I Was Told to Come Alone: My Journey Behind the Lines of

I Was Told to Come Alone: My Journey Behind the Lines of Jihad I won this book on Goodreads I could barely put this down It is a Muslim woman journalist s account of her exploration of jihadists, al Quada and ISIS Everyone should read this book for a better understanding of why much of the rest of the world hates America and Americans so much I highly recommend this, and I especially hope that government and military leaders will read it. I have mixed feelings about this book There is a lot of territory covered geographically from Germany to Iraq to Morocco and many other countries in the Middle East.Given the author s fluency in the Arabic language and its dialects we are provided with an on site feel to many of these countries She was very skeptical of the media assertions of a liberal Arab Spring uprising She saw it as an opportunity for Islamists to take control and assume power events since have proved her correct Sh I have mixed feelings about this book There is a lot of territory covered geographically from Germany to Iraq to Morocco and many other countries in the Middle East.Given the author s fluency in the Arabic language and its dialects we are provided with an on site feel to many of these countries She was very skeptical of the media assertions of a liberal Arab Spring uprising She saw it as an opportunity for Islamists to take control and assume power events since have proved her correct She even gives examples of the recent migrations to Europe where not all migrants are legitimate refugees The chapter on a bride for ISIS was particularly moving and revealing of the mindset of the lost souls who are converted to this fundamentalist religious outlook.However the book at many times felt cursory as she reports from so many different troubled areas It felt like I was reading a John le Carre spy thriller with the author tracking down different informants and leads The overall feeling is autobiographical with emphasis on I.I felt her insistence on they hate Americans overdone She doesn t dwell enough on the religious indoctrination and the martyrdom mindset of some branches of Islam I want to stress that she condemns the outrageous murders of the Charlie Hebdo staff in Paris However she seems to not comprehend the secular liberalization of the West towards religion At times she can be somewhat defensive of Islam and unable to see how permissive Western countries have become in regards to religious criticism of Christianity and Judaism To provide just three examples an art exhibit called Piss Christ a marvelous theatre show Book of Mormon and Woody Allen in some of his movies pokes fun and chastises both Christianity and Judaism No one has been killed for this There are artists and performers today who are scared and too intimidated to critique Islam This has nothing to do with hate Killing people for caricatures is not about hate it is a deep religious intolerance of the other.At one point in the book she expressed interest to interview the ISIS terrorist Jihadi John page 282 What would be the value of interviewing a man who sawed off the heads of her fellow journalists and filmed this for YouTube Was she just looking for a scoop I was told to come alone I was not to carry any identification, and would have to leave my cell phone, audio recorder, watch, and purse at my hotel For her whole life, Souad Mekhennet, a reporter for The Washington Post who was born and educated in Germany, has had to balance the two sides of her upbringing Muslim and Western She has also sought to provide a mediating voice between these cultures, which too often misunderstand each otherIn this compelling and evocative memoir, we accompany Mekhennet as she journeys behind the lines of jihad, starting in the German neighborhoods where the plotters were radicalized and the Iraqi neighborhoods where Sunnis and Shia turned against one another, and culminating on the Turkish Syrian border region where ISIS is a daily presence In her travels across the Middle East and North Africa, she documents her chilling run ins with various intelligence services and shows why the Arab Spring never lived up to its promise She then returns to Europe, first in London, where she uncovers the identity of the notorious ISIS executioner Jihadi John, and then in France, Belgium, and her native Germany, where terror has come to the heart of Western civilizationMekhennet s background has given her unique access to some of the world s most wanted men, who generally refuse to speak to Western journalists She is not afraid to face personal danger to reach out to individuals in the inner circles of Al Qaeda, the Taliban, ISIS, and their affiliates when she is told to come alone to an interview, she never knows what awaits at her destinationSouad Mekhennet is an ideal guide to introduce us to the human beings behind the ominous headlines, as she shares her transformative journey with us Hers is a story you will not soon forget ScrappyMags.com one of my best of 2017 Scrappymags 3 word review Alarming Entrancing Disturbing.Genre Non fiction MemoirShortest summary ever Our author