In Our Nation’s Capital

I am in Washington, DC, this week, for the Fulbright Fellowship orientation. On the plane over here, seated between a white-bearded man who kept offering me his bars of chocolate and his glass of orange juice, and a woman who kept telling her already-quiet baby to be quiet or she’d spank her, I caught up on my magazine reading.

I stopped subscribing to The Atlantic, but I bought it this month to read the cover story by Mary Anne Weaver about Zarqawi. It turned out to be a thoroughly researched, well-written and very engaging piece. There’s also a short piece by Nadya Labi about a young man who frequented Jihadi websites under the handle Irhabi 007. (Irhabi means ‘terrorist’ in Arabic.) He was eventually caught not because law enforcement came looking for him, but because individuals offered tips and had to be persistent in getting those tips to the right people. But there’s a disturbing aspect that could have been mined further in this piece, which is the work done by contractors/vigilantes like SITE, people who clearly have an agenda and don’t answer to anyone but themselves. The best part of the magazine remains its “critics” section. There’s a great, great piece by Sandra Tsing-Loh about American women and their finances, and also an excellent essay by Christopher Hitchens on Iranian literature, specifically the anthology Strange Times, My Dear, which I’ve mentioned frequently on this blog.

Speaking of Iran, Harper’s has a long piece by Christopher de Bellaigue on the current nuclear crisis. It’s filed from Tehran, where de Bellaigue lives, and it provides a much needed account of what ordinary Iranians think of the situation. There’s also a very thoughtful review by Robert Boyers of John Updike’s new novel, Terrorist. If you read only one piece of critical writing about that novel, make it this one. And of course reading Harper’s Index is always informative. Did you know that Americans rank atheists at the top of the list of people whom they are least willing to allow their children to marry? Muslims were second, African Americans were third. Hey, look at the bright side. The faithful are not as hated as the faithless.

As our plane was landing, the white-bearded man turned to me and told me that God blessed me, and that he wished all my dreams came true. I wondered if he’d still say that if he knew I was Number 2 on that list. But Amen anyway, brother.