(Approximately 17 minutes to read)
- How does the author describe Azar?
- What does Azar mean when he says, “...This is not the time to talk, but to shoot ?” What is he referring to?
- What event is credited with starting the Arab Spring?
- How many nations succumbed to Arab Spring protests? Which nations?
- Why does the author feel that the Arab Spring was inevitable?
- How did Arab leaders consolidate their power before the Arab Spring? According to the author, how did leaders in the Arab Spring nations stay in power?
- Why do students of the Middle East call countries like Iraq, Syria and Libya artificial states?
- What is the ‘divide and conquer approach’ to colonization, and why did the European powers adopt this approach to establishing nations in the Middle East? What are potential consequences to using this strategy?
- What is the symbolic significance of the removal of the statue of Saddam Hussein from Firdoz Square?
- What did Qaddafi predict would be the impact of the American invasion in Iraq?
Part 1: Origins
(Approximately 26 minutes to read)
- Why is Egypt considered the capital of the Middle East?
- What role did Gamal Abdel Nasser play in modern Egyptian history?
- What is the baathist philosophy?
- What does the author suggest makes Egypt different from the rest of the Arab world?
- According to the author, how did Nasser, and his successor Anwar Sadat, maintain power?
- What drove Laila to activism?
- What actions led to growing distrust of Mubarak, the leader who followed Sadat?
- How did Qaddafi come to power in Libya?
- How were the regimes of Nasser (Egypt), Qaddafi (Libya), Saddam Hussein (Iraq) and Hafez al-Assad similar (Syria)? How were they different?
- What does Majdi mean when he says, ‘‘Everybody was connected to the state somehow?’’ Predict: What are potential consequences to these actions?
- What role has Majdi’s family played in Libyan history?
- How did Arab regimes view Islamic fundamentalists?
- What is the “naked emperor syndrome “?
- What juxtaposition does the author make at the end of the section?
- Who are the Kurds? Which countries are home to Kurdish communities? What is the relationship between the Kurds and the Arab states?
- What is the Pesh Merga? What is Azar’s connection to the Pesh Merga?
- How does the author describe the relationship between the US and Iraq? What was the impact on the Kurds?
- What led to the establishment of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG)? How was it formed and what was the significance of its formation?
- Describe the religious composition of Homs, a city in Syria’s central valley.
- How did Bashar Al Assad come to power in Syria?
- Why was Syria in good standing with the U.S. in 2003?
- What was Majd’s relationship with the West?
- How did Egyptians feel about their government aligning itself with the U.S.?
Part Two: The Iraq War
(Approximately 35 minutes to read)
- What does Khulood describe as “The Iraqi system?” How did she feel about it?
- Where was Khulood when the U.S. invaded Iraq? How does she describe the U.S. invasion?
- What was the Coalition Provisional Authority?
- What role did Khulood play in Iraq after the American invasion?
- Where was Wakaz when the US invaded? Why did the U.S. invade this region of Iraq?
- What does Wakaz mean when he says “So yes, our life was definitely much easier before the Americans came…Even if it wasn’t their fault directly, that’s when everything became much harder”?
- What does the author mean when he writes, “...the seeds of disaster for the American intervention had already been sown”?
- What was the impact of the dismissal of Baathist party members and military?
- Who attacked the CPA compound? What were their objectives?
- How was Khulood impacted by the attack?
- What was Khulood idea for a non-governmental organization (NGO)? What would be its mission, and what barriers did she face in creating it?
- What factors was Khulood considering when deciding whether or not she should stay in Iraq? What would you have done in her position?
- What were Laila and Ahmed’s reputations in Egypt in 2005?
- What initiated protests in Egypt in 2005?
- What factors contributed to Mubarak losing public support? What groups then started to gain support?
- How did Egyptians interviewed feel about the United States? How does this compare to how the author describes to the perception of Egypt by the U.S.?
- How did the protest in 2005 impact Laila?
- What was the “Libya Dawn”? When did it take place, and why?
- What was the impact of the Iraq war on Libya?
- How does the author end this section? Why do you think he chooses this image?
- How does Khulood get to the U.S.?
- How does Khulood describe her life in the U.S.? How does this compare to your experience of the U.S.?