Souad Mekhennet is a reknowned German journalist who has written for many top publications like the NYTimes and Washington Post Her many interviews with Jihadists and insiders in ISIS and Al Queda is astounding She grills them, asking important questions, trying to remain unbiased, veering to that key question, Why do they hate us so m ScrappyMags.com one of my best of 2017 Scrappymags 3 word review Alarming Entrancing Disturbing.Genre Non fiction MemoirShortest summary ever Our author Souad Mekhennet is a reknowned German journalist who has written for many top publications like the NYTimes and Washington Post Her many interviews with Jihadists and insiders in ISIS and Al Queda is astounding She grills them, asking important questions, trying to remain unbiased, veering to that key question, Why do they hate us so much What s good under the hood This should be required reading Everything is good I was visibly tensing despite knowing she is safe duh she s written this book My anxiety level was at an 8, nearly too high for me to settle down to read, yet I flipped through pages like a Tom Clancy novel Written with candor and class, Mekhennet s story captures her Muslim upbringing, which I appreciated, because as much as journalists and myself as a teacher try to stay unbiased, we have them and Mekhennet made clear statements about how difficult this was for her Her own memoir as a Muslim youth was notable, where often she was ostracized in German society In that respect, she could understand some of the anger jihadists grew living and born in Western nations feeling unwelcomed, but her upbringing with strong parents and the beauty of Islam turned her one way, while jihadists turned another The book then focuses on her travels while reporting, the many faces of both sides of the story from those in the government to those in the middle of the desert hiding Straight up jihadists I remember a professor telling me in college, One person s terrorist is another s freedom fighter and Mekhennet touches on this, staying in the middle yet challenging both sides with issues of torture, lack of due process, and questioning the logic of jihadist views that oppose mainstream Islam along with their depolorable actions Her experience shows a balance of both sides, yet make it clear she does NOT support terrorism in any shape or form, but the book vividly shows WHY these jihadists came to be The remaining question is how do we deal with this on a global scale Watch for the lines of Mekhennet s marriage proposals wooing by jihadists and government officials It adds just a touch of laughter in an otherwise serious and intelligently laudable narrative.What s bad or made me mad The surprising part, nothing was the author s fault that made me mad, it was merely the truth that angered me Mad at Western governments for not caring about Muslim people and mad at jihadists for spreading terror and hate In that respect, it s a thinking book, and it will pull at your mind long after the final page Recommend to Everyone Most appropriate for those age 16 and up as it does mention jihadist beheadings I used to teach AP Human Geography and this would be a fantastic book to read for that class or many Poli Sci classes Politics and Revolution Anyone looking to answer the question why do they hate us It certainly opens that question to consideration and understanding.Read with an open mind and always try to place yourself in the life of the other person My remaining questions are how to reach these youth who turn to radicalism and not apositive path and how do we hold all accountable for atrocities, both jihadists and those who commit crimes under the guise of government Those thoughts haunt me Sincere shukraan to NetGalley, Henry Holt and Co and the Ms Mekhennet for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review and for making me consider, think, ponder, wonder and feel Wow, this was a remarkable book Souad Mekhennet is a woman to admire She s journalist of a Morrocan descendant, who lived most of her life in Germany She wrote for some of the most popular paper like the NYT and the Washington s Post, met some of the most wanted Jihadists risking her life meanwhile Souad pushed the limits and went to interview Jihadists trying meanwhile to change not only the West s views about Islam but also Jihadists views about the West Islam isn t terror just like not Wow, this was a remarkable book Souad Mekhennet is a woman to admire She s journalist of a Morrocan descendant, who lived most of her life in Germany She wrote for some of the most popular paper like the NYT and the Washington s Post, met some of the most wanted Jihadists risking her life meanwhile Souad pushed the limits and went to interview Jihadists trying meanwhile to change not only the West s views about Islam but also Jihadists views about the West Islam isn t terror just like not all the westerns are their politiciansWhy do they hate us so muchis the question that kept her going to go where no ever went, write about her beliefs, and made her who she is right now I listened to the audiobook and it was well narrated Highly recommend this book if you re