Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

  • Practical Magic

    In February, Amnesty International published a report on the Saydnaya Military Prison in Syria that made for especially gruesome reading. The headline revelation, that the Syrian authorities killed up to thirteen thousand people in extrajudicial executions at Saydnaya between 2011 and 2015, surprised exactly no one familiar with the structure of the Syrian state or the regime of Bashar al-Assad and its long-standing use of torture. Amnesty estimates that there are now up to twenty thousand detainees in Saydnaya, virtually all of them nonviolent demonstrators who never joined the Free Syrian

  • Off to Never-Never Land

    AT THE START of Albanian author Ismail Kadare's novel The Palace of Dreams (1981), a young man named Mark-Alem Quprili wakes up one morning with a vague sense of dread. He eats breakfast with his mother. He flips through the pages of a family history. Passing details about his ancestors—their triumphs and misfortunes, the origins of their name and its stigma of murder—only serve to sharpen his anxiety. Then he sets out on foot, bundled against the cold, for his first day of work at the Tabir Sarrail, the vast shadowy agency of a sprawling unnamed empire (imagine an Ottoman-era super-state),

  • The Big Comedown

    Late in the autumn of 2014, a prominent Yemeni politician was out taking a walk near his home in the capital city of Sana’a when two men on motorbikes shot him to death. Muhammad Abdelmalik al Mutawakel was a professor of political science who had long been advocating for a strong, democratic state in an otherwise fractious, feudal place. Mutawakel was the leader of a liberal party and an architect of the uprisings that had deposed Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen’s autocratic former president; he had been negotiating a peace deal behind the scenes among Houthi rebels, the opposition, and the new(ish)

  • The Revolution Will Be Anthologized

    The great Moroccan writer Abdellatif Laâbi was just twenty-three years old when he met the poets and painters who would help him revolutionize the worlds of art, literature, and politics across North Africa and the Middle East. It was 1965, and Morocco was poised between a once-promising independence, which it had won from France nine years earlier (only to see it diminished by the restored monarchy’s crackdown on dissent), and the “years of lead” (zaman al-rasas), which would stretch into four decades of increasingly brutal repression under the reign of King Hassan II. It was also the height

  • Everyday Terror

    BY THE TIME TWO SUICIDE BOMBINGS killed forty-three people in the southern Beirut suburb of Burj al-Barajneh last November, Lebanon had been without a president for a year and a half. It’s an almost casual fact of life here that would be unthinkable in the United States, where the incumbent president is derided for lacking an operational plan to defeat the stateless leaders of ISIS on the field of battle—and where the Great Leader figure who now is atop the GOP presidential field seeks to exploit terror attacks with fascist calls to register America’s entire Muslim population.

    The AWOL status

  • Factional Narrative

    A Lebanese pharmacist concocts a mysterious green potion that makes him sexually irresistible to his female customers. An architect dreams all day of emigration while playing a computer game simulating the demolition of downtown Beirut. A son rescues his father’s favorite prostitute, a woman who ruined his childhood but also made him a man, from a brothel that is about to be bombed. He looks after her for the rest of her life. An eccentric old man in the port city of Tripoli claims to be the last living descendant of the Frankish invaders who led the Crusades. He applies for a French passport

  • Lost Illusions

    As the most ambitious political forces in the Middle East seem to grow ever more messianic and apocalyptic, who, or what, is the Arab of the future? The Syrian cartoonist Riad Sattouf leaves the question hanging at the end of his Maus-like graphic memoir. The blond little boy at the center of Sattouf’s tale is, like most of the political and cultural forces shaping his life’s story, profoundly unsettled. Readers see him become charmed, bewildered, and eventually endangered by his father’s myopic enthusiasm for the pseudosecular, quasi-socialist dictatorships of Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya and Hafez

  • culture April 09, 2015

    On Comics and Critique in Beirut, Cairo, and Istanbul

    A TRAUMATIC EVENT is one that defies our ability to tell what happened and at the same time sets off the desperate compulsion to do so, or at least to try, over and over, however awkward, until a story begins to take hold.

    A TRAUMATIC EVENT is one that defies our ability to tell what happened and at the same time sets off the desperate compulsion to do so, or at least to try, over and over, however awkward, until a story begins to take hold. A sharp, sudden eruption of violence—a war, an explosion, an attack—both does damage and repairs, by triggering the impulse to explain it, assign it meaning, and make it fit within the wider story we tell ourselves about the worlds in which we live.

    Kaelen Wilson-Goldie is a critic based in Beirut.

  • High Lines

    Late in the fall of 1999, the renowned art historian Svetlana Alpers retired from teaching, packed up her house in California, and moved into a loft near Union Square in New York City. High above a neighborhood that had once been home to printers and lithographers, Alpers had stunning views, with six windows facing west, two windows facing east, and an eyeful of sky in either direction. Each morning, she watched a play of shadows dance along the walls of adjacent buildings as day broke and sunlight slipped across nearby roofs, water towers, and eclectic architectural details, including a

  • Beirut Follies

    STORY NUMBER ONE: During a lull in Lebanon’s civil war, the Syrian intelligence service organized a competition with its French and American counterparts, sending spies from all three countries into the woods of Lebanon to find a donkey. The Americans crashed into the forest and quickly returned with not one but a half-dozen donkeys. The French took longer, and came back with fewer. Hours passed, and the Syrians were still gone. The others set out to find them and soon came across a pair of Syrian agents who were whacking a rabbit with a stick. “We’re almost there,” said the Syrians to the