- Why does Khulood decide to leave the U.S.? Where does she go, and what is the impact of that decision?? What would you do in this situation?
- What is the shabiha?
- Why is the city of Homs considered the crossroads of Syria?
- How does the author end this section? Why do you think he ends it this way? Predict what might happen to Majd.
Part Three: Arab Spring
(Approximately 65 minutes to read)
- What does Laila mean when she says, ‘‘Well, tomorrow we’re having a revolution, but if the revolution ends early, yes, I’ll be here “?
- Create a visualization that represents the events of the revolution in Cairo, Egypt’s capital.
- Who took charge when Mubarak fell?
- What does Laila describe as a “critical moment” after Mubarak resigned from office?
- Why did Majdi join the military?
- What was the zenga zenga speech? What led to the speech, and what happened after the speech was delivered?
- How does Majdi view the regime after the zenga zenga speech? What informs this opinion? OR How did Majdi’s life change after the zenga zenga speech?
- What was the ‘special mission’ Majdi was selected to conduct? Why was he selected?
- How does Majdi’s experience of the Arab Spring differ from Laila’s? How does the author use dramatic irony in this section?
- What does Assad mean when he says, “...Syria is stable. Why? Because you have to be very closely linked to the beliefs of the people..?”
- What was Majd’s role in the protests?
- What were protesters in Homs asking for?
- How does Assad’s image in the west compare with his image in Syria?
- What did Assad say in his March 30 address?
- What sparked a change in the protests against Assad?
- What did Majdi find upon returning to Misurata?
- How does his return to Misurata change his view of the war? What does he decide to do? How do you feel about his decision?
- Why doesn’t Majdi stay in Tunisia?
- How does the author describe the battles between the Libyan government and rebels? What was Majdi’s role?
- What does Majdi find out about his friend Jalal? How does the author describe Majdi’s journey to make this discovery?
- What does the author suggest led to the relative calm in the Al Waar neighborhood where Majd lives?
- What is Majd referring to when he says “Most of them were just guys from the neighborhood that had managed to get their hands on guns”?
- How does Majd describe the Free Syrian Army? How does this compare to the American perception?
- What does Majdi mean when he says “both sides used us. Both sides slaughtered us”?
- What does Majdi call the first mistake of the post-Qadaffi government, and why?
- How does Majdi feel about his military diploma?
- Why does Majdi call Libya “a failed state”?
- What image does the author use to close this section? Why do you think he concludes the section with this image?
- Who were the final candidates in Egypt’s first election post-Mubarak?
- Who does Laila decide to support and why? What influenced this decision?
- What does the author mean when he writes, “On the day he assumed office, then, Morsi was barely more than a figurehead, the public face to a democracy already gutted”?
- What was Morsi’s relationship to the military.
- What led to protests against Morsi? What was Laila’s role?
- How does the author describe Sisi’s response to the protest? What language does the author use to describe Sisi, and what is the impact?
- Describe Alaa’s role in the protests falling Mubarak’s fall. Why do you think the author closes the chapter with this detail?
- Why did Majd’s family, the Ibrahims, choose to stay in Homs?
- How does Majd survive his encounter with the Free Syrian Army?
- What does Khulood do to make a living in Jordan?
- What differences does Khulood observe between the Iraqi children and the Syrian children she works with? What about between the boys and the girls?
- What obstacles does Khulood encounter as she tries to seek asylum for her family?
- How does the chapter begin? How does this image set the tone for the rest of the chapter?
- How does the author describe the Sisi regime?
- Why does the author describe Homs as ‘Syria’s Stalingrad’?
- How does the author end this section? Why do you think he ends the “Arab Spring” section of the article with this visual?
Part Four: ISIS Rising
(Approximately 35 minutes to read)
- How did Wakaz become aware of ISIS? What did he learn about its mission?
- Why does the author describe the ISIS offensive in June 2015 as “one of the most stunning military feats in modern history”?
- How does the author describe Maliki’s regime in Iraq? Predict how this might contribute to the rise of ISIS.
- How does Wakaz respond to ISIS? What informs his decision? What factors influenced him?
- Describe the ISIS training.