looking for a non fiction about Jihad told from personal experience of a Journalist with mixed beliefs She isn t afraid to tell what was truly happening in the world without being biased to any side This is definitely a book I feel like all Americans should read in this day and age Other people too, of course, but I think it makes a couple great points that Americans are often light on, coming from an outside inside perspective, and detailing a lot of the background on the Middle East that many including myself are fuzzy on.The background on how we got to this point, following Mekhennet s journey as a reporter, is just fascinatingly well told and fairly easy to follow From her perspecti This is definitely a book I feel like all Americans should read in this day and age Other people too, of course, but I think it makes a couple great points that Americans are often light on, coming from an outside inside perspective, and detailing a lot of the background on the Middle East that many including myself are fuzzy on.The background on how we got to this point, following Mekhennet s journey as a reporter, is just fascinatingly well told and fairly easy to follow From her perspective, you can see a lot of the warning signs and understand why the US wasn t greeted with thrown rose petals in the streets, as our VP at the time had said would happen There s no judgement passed, just truth in reporting You can see the unrest, the changes that took place after dictators were felled I was particularly surprised to note that under many of the dictators, women tended to be a lotfree the rights of minorities were protected a fair amount under many of them It wasn t until theextreme majority religious groups took over that women had to start wearing the full religious coverings and stopped being able to hold offices, etc There was a lot of movement backwards in terms of equality when these dictators who, granted, killed people who opposed them and were corrupt in many other ways were toppled, and the stability that those countries had seen under them vanished into a new system of confusion.Just makes me think of the prime directive to not interfere in other cultures that you do not understand.In addition to learning about the backgrounds of many of the current situations we find ourselves in with Middle East countries, there were a couple quotes that I picked out that really spoke to me, mostly about the perspective of the media and public reaction to reporting Could this kind of impartial journalism about jihadists and the War on Terror be safely practiced in the West only by someone whose parents had been born and raised there, rather than someone whose Muslim descent made her and object of special interest and suspicion These were dark thoughts that made me question the foundations and ultimate success of the West s supposed openness to outsiders and its commitment to freedom of speech and thought p155Mekhennet clearly shows that her Muslim descent was an advantage in her reporting She was able to get interviews others were not because of her understanding of religion and because of her background But it s also not a bad thing to look at reporting and examine it with a critical eye, as she says herself in regard to citizen journalism Citizen journalism seemed to be the new big thing, but I worried about what such activist reporting would do to what we call the truth If readers and viewers got used to a kind of journalism that told them only one side of the story, how would their views of the world change p226I realize that reporting for the Washington Post and NYT is not the same, but I think it s fair to think about the motives of reporters, especially in this day and age At the same time, it s obviously ridiculous to group all Muslims in with terrorists, which some famous people we won t mention have done many times Overall, be thoughtful in your readings Don t make assumptions, but don t be blind, either This book can help a lot of people better understand where we are now and how we got there, and ideally would help prevent us from making the same mistakes in the future Though I m not sure how often we actually learn from history This book is unique in many ways It is even difficult to classify it It is part autobiography, part memoir, part sociology that mediates between two cultures which are at odds with each other today, and a substantive contribution to some of the highest quality investigation and reporting from behind the inaccessible Jihadi frontlines in the Middle East I found it a thrilling read, wanting to put it down only reluctantly when somethingimportant needed my attention Author Souad Mekhennet This book is unique in many ways It is even difficult to classify it It is part autobiography, part memoir, part sociology that mediates between two cultures which are at odds with each other today, and a substantive contribution to some of the highest quality investigation and reporting from behind the inaccessible Jihadi frontlines in the Middle East I found it a thrilling read, wanting to put it down only reluctantly when somethingimportant needed my attention Author Souad Mekhennet is a German