in this week's issue - The New Yorker

in this week's issue - The New Yorker

For Immediate Release: December 5, 2016 IN THIS WEEK’S ISSUE Where Will Jihadis Take the War? In the December 12, 2016, issue of The New Yorker, in “...

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For Immediate Release: December 5, 2016

IN THIS WEEK’S ISSUE Where Will Jihadis Take the War? In the December 12, 2016, issue of The New Yorker, in “After the Islamic State” (p. 30), Robin Wright reports from the Middle East, where, as the caliphate crumbles, rival movements are now vying for the soul and future direction of Sunni jihadism. The caliphate was declared in 2014, after the Islamic State blitzed across Syria and Iraq. It was probably never sustainable at the pace and scope it intended; today, its losses are staggering: up to forty-five thousand fighters and forty per cent of its territory. Now the Islamic State is under siege in its two most valuable properties—Mosul, Iraq, and Raqqa, Syria. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter tells Wright, “We will kill as many ISIL as we can in the Mosul and Raqqa battles . . . They may fight to the death, and they may try to survive, but we’ll be after them in either case.” Yet the U.S. estimates that ISIL still has some eighteen thousand fighters, who have pledged to abandon cities and fight an insurgency from the desert if necessary. The quest for a caliphate will live on. The turmoil has been a boon for Al Qaeda—as the Islamic State contracts, Al Qaeda is attempting to reclaim its primacy at the vanguard of global jihadism by appearing to be the more pragmatic agent of the global jihad. Carter said the top priority for President-elect Trump’s Administration will be finishing off the Islamic State: “We’re going to destroy the idea that there is an Islamic State. They’ll see that, before their eyes, it’s not a place for foreign fighters, because there’s no place to go. There’ll be no training there. There’ll be no welcome there. And that magnetism that two years ago brought many foreign fighters— there’ll be no magnet left.” Nabil Rahim, who works in Tripoli, fears that the Islamic State “may be defeated politically and militarily but the idea won’t die . . . The same thing that happened in Syria or Libya could happen in Algeria or Morocco or someplace else in this chaos.” The Islamic State could eventually lose control of Raqqa, but it is expected to regroup in remote areas, such as Al Bukamal and Al Qaim, along the Syria-Iraq border. The movement may be disrupted, but U.S. officials concede that it will be almost impossible to totally dismantle it. “An end to Syria’s wider six-year war—in any way that both stabilizes one of the most important geostrategic countries in the Middle East and favors U.S. interests—also seems increasingly remote,” according to Wright. And the quest for a caliphate goes on. “Al Qaeda might lay claim to it for a moment, and the Islamic State may lay claim to it, but there’s always been this dream of recapturing and bringing back the caliphate,” a senior U.S. counterterrorism official told Wright. “Who’s going to tap into that next?”

A Young Progressive Addresses Poverty on his Home Turf In “Bronx Tale” (p. 36), Jennifer Gonnerman profiles Ritchie Torres, who, at the age of twenty-eight, represents the Fifteenth District, one of the poorest in the city—and now fears that his constituents will be among those who suffer most under a Trump Administration. A hundred and sixty-eight thousand people live in the Fifteenth District, in the central Bronx, nearly forty per cent of whom are immigrants. Some of them “live in a state of fear” at the prospect of being deported, Torres said. Gonnerman visits his district office, where he and his staff discuss a recent spike in calls from Mexican and Dominican immigrants asking for help in becoming citizens—a phenomenon they called the “Trump effect.” Torres is also troubled by Trump’s suggestion that Ben Carson run the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Carson has said that he is “interested in getting rid of dependency,” and Torres worries that the New York City Housing Authority is a “natural target.”

In the nearly three years since Torres took office, in 2013, he has challenged the police commissioner, the mayor, and the governor on a range of issues. He was recently recognized by the Manhattan Young Democrats for his efforts to expand jobs programs for public-housing residents, improve relations between the police and the community, and provide more mental-health services for L.G.B.T. people. In November, the city’s Department of Homeless Services reported that it would open a shelter, in his district, for L.G.B.T. young adults. Torres had fought hard for the facility. He tells Gonnerman, “If you’re a progressive, you believe every American deserves safe, decent, and affordable housing, and there’s no institution in American life more dedicated to that proposition than the New York City Housing Authority. If the city were to lose it, we would have hundreds of thousands of people overflowing our homeless shelters.”


Torres, the youngest elected official in New York City, grew up in a public-housing project in the East Bronx. Across the street was a vacant two-hundred-and-twenty-acre expanse of land, now home to Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point. To Torres, the course is an “egregious misallocation of resources.” (The city built the golf course, at a cost of a hundred and twenty-seven million dollars, while Donald Trump, who agreed to build a clubhouse and lay and maintain the grounds, does not have to share any revenues with the city until 2019.) Torres tells Gonnerman, “New York is a tale of two cities. You have the gilded city and the other city, and the core of the other city is the New York City Housing Authority.”

