Algiers

Don’t believe it when you read that Oscar Niemeyer, the Brazilian architect who died this week only days before he would have turned 105, was the one who took the chill off modernist design with his flamboyantly curving, white thin-shell concrete buildings. That’s the sort of nonsense that gets peddled in obituaries and haigiographies, particularly when a charismatic charmer distorts the historical record to inflate his own contribution, takes credit for the innovations of others, and outlives—by decades!—his competitors.

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Reading the controversial novels of Algerian writer Boualem Sansal.

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I know that soccer can engage and enrage the senses. And doubtless there have been other occasions when sports fans have killed and been killed in the frenzy of a game … or after. In Boston seven years ago, after a Red Sox win over the Yankees that clinched the American League pennant and was being celebrated in the streets, a 21-year old college student was killed and 16 others were wounded by police trying to control the crowds.

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There’s just so much press attention the Arab world can receive before even obsessives like me begin to tire of its frenzy, pitilessness, and perfidy. Yes, endless repetition of violence and violation can also seem routine. Which, to tell you God’s honest truth, they are. There is a great deal of exactitude behind this morbid fact. Still, the present upheavals in their cumulative impact are deadening. Not only to the victims of the regimes but to their observers, commentators, rapporteurs. Actually, many of these observers, perhaps most, are infatuated with the Arabs.

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During his campaign and at the beginning of his presidency Barack Obama promised to shut Guantanamo and give (most of) its prisoners their freedom. Freedom is a difficult state to bestow on people, especially those who have lived in the circle or shadow of terror or terrorism. In any case, the Congress won't allow the president to close the penitentiary at the southern tip of Cuba. And it certainly won't permit him to sprinkle the remaining inmates around America.

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The Furrows of Algeria

The German Mujahid By Boualem Sansal Translated by Frank Wynne (Europa Editions, 240 pp., $15) I. From the terrible Algerian slaughter, and its terrible silence, comes this small tale, told by an officer of the special forces who broke with “Le Pouvoir” of his own country and sought asylum in France. It is the autumn of 1994, deep into the season of killing. An old and simple Algerian woman, accompanied by two of her children, comes to the army barracks, to the very building where the torturers did their grim work, in search of her husband and her son.

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Persian Gulf

So far America's war on terrorism has converged nicely with the regional interests of the world's leading sponsor of international terrorism: Iran. After September 11, 2001, the United States worked with Tehran's mullahs to help oust their Sunni rivals to the east in Afghanistan, the Taliban.

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I had reported from some twenty-four countries before I set foot in America. I will never forget the first shock—even after having been in every country from the Sudan to South Africa—at realizing that I was in another place entirely, a New World. In the casbah of Algiers during the first referendum called by de Gaulle in 1959, when the women hurrying down the steep streets to vote for the first time pulled their yashmaks around their faces as they passed a man (which seemed to me only to make their dark eyes more fascinating), I was still in the Old World, however strange it was.

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