born Muslim, whose mother is Turkish Shia and father, a Moroccan Sunni She has been a Washington Post and New York Times correspondent on contract at different times and speaks Arabic, German, French and English The insights and perspectives in this book are a timely contribution in today s highly polarized atmosphere in many communities in Western countries, in the middle east, in North Africa and in South Asia The book s main theme comes from trying to answer the question that has been posed for many years now the question of Why do They hate us so much Unlike most other journalists and experts, Mekhennet realizes that she cannot find an answer unless she takes the big risks of journeying deep inside the hotbeds of Islamic extremism in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Algeria, Egypt and Pakistan Interestingly, theshe journeys to the middle east, theshe realizes that she needs to come back to the German, French and Belgian neighbourhoods in Hamburg, Paris and Molenbeek to understand the complete picture She disregards personal safety to reach out to individuals in the inner circles of Al Qaeda, the Taliban, ISIS and their affiliates in order to get their side of the story She uses her assets of being a Muslim, an Arabic speaker and her Moroccan ethnicity to gain permissions for the elusive interviews which are denied to journalists of non Muslim origin Oddly, her being a woman helps as well with some extremists wanting to even take her as a second wife More seriously, it is her passionate commitment not to take sides in this war on terror and her compassion towards all victims in this war , whether Western or Muslim civilians, whether Sunni or Shia or Arab or Persian, that opens so many doors for her in the hearts and minds of the jihadis As a result, we get a book that is deep in its exploration into the problems relating to why they hate us so much Her interviews are mainly with Sunni extremists and not with major Shia groups like Hezbollah, the Houthis in Yemen or others supported by Iran Hence, the question why they hate us is basically answered by why the Sunni extremists hate us.After reading the book, I would say that the main catalysts for the intense anger that Sunni Islamists around the world feel towards the West are as follows 1 The way the Western countries deal with Islam and Islamic nations, particularly Palestine, which is seen as exhibiting blatant double standards 2 The West s military actions in the Middle east which have emasculated Sunnis and helped the Shiites to emerge as the dominant power in the Gulf, causing serious dislocation of millions of Sunnis, rape of their women, torture, kidnappings and destruction of their economic well being 3 Incarceration, physical torture and livelihood destruction of innocent Muslims on suspicion of being terrorists in many Western countries4 Acute alienation among European Sunni Muslims due to joblessness, poverty, broken homes and ghettoisation 5 Incessant wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and now Syria, not to mention drone strikes in Yemen, Pakistan and Afghanistan killing large numbers of civilians.The Sunni extremists see the the United States, the US backed Iraqi Shias, Iran and any nation where Islam is threatened as their principal enemies Senior Sunni leaders like Shaker al Abssi of the Al Qaeda tell the author in 2006 itself that only an islamic Caliphate can protect Muslim interests in the world So, establishing a Caliphate will have to precede the liberation of Palestine and other nations This shows that the idea of a Caliphate long predates the emergence of ISIS Abssi and others believe that they have a right to hit the US in its home because the US hits hard in their homes On the face of it, it looks as though these are mostly already known facts and that Mekhennet need not have taken such immense risks to end up saying things which are known already But the book s purpose isthan that Most of us in the world form an opinion in this matter by reading only one side of the picture in this conflict, which is that of the affluent West The author s efforts help to humanize and present the view from the the other side as well the Muslim side On the Arab Springs, the author says that it only confirmed that the majority in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya or Syria want an Islamic way of life and rule rather than western style democracy, contrary to what our media would like us to believe.Souad Mekhennet makes some incisive arguments on the question of where freedom of speech ends and hate speech begins She takes an explosive, contemporary example to discuss this question There has been intense controversy regarding the offensive cartoons on the Prophet Mohammed in the Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten in 2005 which were later reprinted in the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo What we all remember are the violent protests in various countries in the middle east with radical groups calling for the killing of the cartoonists and Islamic nations boycotting Danish products We saw endless discussions on TV in the West, with