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Rethinking Jihad

The New Republic and The New Yorker on recent blows to al-Qaida in the Muslim world.

New Republic, June 11 The cover story investigates the growing number of high-profile jihadists who are “alarmed by the targeting of civilians in the West, the senseless killings in Muslim countries, and … barbaric tactics in Iraq” perpetrated by al-Qaida’s brand of militancy. They haven’t “suddenly switched to particularly progressive forms of Islam or fallen in love with the United States,” but they reject the bloodshed by al-Qaida’s attacks on civilians, including Muslims in Arab countries. Regardless, “their anti-Al Qaeda positions are making Americans safer” because they have the legitimacy to “effectively debate Al Qaeda’s leaders.” A profile of Nancy Pelosi argues that “for now,” the speaker of the House “has quieted the speculation that she lacks the skill, the smarts, and, most importantly, the cojones to lead her caucus.” She owes her “newly fearsome stature” in part to Hillary Clinton. Democratic activists, who previously “trash[ed] [her] leadership as timid and pathetic,” began to view her as “a bulwark against an out-of-control Clinton machine” when she stood up to the Clinton campaign’s attempts to strong-arm the party into revotes in Florida and Michigan.

The New Yorker, June 2 A piece by Lawrence Wright considers the ideological defection of the jihadist thinker known as “Dr. Fadl,” who was part of “the original core of Al Qaeda” and whose writings the terrorist group used to “indoctrinate recruits and justify killing.” A year ago Fadl, who is also featured in TNR’s jidhadist piece, published a book from prison that repudiated the terrorist group for its violence. As current al-Qaida leaders struggle to respond to Fadl’s attack, the piece suggests, “Al Qaeda’s popularity [has] decline[d] in places where it formerly enjoyed great support.” In a profile of Republican consultant Roger Stone (who sports a tattoo of Richard Nixon on his back), Jeffery Toobin reveals why Stone wanted to go after Eliot Spitzer. Stone says, “I thought [he] was punk, and I wanted to fuck with him any way I could,” In a review of … the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, David Denby declares “it was a mistake for Spielberg and George Lucas … to revive ‘Indiana Jones’ after so many years.”

New York, June 2
An article explores the autistic community’s emerging “neurodiversity movement,” which holds that people with autism or Asperger’s do not need to be “cured,” only accepted. One neurodiversity proponent says he was inspired “to do for neurologically different people what feminism and gay rights had done for their constituencies.” The activists’ beliefs conflict with more-traditionally minded branches of the community, and all groups are “blatantly hostile to one another,” explains the piece: “There are in reality three sides to this debate: those who believe autism is caused by environmental toxins (especially vaccines) and should be cured by addressing those pollutants; those who believe it is genetic and should be addressed through the genome; and the neurodiverse, who believe that it is genetic and should be left alone.” A column examines why John McCain and Barack Obama are both eyeing Michael Bloomberg as a running mate. The New York City mayor appeals not just because of his high net worth but also because “voters are yearning for a radical departure from the brain-dead, polarizing, base-driven stratagems that have turned the past several presidential cycles into object lessons in democratic dysfunction.”

Harper’s, June 2008 An essay reflects on the widespread reports of “magical penis loss” in Nigeria and Benin, in which sufferers claim their genitals were snatched or shrunken by thieves. Crowds have lynched accused penis thieves in the street. During one 1990 outbreak, “[m]en could be seen in the streets of Lagos holding on to their genitalia either openly or discreetly with their hand in their pockets.” Social scientists have yet to identify what causes this mass fear but suspect it is what is referred to as a “culture-bound syndrome,” a catchall term for a psychological affliction that affects people within certain ethnic groups. A piece details the history of the U.S. government’s treatment of buffalo, concluding with the conflict between the last wild herds in Montana and ranchers desperate to protect their cattle from a virus carried by the animals.

Weekly Standard, June 2 A feature dispatches from a medievalist conference, where one of the hot topics of conversation was the emerging field of “waste studies.” Earlier historians avoided a scatological focus, in the phrase of one academic, because of a “repressive Western bourgeois hand-up.” Now, argues the piece, “the one thing in which waste-studies scholars seem not to be interested is medieval history.” They want to know not “so much how people disposed of waste as what they thought about it—or if you’re a cultural-studies type, what ‘society’ thought about it.” An article observes that the California state Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage has ensured that gay marriage will become an issue in the November election. It will “prompt the long-awaited challenge in federal courts to the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996,” which is “the only (very shaky) legal barrier standing in the path of nationally mandated recognition of same-sex marriage.”

Newsweek, June 2 In the cover package on Obama’s race, an op-ed declares that the Democratic campaign has divided white and black women. The separation that has always existed is now “a chasm of resentment,” partly because Clinton “appealed to [white women’s] most base racial fears and resentments.” In another op-ed, Richard Rodriguez proposes acknowledging Barack Obama’s biracial background by calling him “brown.” Rodriguez writes: “I wonder, after centuries of slavery and injury, after illicit eroticism between black and white, after lynchings, and children who had to choose between one parent or another … is it possible to say brown?” A piece refutes the argument of a new book that claims the digital age has made Gen Y the dumbest generation yet: “The old have been wringing their hands about the young’s cultural wastelands and ignorance of history at least since admirers of Sophocles and Aeschylus bemoaned the popularity of Aristophanes … as leading to the end of (Greek) civilization as they knew it.”