What We Are Reading Today: Killing Mr. Lebanon, by Nicholas Blanford

Updated 07 May 2018
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What We Are Reading Today: Killing Mr. Lebanon, by Nicholas Blanford

Before the Arab Spring, the Syrian war and fears of another conflict between Hezbollah and Israel, one story dominated Lebanon: The killing of Rafik Hariri. 
The former prime minister and architect of Beirut’s revival after decades of war, Hariri was one of the most powerful men in the country’s history. He was killed by a car bomb near Beirut’s seafront in 2005. 
This book was written before the UN-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon indicted four Hezbollah members for the assassination. 
Their trial in absentia has been ongoing since 2014. But despite the painfully slow legal process that has unfolded since its publication, Nicholas Blanford’s detailed and compelling account of the final weeks of Hariri’s life still paints a fascinating picture of the murky figures and complex layers that make up the higher echelons of power in the divided nation. 
With the country holding its first election in nine years this week, “Killing Mr. Lebanon” is a reminder of Lebanon’s fragility and the challenges faced by the current generation of leaders in holding it together.


Book Review: Recalling a magic carpet ride through South Asia

Updated 21 October 2018
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Book Review: Recalling a magic carpet ride through South Asia

BEIRUT: This evocative title, which conjures up images of the iconic Silk Road, is only a foretaste of what you experience in the book. “Beyond That Last Blue Mountain” recalls the extraordinary journey of Harriet Sandys. At 19, realizing she was completely unqualified, she wondered what a girl from her background could do. Hearing about her brother’s trip to Afghanistan and reading Wilfred Thesiger’s “Desert, Marsh and Mountain” and Eric Newby’s “A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush” fired her imagination, and she decided to make that journey.
Four years later, in 1977, a letter inviting her to visit the archaeological sites of Afghanistan changed the course of her life.
After learning how to repair oriental carpets, she worked for the Afghan Refugee Information Network and decided to assess the situation of Afghan refugees at the North-West Frontier. Touched by their extraordinary stoicism, she organized exhibitions of Afghan embroideries and carpets and opened a shop.
However, many of the NGO carpet-weaving programs produced rugs of inferior quality which were unsellable. Harriet wanted to find an alternative project that women could do at home. The Ikat silk-weaving project was born. Over 12 years, she traveled through Pakistan, setting up the project despite problems and setbacks. She miraculously recovered from bacterial meningitis and pursued her humanitarian aid projects in Iraqi Kurdistan and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
After her departure, the silk-weaving project, contrary to all expectations, thrived thanks to the courage of Saleh, a 17-year-old boy she had trained in Peshawar. He brought the project back to Afghanistan and became a master weaver. The Afghan fashion event held in London in 2011 highlighted one of his creations, a stunning dark-green silk evening dress decorated with calligraphy.
“Oriot,” as she was affectionately called, defied danger, traveling in and around war zones with almost no financial support.
“Had I pondered too long and too hard on all the dangers and difficulties I might have encountered … I would have remained a secretary, regretting missed opportunities,” she said. Brave, humble and compassionate, Harriet Sandys touches our hearts in this moving true story.