politicians and journalists talking about freedom of speech and about Muslims being incapable of living in a democracy Author Mekhennet says that the truth is a bitnuanced than this She goes to Denmark to research the story along with co authors of an earlier book of hers She learns that before the Prophet Mohammed cartoons were published, Jyllands Posten had refused to print cartoons depicting Jesus in a derogatory manner because they believed that those drawings would hurt its readers feelings Prior to all the violence, Muslim groups had also sued Charlie Hebdo for insulting Islam and inciting racial hatred, but their claims were dismissed Mekhennet says that she had met earlier a number of Jewish survivors of the Holocaust in the US, They had told her that the Charlie Hebdo cartoons reminded them of how the Nazis insulted Jews and Judaism in the 1930s She makes these arguments in a well known German TV talk show In return, she receives some kudos from some people but there were many who abused her on Twitter and threatened her with death and calling her enemy of the German race She had to hide her home address for fear of her family being harmed The author s point is that it has been an issue of freedom of speech only when Islam was targeted.The book reveals certain disturbing truths about the Moroccan immigrant Muslim families in Molenbeek, Belgium, which only a person of Moroccan origin like her can perceive The alienation of Muslim families in Molenbeek has been well documented by many Mekhennet says that most Muslim parents in the area do not understand their children nor care much about how they are doing in school The kids do not know if they are Belgian, French or Moroccan and the parents do not care if their children integrated These kids are born in Europe but they see their parents invest all their money in trying to build a reputation back home in Morocco The kids and their families live on a pittance most of the year in Belgium only to see their parents lavishing gifts on their friends and relatives back in their native countries They see their parents caring mainly about making money and building businesses and, especially about becoming somebody in the eyes of people back home It is all about showing Moroccans back home how they have made it in Europe It is no coincidence that large numbers of Western jihadists have come from troubled or broken homes, where poverty, joblessness and upheaval are the norm Young Muslims and Muslim converts in Europe seem to have a fascination for the Caliphate as a place where Islam prevails and a sense of community exists However, the author is quick to balance this statement with its counter that poverty, joblessness and alienation are not justification to choose ISIS as the solution.I must say that I didn t come away with much hope for the future of relations between the Islamic and non Islamic world after reading the book We read that in Nahr al Bared camp in Lebanon, a father, who is a militant, praises his teenage son for killing an infidel in a video game and eggs him on to continue doing so In Zaqar, a mother shows a violent video of Shia atrocities on Sunnies in Iraq to her four small children When Mekhennet questions her on this, she says that it is necessary conditioning for their future In Amman, the author reports hostility in the eyes of onlookers just because her colleague, an American, walks with her, an Arab woman in abaya All along, whether in Hamburg or Molenbeek or Lebanon or Egypt, there is the ever present chasm between Muslim and non Muslim, Westerner and Arab, Shia and Sunni There are some balancing, hopeful accounts as well but they are only in the past For example, Mekhennet meets with Armenian Christians in Iraq who tell her that they lived a secure and happy life under Saddam Hussein and that they could worship freely They tell her that the Ba ath party was secular and kept religion away from politics The Armenian pastor even tells her that it is wrong to say that the Shia was deprived of rights completely in Saddam Hussein s Iraq The epilogue in the book poignantly recounts the death of a fourteen year old boy, son of the author s cousin, in a terror strike in Munich in 2016 The narrative brings graphically the pain that a family undergoes on the death of its loved one in a terror attack The author says tellingly, a mother s screams over the body of her murdered child sound the same, no matter if she is black, brown or white Muslim, Jewish or Christian, Shia or Sunni We are all buried in the same ground A powerful and courageous book, straddling cultures and seeking truth 3.5 starsThis memoir of a Muslim journalist reporting on jihad was interesting, though I wasn t blown away in the way most reviewers seem to have been Souad Mekhennet grew up primarily in Germany, the daughter of guest workers from Morocco and Turkey She encountered racism and xenophobia on her way to becoming a successful journalist, but speaking Arabic and her familiarity with Middle Eastern cultures went a long way to ensure her success Aside from some description of her childhood, this bo 3.5 starsThis memoir of a Muslim journalist reporting