- What is Azar’s connection to the Kurdish army Pesh Merga
- Why does Azar describe as a ‘golden moment’ for the Kurds? Why?
- How does Azar describe the relationship between the Kurds and the rest of Iraq?
- Who are the Yazidis? How are they viewed by other Kurds?
- What happened when ISIS invaded Sinjar? What was Azar’s connection?
- How does the author describe Majd’s life in Syria after the citywide ceasefire in Homs?
- How does the chapter conclude? Predict: How do you think Majd and his family will respond?
- How does Azar describe the strategy of a typical ISIS attack?
- To what does Azar attribute success by the Kurds in gaining territory from ISIS?
- How does Azar describe the relationship between the U.S. and the Pesh Merga?
- Who are the Barzani and Talabani tribes? What is their relationship?
- How does the author describe the treatment of women by ISIS? What struggles do Yazidi women face?
- How long does Wakaz work with ISIS? Why does he decide to leave?
- Where does Wakaz decide to go, and why?
- Predict: What does do you think the author means by “the ISIS ‘ratline’"?
- Why does Majd decide to leave Syria?
- Describe Majd’s journey out of Syria. Where does he go and what does he encounter?
Part Five: Exodus
(Approximately 30 minutes to read)
- Describe Wakaz’s journey out of Iraq. Where does he go and why?
- How does the author describe the situation along the Turkish border?
- How does the author close this section? Why do you think he chose this image to end the chapter?
- How does Majd end up in Dresden, Germany?
- How does Majd describe attitudes towards refugees in Dresden?
- What does Majd predict will happen to Syria? Does he plan to return? Why or why not?
- What is Khulood’s plan for gaining asylum for her family?
- Describe Khulood and her sister’s journey to Europe.
- Why do you think the author chose the final quotation as the end of this chapter?
- Where is Wakaz at the start of the chapter?
- How does the author describe his interview with Wakaz?
- How does the KRG officer describe differences between treatment of former ISIS fighters by the Kurds and the Iraqis?
- How does the author describe changes in American influence on Egypt? What has been the impact?
- What does Laila think will happen to Egypt?
- How does the author describe Sinjar?
- Why does Azar say that he wants to destroy the Arab homes in Sinjar?
- How does the author describe the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG)?
- What questions does the author pose about the Middle East while describing the KRG?
(Approximately 5 minutes)
- What is Majdi’s hope for Libya? Why?
- What led to anti-Sisi protests in Egypt in April 2016?
- How does the piece end? Why do you think the author chose this to conclude the piece?
- Stop and jot: Where is each character by the end of the piece? What are the states of their countries? What questions do you still have?
The Fight for Fallujah Comprehension and Reflection Questions
- Think about cityscapes — how do the images in the VR compare to Anderson’s descriptions of places like Homs and Mt. Sinjar? What is the impact of seeing Fallujah in a virtual reality film?
- How does the Iraqi army look/behave? Is this different from the way you imagine your country’s army?
- From this film, what can you gather about the way ISIS treats its prisoners?
- What are the conditions for the refugees of Fallujah?
- What is Solomon’s tone? Why do you think he feels this way?
- Why do you think The New York Times decided to juxtapose Anderson’s writing with Solomon’s video?
Introducing the Lesson:
(Images courtesy of The New York Times Magazine)
In "Fractured Lands," Scott Anderson explores the modern Middle East through the eyes of six individuals, tracing their lives from the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq through the Arab spring, up to the present day. While these people come from different countries, ethnicities, and socioeconomic backgrounds, their interlinked narratives provide a window into a turbulent region and help the reader understand the macro-narrative of modern Middle Eastern history. Throughout "Fractured Lands," Anderson raises questions about leadership, governance, identity, dissent and the consequences of history, which enrich our understanding of current events and may also help us better anticipate the future. The article is also accompanied by an incredible virtual reality film from Ben Solomon. Click here to be connected to Solomon's film.
