Qaeda in Iraq is a spent force. They've lost Anbar province and Baghdad, where at best they can mount a couple of mostly insignificant attacks a day. They've vacated the Sunni Triangle. Virtually the entire Sunni Arab population has turned against them, and nowadays not a single Sunni imam, politician or tribal leader of note inside the country supports them. So why then don't we just say it: Al Qaeda in Iraq has been defeated."You won't find a single military leader in this theater who will say that," says Petraeus, whose counterinsurgency guidance to his troops warns against "premature declarations of success." Petraeus is far too politic to refer to his...
  • Swimming Pools a Small Sign of Normalcy in Baghdad

    The U.S. military helped reopen several public pools in steamy Baghdad this summer, restoring some normalcy for beleaguered residents. But the openings were not without problems.

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