on jihad was interesting, though I wasn t blown away in the way most reviewers seem to have been Souad Mekhennet grew up primarily in Germany, the daughter of guest workers from Morocco and Turkey She encountered racism and xenophobia on her way to becoming a successful journalist, but speaking Arabic and her familiarity with Middle Eastern cultures went a long way to ensure her success Aside from some description of her childhood, this book is focused almost exclusively on her professional life, with chapters organized around a visit to a particular place or an act of terror on which she was reporting Mekhennet interviews dangerous people on occasion braving serious danger in order to reach them is arrested by Egyptian security forces, and impresses a lot of jihadists, who are willing to vouch for her and sometimes even propose to her She asks everybody tough questions though and challenges everyone s views.I liked this book and learned from it, and I m impressed by Mekhennet s gutsiness We need reporters like her to dig deep enough to get the real story, and to be skeptical and push back on what they re being told That said, I didn t love her book As a work of nonfiction about the state of the Muslim world and its relationship to the U.S and Europe, I found it a little disconnected, as it focuses tightly on Mekhennet s specific assignments and experiences It reminded me of how much I don t know about the Muslim world without filling in many of those gaps But learning about how jihadists and their family members and supporters view the world was certainly enlightening.As a memoir, it s rather impersonal Even as a teenager Mekhennet portrays herself as a powerhouse whose only obstacle to overcome is xenophobia nothingmundane like shyness about approaching important people or soliciting internships, or issues with dating, seems to faze her As an adult she often mentions wanting to marry, and briefly discusses dating, where her primarily stumbling block seems to be concern for her safety, such that she wants to chat anonymously for months before meeting a man Though I do give her credit for discussing the alienation she, like many other Muslims teens in Europe, felt after seeing hate crimes on the news and experiencing harassment and discrimination Fortunately she had a strong support network, positive role models, and opportunities to succeed, but less lucky kids who feel despised are vulnerable to recruitment by terrorist organizations that understand their mindset very well.Overall, I m glad I read this, but didn t have strong feelings about it The book is a somewhat dense read that takes some time to get through, but it is informative, and the author has definitely had some interesting experiences Mekhennet s memoir essay investigative reporting drew me in from the first page She opens the book meeting with an ISIS lieutenant in Turkey in 2014 From there, she traces the steps leading up to this meeting her own path to this point, and the Muslim world s path to extremism and the formation of ISIS Her unique childhood in Germany and Morocco, her early interest in journalism she put a film poster of All the President s Men on her bedroom wall in the way any other girl would post a boyba Mekhennet s memoir essay investigative reporting drew me in from the first page She opens the book meeting with an ISIS lieutenant in Turkey in 2014 From there, she traces the steps leading up to this meeting her own path to this point, and the Muslim world s path to extremism and the formation of ISIS Her unique childhood in Germany and Morocco, her early interest in journalism she put a film poster of All the President s Men on her bedroom wall in the way any other girl would post a boyband or a unicorn , and her aptitude for languages, writing, and cultural understanding and dialogue are all on display in each chapter The structure of the book is based on Mekhennet s postings and journalistic assignments throughout Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and Pakistan working for various German media outlets, the Washington Post, and the New York Times She is regularly threatened with abduction, rape, torture, and death, yet is also welcomed as a guest into the homes of extremists in Al Qaeda and its syndicates, the Taliban, and ISIS for frank interviews and discussions She cultivates quality sources, arranges clandestine meetings, and is tailed by intelligence services She is a strong and educated Muslim woman, and many even in these fundamentalist circles seem to respect her for that.It was her work in London investigating the identity of the British ISIS member Jihadi John that lead her to biggest break yet Along with a handful of colleagues at the Washington Post, she uncovered this Kuwati born British man s name, history, and his path to radicalization You can read the entire chapter from the book on Longreads here phenomenal book that never lost momentum, and only increased my admiration for the work of journalists and truthseekers Highly recommended.Related another brave journalist doing amazing work and writing her memoirs is Lynsey Addario These books would be great read together The