At the right, the Pulitzer Center's education team has provided a series of detailed comprehension questions corresponding to the different sections within the article. We have also provided the following tools for introducing students to the story and guiding student analysis of the piece:
- Pre-Reading Questions
- Frameworks for analyzing the full text, or just the introduction, through the lens of history, identity and structural analysis of the text
- Discussion Questions
- Extension Activities
These resources are aimed at addressing the following learning goals:
- Seek deeper and more complex understanding of the historical context that led to current conflict in the Middle East.
- Invigorate a curiosity about the conditions of people living in the midst of conflicts.
- Evaluate how an author unfolds an analysis of current events in the Middle East, including how points are made and what details are emphasized.
- Reflect on the choices that people can exercise in responding to crises of war, threat and violence in the Middle East.
- Evaluate the effects of a long-form journalistic work such as this article.
Common Core standards-alignment for these resources are listed in the Educator Notes. For discussion questions and exercises geared toward college-level students, click here.
The Pulitzer Center is proud to support education initiatives connected to this rich and essential piece of reporting through curriculum support and journalist visits. Please contact [email protected] if you would like support connecting "Fractured Lands" to your classroom.
Through individual writing, pair discussions or whole-group discussions, guide students in reflecting on the following questions in advance of introducing "Fractured Lands."
When you think of home, what do you imagine? What makes a place a home for you?
When you think of your country, what do you imagine? How connected do you feel to your country? How would you describe the identity of your country?
What makes a strong leader? What do people expect from their leaders?
How do you choose to engage with your government when you disagree with its decisions?
What has been the most singular event of your life? How did this event change your life?
What has been a singular event in your country? What was the impact of that event on you directly?
Exercise: How do you define your identity?
What roles do the following play in how you and your students define your identities? Rank them in order of importance to how you define your identity. (1=most important)
Other (write in) _________
Have students discuss their responses and consider the following: What would you do if your government did not protect the part of your identity that is most important to you? How would you feel if other governments continued to support your government, even if it was not protecting this part of your identity?
Discussion: The History of the Middle East
Assess students' prior knowledge of the historical events referenced in the piece by having them reflect individually, in small groups, or as a whole group on the following:
When were the following countries established, and how? What are current challenges facing these countries?
What has been your country's relationship with the countries listed above? What is the current relationship between your country and the countries listed above?
What was the Arab Spring, and what has been the impact of the Arab Spring on the Middle East? What has been the impact in your community?
What is ISIS, and how was it formed?
Who are the Kurds, and what has their role in the fight against ISIS?
Photo Analysis: Visualizing "Fractured Lands":
Use the following thinking routine developed by Project Zero to guide an analysis of photojournalist Paolo Pellegrin's photos from "Fractured Lands." Use the two below, or click on the "Resources" link to review the full slideshow.
What do you see in the photo?
What do you think is happening in the photo?
What does it make you wonder?
For more resources to use in guiding an analysis of photography, click here.
Introducing the Article "Fractured Lands" by Scott Anderson:
At first glance, Anderson's piece can appear daunting in its length. However, Anderson's clear and concise explanation of the history of the Middle East through the eyes of several characters provides incredible opportunities for rich discussion about the human impact of conflict in the Middle East. When teaching this article, there are several ways to approach the story.
- We suggest that the introduction should be read and discussed as a class. Some teachers may opt to only teach the introduction, as it provides a strong overview of the piece's major themes and the historical context of the Middle East. Use the comprehension questions for the "Forward" to the article to guide your discussion.
- Ask your students to read the piece section by section over the course of several days. As they read, have students follow along with comprehension questions and be ready to summarize each section according to the thematic guidance provided in the lesson plan. Students can also track where they are in the piece using a map of the region.
Using a rate of 200 words per minute, we have estimated the time it would take to reach each section:
- Foreword (17 minutes)
- Origins (26 minutes)
- The Iraq War (35 minutes)
- Arab Spring (65 minutes)
- ISIS Rising (35 minutes)
- Exodus (30 minutes)
- Epilogue (5 minutes)
- After reading the introduction as a class — Break students up into six groups and have each group track one of the characters with the tables provided below. Have the students come together to present the experiences of their chosen characters throughout three chapters of the story and then discuss the whole piece as a class. Students may choose to role-play.
