Edward Snowden, who has become the public face of an international debate over surveillance, tops the list of Foreign Policy's Global Thinkers for 2013. The former National Security Agency contractor who disclosed the inner workings of the U.S. intelligence operations has been living in Russia since June and is currently wanted by U.S. law enforcement authorities and faces charges in federal court. In lieu of attending a reception in Washington on Wednesday for this year's Global Thinkers, Snowden sent the following statement:
The United States may be heavily engaged in shepherding peace talks between Israel and Palestine, but according to Anne Patterson, who has been nominated as the State Department's next top Middle East official, the issue just isn't a top priority for the United States any more.
In an exchange Wednesday with Vali Nasr, the dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Patterson chimed in to agree with the former Obama administration official that Israel-Palestine has moved away from its central place in U.S. policy toward the region. "It's certainly not the most urgent problem that we face now in the Middle East, but it's one that could have enormous long term consequences," Patterson said.
For the past two and a half years, as the civil war in Syria has descended into brutal bloodletting and spilled over its borders, Obama administration officials have consistently decried the growing presence of Islamist extremists in the conflict. But on Wednesday, Deputy National Security Advisor Antony Blinken turned that logic on its head: The growing role of extremist groups may actually be a good thing for bringing the conflict to a close, he said.
Speaking at Transformational Trends, a conference co-hosted by Foreign Policy and the Policy Planning Staff of the U.S. State Department, Blinken said that the radicalization of the conflict may create a shared interest among world powers to bring the war to an end. The growing prominence of radical groups has "begun to concentrate the minds of critical actors outside of Syria" and may strip the Bashar al-Assad regime of the key international backing that has so far helped to keep him in power.
Julian Assange and a huge number of Mexicans on Twitter look to have something in common: Neither are particularly happy about Foreign Policy's Global Thinkers issue.
On Monday, FP launched the fifth annual iteration of that issue, which selected a range of thinkers from the worlds of surveillance and privacy, statesmen and activists, innovators and artists in attempt to distill some of the most important and consequential individuals of 2013. Among them is the Mexican president, Enrique Peña Nieto, who has embarked on an ambitious reform agenda during his first year in office. He hasn't always delivered on that promise, but his vision for shaking up Mexico's petroleum industry and its education system has made him a man to watch in Latin America.
But his selection provoked a virulent response on Twitter, with an outporing of disdain for a man many Mexicans view as little more than a figurehead -- and a stupid one at that. The release of the Global Thinkers issue is typically accompanied by a fair amount of controversy as the selections are debated and picked over. This year, Julian Assange joined the Mexican Twitterati in denouncing FP.
On Monday, Saudi authors Yasser Bahjatt and Ibraheem Abbas learned that their science fiction book, which shot to the top of the best-seller list in Saudi Arabia, had been banned from sale in Kuwait and Qatar. The episode was familiar: in late November, Saudi Arabia's Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice yanked the book from shelves for a thorough examination in response to concerns over inappropriate content. The book, called Hawjan, is a fantasy/sci-fi story with religious themes that spurred rumors, particularly from parents, that it was promoting sorcery and devil-worship among young people, especially girls. For Abbas and Bahjatt, also the founders of a group dedicated to promoting Arab sci-fi, the suspensions have been a lesson in navigating the difficult literary terrain of a region that grapples with the genre's intersection of science, religion, and modernity.
"There is almost no science fiction in the region -- it does not exist as a genre," Bahjatt told Foreign Policy. After seeing the immense popularity of Hawjan, he stressed that the dearth can't be attributed to a lack of demand and instead blamed it on the restrictions of conservative Islamic society. "In the past two decades in the region, imagination has been systematically shut down ... I think part of it might be religious. Rather than go ahead and try to [understand] religion on their own, people started relying on scholars to tell them."