At Berkeley, Ex-Con Undergrads Are Building a Prison-to-School Pipeline In “Out and Up” (p. 54), Larissa MacFarquhar reports from the University of California, Berkeley, where formerly incarcerated undergrads started a group on campus for other former inmates—they mentor prospective applicants, provide support for current students, and advocate for reform within the prison system. The group, the Underground Scholars Initiative (U.S.I.), was founded by Danny Murillo and Steven Czifra, who, after getting out of prison and attending community college, were accepted to Berkeley. When Czifra graduated, in 2015, U.S.I. had put together enough grant money to pay him to work part time for a year as the group’s director; during that time, he won a Soros fellowship to work on recruiting former inmates from community colleges. David Maldonado, one of the leaders of U.S.I., says, “When you’re about to get out of prison—when you start getting shorter to the house, as they call it—you start envisioning that first day. And if you can see yourself as a student, as an intellectual, that’s a very, very powerful thing.” One of the things discussed at U.S.I. meetings is the idea that the incarcerated should not only be objects of study but should also write about themselves. Mark Johnson, who spent six years in and out of jail, thought there was a need for people like him at Berkeley. He tells MacFarquhar, “People are getting out of high school, going straight to Cal, and then straight to grad school, and these people are creating theories and models about a world they’ve never lived in.” Today, there are several changes in the system that U.S.I. is working on, including lifting a ban so that some people can receive Pell Grants while still incarcerated, as well as a movement to get rid of the box on employment applications that you have to check if you have a criminal record. U.S.I. members don’t believe that if you make it to U.C. Berkeley when millions of others have not, you are special. Czifra says, “I know exactly why I’m here. I got lucky.” Maldonado continues, “I left behind people who are dead, or who are doing long prison terms, or who are burned out and lost their minds, who are way smarter than me. It’s a roulette wheel: sometimes it lands on your number. Everyone in Underground Scholars got their number through the roulette wheel. We’re just changing that now to where maybe two balls land instead of one.”

A Young Soccer Star Plots an Escape In “The Away Team” (p. 42), Alexis Okeowo documents the journey of Samson Arefaine, a twenty-six-year-old who used his spot on Eritrea’s national soccer team to escape the repressive country, along with several of his teammates. An isolated, secretive country, Eritrea has been under emergency rule since 1998. The United Nations has accused its military and its government—including the President, Isaias Afewerki—of crimes against humanity toward their own people, including indefinite conscription, arbitrary arrests and torture, and mass surveillance. “There are no civil liberties, there is no freedom of speech, there is no freedom to organize,” Adane Ghebremeskel Tekie, an activist with the Eritrean Movement for Human Rights, told Okeowo. “The regime can do anything it wants.” According to the U.N., as many as five thousand people flee the country every month, making it one of the world’s largest sources of refugees. Still, Eritrea wants to be seen as a normal country, and international sporting competitions are a way to present a good face to the world. Soccer is immensely popular, but, embarrassingly for the government, members of the national soccer team have repeatedly defected after games abroad. In 2015, after several years of brutal military service, Arefaine learned that he had been selected to play on the national soccer team. By that time, he had been contemplating escape for years. But as people have left the country to seek asylum, the regime has begun a more aggressive campaign of surveillance. It was hard to know whom to trust, and some of Arefaine’s teammates later confessed that Eritrean security officials had asked them to inform on the others in case of an escape plot. Despite the danger, Arefaine “took the risk” and broached the subject with his teammates, suspecting that they wanted to escape, too. After a game in Botswana, many players packed their belongings in a single bag and left their hotel. The mass defection was a humiliation for the government, and if the players are ever deported back to Asmara, Eritrea’s capital, they could face severe punishment. Arefaine is convinced they made the right decision. “It was like I was born again—I had been given a second chance,” he recalled. Okeowo visited Arefaine in Botswana, where he now lives, in a refugee camp. “My family was angry I left them, and they were afraid,” he said. “The government is going to do something. I am still afraid,” he continued. Okeowo asked how it felt to finally leave Eritrea. “We are one step ahead from where we were,” Arefaine said. Plus: In Comment, Jeffrey Toobin examines how the Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder decision—which gutted the Voting Rights Act and led to voter suppression, particularly among Democrats—contributed to Donald Trump’s win (p. 23); in Shouts & Murmurs, Bill Franzen sets the record straight on some misstatements in last year’s holiday greeting (p. 35); Carrie Battan writes about two new projects by Donald Glover: his new musical work, “Awaken, My Love!,” made under the name Childish Gambino, and his new TV show, “Atlanta” (p. 70); James Wood reads the work of the Australian writer Helen Garner (p. 73); Louis Menand reads two new memoirs about American publishing: Robert Gottlieb’s “Avid Reader,” and Barney Rosset’s “Rosset: My Life in Publishing and How I Fought Censorship” (p. 78); Alex Ross examines Los Angeles’s thriving opera scene (p. 86); Anthony Lane reviews Damien Chazelle’s new film, “La La Land” (p. 88); a sketchbook by George Booth depicts Santa’s Christmas preparations (p. 59); poetry by Marsha de la O (p. 38) and Jorie Graham (p. 50); and new fiction by Joseph O’Neill (p. 64). Podcasts: Dorothy Wickenden and Jeffrey Toobin discuss concerns about voting rights and the democratic breakdowns that have emerged since Trump’s victory last month, and Joseph O’Neill reads his short story “Pardon Edward Snowden.” Digital Extras: Marsha de la O and Jorie Graham read their poems; a video profile of Ritchie Torres, the youngest elected official in New York City; photographs of the Eritrean national soccer team; and photographs of formerly incarcerated undergrads at Berkeley. The December 12, 2016, issue of The New Yorker goes on sale at newsstands beginning Monday, December 5. Press Contacts: Natalie Raabe, (212) 286-6591, Erica Hinsley, (212) 286-7936, Adrea Piazza, (212) 286-4255