- If students are also engaging with The Fight for Fallujah, a virtual reality film connected to "Fractured Lands" from filmmaker Ben C. Solomon, prepare your students by discussing the role that Fallujah is playing in the war between ISIS and the Kurds. The project "From 'the Other Iraq' to Kurdistan" from Pulitzer Center grantees Jenna Krajeski and Sebastian Meyer will be a helpful resource. Comprehension questions connected to Solomon's film follow the comprehension questions for the article.
Throughout students' exploration of the article, have them track following guiding questions:
- What historical events led to the current situation in the Middle East?
- What has been the global and local impact of the invasion in Iraq, the Arab Spring and the rise of ISIS?
- How do you imagine the future of the Middle East and its many communities?
- How does the author use personal narratives to describe historical events? Why do you think he chose these characters? What is the impact?
If your students need additional guidance when engaging with the piece, have them use one or more of the graphic organizers below:
- How were these countries/characters influenced by major historical events? As students are reading, ask them to fill out the following chart:
|World War I
|Arab Nationalism (secular
|The Invasion of Iraq
|The Arab Spring
|The Rise of ISIS
2. What is happening with each character at the end of each section? (Origins, The Iraq War, Arab Spring, ISIS Rising, Exodus and the Epilogue) Have students track the characters using the following chart. Students should fill out a new copy of the chart at the end of each section.
*Note: not all characters will be mentioned in each section
|What is happening in his/her home country?
|How are they affected?
|What decisions does this person make?
|Predict what comes next.
3. How is each country explored in the article impacted by major historical events? As you read, track what happened to each country highlighted in this article as a result of the following historical events, according to Anderson's piece.
*Note: some events may not have as direct of an impact on certain countries as others
|The End of WWI
The Rise of Arab Nationalism
|The Invasion of Iraq
|The Arab Spring
Use the following questions to guide a discussion about the themes and structure of "Fractured Lands" with your students:
What is sticking with you about the piece? What are your initial reactions? What questions do you still have?
Is there a character you identified with? Who and why? What role did that character play in Anderson's overall narrative?
What were some of the key points that shaped the way events in the Middle East unfolded? What role did western countries play? What might have happened if these events had unfolded differently?
How has reading this article changed and/or affirmed any of your conceptions of the Middle East?
What factors influence people's decisions to remain in or leave their hometowns? Think about Khulood's decision to leave Iraq but then to return to Jordan, Majdi's decision to stay in Libya, and Majd's decision to seek refuge in Europe. What would you have done if you were in their situations?
When describing her children's involvement in the protests in Egypt, Laila says, "'I never tried to dissuade them. Even if I had wanted to — and I probably did at times — I didn't." How would you have engaged with the protests that followed the Arab Spring? How would you have responded if you were Laila?
Think about this piece through the lens of leadership—what were the leadership failures and successes? How do the leaders in the story compare with leaders you see in your own lives?
How did Anderson balance storytelling, personal observation, facts and descriptions to tell the story? How did he structure the story, and why do you think he chose this structure? What literary devices did he use to keep the reader engaged?
Why do you think Anderson felt compelled to write this article? Why do you think it is important?
Consider Majdi's statement in the epilogue: ''Not that it will solve all our problems, but at least with the king we were a nation, we had an identity. Without that identity, we are all just individuals — or at most, members of a tribe.'' What do you think will happen next in the Middle East, and why? What is your hope for the Middle East, and how can that hope be achieved? What can your role be?
Create Visualizations that Use Details from "Fractured Lands" to Articulate the History of the Middle East
1. Using details from "Fractured Lands", create a timeline that reflects the history of the Middle East from the establishment of the countries described in the article through the present.
2. Create a country profile for each of the countries featured in "Fractured Lands." Use the table below and external resources as needed to create your profile.
|Imperial Influence (Britain or France)
*Note the sect or ethnic group of each leader
*Note whether the leader is secular or religious
Major Ethnic Groups
Evaluate the History and Future of the Middle East through Writing
Essay 1: Reception of Refugees from the Middle East in Europe
Read Majd's section then read one or more of the following:
Prompt: : Write an essay comparing and contrasting these accounts of how refugees are received in Europe with Majd's experience in Germany.
