Letter from the Editor

    Failure is one of the great themes. Rather than theorizing about failure with a capital F (Failed states! Failed elections! Failed development!), for this issue we veered toward personal stories.

    In these pages, Kai Friese weaves a sweet tale of growing up in the waning days of Non-Aligned India, when second-rate seemed perfectly fine; Anand Balakrishnan recounts a season in Cairo spent learning Arabic (badly) from one of Egypt’s leading yet unheralded failures; and Gary Dauphin traces the route of a Northern Californian youth named John Walker Lindh as he moved from true-school hip hop aficionado to Muslim convert to wearer of the bizarre mantle “American Taliban.” Sophia Al-Maria describes her family’s doomed attempt to overthrow a government, while Nimco Mahamud-Hassan describes the Somali streets of her youth, between the wars and before the implosion of that East African country. Failure here is an invisible thread that generates identities—imagined and real—and perhaps even determines the way we explain the world around us. In that way failure is a generative force. Yes, failure is a good, if not enormously enlightening thing.

    Our regular columns tackle the decline of the new in art and criticism. Look for a portrait of Nazi architect Albert Speers by Benjamin Tiven, as well as Jace Clayton’s meditation on the legacy of the late, lamented Muslimgauze, the original champion of Hizbullah-chic.