Essay 2: The Experience of a Syrian Refugee
Read Joanna Kakissis and Holly Pickett's story about four refugee families for NPR and compare with Majd's journey in the piece. The story is also featured in the free Pulitzer Center 2015 E-book Flight From Syria, which features writing and photography from nine journalists who covered Syria from 2011-2015.
Prompt: What are some of the challenges refugees like Majd face in Europe?
Essay 3: Making Hard Choices
After reading "Fractured Lands," watch Alexandria Bombach's film "Afghanistan by Choice."
Prompt: Write an essay about what motivates people to depart from or remain in a war-torn country. What would influence that decision for you?
Essay 4: The Syrian Civil War
Read Ben Taub's piece about the "Assad Files" and then research Assad's current position in Syria. (Note: this piece has graphic descriptions of torture and may not be appropriate for younger students.)
Prompt: What kind of leader is Bashar al Assad? How has he responded to challenges to his authority and what are the consequences of his actions? How do you recommend that leaders from other countries should respond to Assad?
Essay 5: The Kurds
Read Jenna Krajeski's article "What the Kurds Want" and Wes Enzinna's story "Kurdish Syria: A Dream of Secular Utopia in ISIS' Backyard"
Prompt: Write an essay that analyzes the role that the Kurds are playing in combatting ISIS and the hopes they have for the Middle East.
Demonstrate Comprehension and Analysis by Creating Visual Art Inspired by "Fractured Lands"
Choose a character from the story and create a 3-5 panel comic that illustrates his/her journey throughout the story. The comic should reflect details and quotations from the story. It could also include an additional panel that reflects an imagined future for the character. Write a statement to accompany your comic that articulates why you chose the images you chose.
Create a visual art piece that reflects the personality and experience of a character in the story. Use details from the story to inform what images, colors and textures you use in your piece. Write an artist statement to accompany your piece that uses details from the story to explain the artistic choices you made in creating your piece. Here is an example of how a similar exercise was been executed in a middle school in Arlington Heights.
Choose two of the characters from this piece and write a play or short story depicting the two of them meeting for the first time. What might be a circumstance where they would meet? What would they talk about? What might they want, and how could they be working to get what they want in the scene? Be sure to include relevant details from the story in your scene.
Demonstrate Connection to the Characters and Themes in "Fractured Lands" Through Personal Reflection and Plans for Action
Using details from the story, write a letter to a local representative outlining what role you think your country should play in supporting refugees that have been displaced by conflict in the Middle East. (A start to this activity could be writing a letter to one of the characters in the piece that reflects what students learned from his/her story.)
Research the process that a refugee from Syria would need to go through in order to gain entry to your country. Consider what challenges Syrians face when attempting to enter your country? Create a resource that clearly communicates that process. Be sure to select an audience and purpose for the resource (a Syrian family seeking to enter the country, a government official that could lobby to change the application process, etc.).
Using facts, quotations and descriptions from the story, create a campaign that informs your community about the impacts of conflict in the Middle East. Like Anderson, consider how you can use storytelling to connect to your community. As part of your campaign research ways your community supports refugees.
Use Anderson's story as the inspiration for an investigation into a "signature moment" in your community. Conduct research into this signature moment and identify people in your community that have been impacted. Interview those people. Then, use your research and the interviews you conducted to write a short article that uses the stories of your subjects to illustrate the "signature moment' you selected.
These are historical events that are referenced and described throughout the piece. If you are interested in deepening student understanding of these events and their connection to this story, here are some recommended resources.
- WWI and its impact on the Middle East
- Ten minute video on Arabia after WWI (Khan Academy)
- The Arabs by Eugene Rogan
- How boundaries were drawn in the Middle East post-WWI
- The Syrian Civil War five minute explainer video (Vox)
- Tahrir Square/Egyptian Revolution of 2011
- The war in Syria
- The War in Syria Explained in Five Minutes (The Guardian)
- The Rise of ISIS
- The City of Fallujah in Iraq
- Why Fallujah Matters (CNN)
- The context and human impact of the Syrian refugee crisis from 2011-2015
This lesson plan is designed as a guide that offers different ways to engage your students in the article "Fractured Lands" by Scott Anderson, published by The New York Times with support from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Click here for a college-level lesson plan.