type of writing that exists about jihadism in the West generally ranges from nauseating action movie style jingoism to purely utilitarian analyses written for intelligence officials and policymakers The reported pieces that exist tend to focus on one or two specific episodes, often in a purely correspondent manner, and if there is any meaningful big picture view of the conflict at all it is just tacked on in a few pages at the end Most irritatingly these books almost invariably fail at the The type of writing that exists about jihadism in the West generally ranges from nauseating action movie style jingoism to purely utilitarian analyses written for intelligence officials and policymakers The reported pieces that exist tend to focus on one or two specific episodes, often in a purely correspondent manner, and if there is any meaningful big picture view of the conflict at all it is just tacked on in a few pages at the end Most irritatingly these books almost invariably fail at the basic task of portraying all sides in the conflict as human beings instead reducing the world to a battle between some well developed good guys and a group of swarthy, sinister terrorists whose lives are ultimately a mystery.This book is very different Mostly, I suspect, because its author is not one of the usual white Westerners writing about the War on Terror Souad Mekhennet had a working class upbringing as the daughter of Muslim immigrants in Germany, before growing up to become one of the few Muslim journalists in the West writing about jihadism This book is her memoir and traces back over much of the reporting she has done in her life, as well as her own background growing up as a traditional, culturally rooted Muslim in Europe, a continent where many people consider people of her religion to be either irritants or threats I found her personal story moving in part because I m a journalist who writes about many of the same themes, but also because I know she is speaking for the experience of many people whose voices are never heard in the media.The book starts with Mekhennet s early life in Germany and Morocco, tracing her experiences being raised in Europe and how she came to be involved in journalism as a young woman It then moves to cover her reporting on the Iraq War, global jihadism and the aftermath of the Arab Spring Her work really makes her a witness to history, placing her at the center of some of the biggest national security stories of the past few decades Unlike many other reporters and largely because of her background she is deeply sourced among Islamists both in Europe and the Arab World, and even in Pakistan Her sourcing allows her to get close to these people and give a holistic picture of who they are In both good and bad ways she is able to humanize them and to provide a genuine picture of how they see the world and what motivates them Many of the jihadists she knows show her a level of warmth that they undoubtedly would never show to a white Western man who had come to report on their movements interlocutors that they would be farlikely to consider as either hostile or dishonest Some of the jihadists Mekhennet interviews are driven by ideological fanaticism, while others are driven by moral anguish over instances of torture, oppression and general mistreatment Oftentimes it is a mixture of both But everyone is complicated, including the Iraqis whose children are killed by U.S soldiers during the war and the 9 11 victims she meets who complain that the media had never informed them that so much anger had been building against their country in the Middle East.There are no polemics in this book To the contrary, there is a remarkable amount of humanity and a rare level of fairmindedness afforded to the experiences of both Easterners and Westerners Given Mekhennet s experience of life straddling two worlds, she is able to depict both sides in the War on Terror as something beyond the one dimensional caricatures that usually prevail She is brave and honest in speaking about the reasons for radicalization, openly wondering whether the anger she felt as a teenager suffering racism in Germany would have made her vulnerable to the terrorist recruiters that exist today, a haunting thought that I believe many Western Muslims in their 30s and 40s share In one very poignant passage, Mekhennet meets with a Belgium raised Islamic State commander on the Turkish border, telling him that he took the easy path out in response to the fear and alienation that she also grew up with in Europe He seems to get what she means, like a lot of people do.The reporting in the book is thrilling, but what truly makes it great is the writer herself, who you come to respect for her intelligence and bravery but also for the aspects of her own story that she shares Throughout all of the reporting, Mekhennet interweaves her personal life her fears, anxieties and hopes for her future, amid the challenges of being a woman and a minority doing this type of work Even as a successful journalist in the West she still hasn t escaped the suspicion of colleagues or intelligence agencies and the frustration and fear that this causes You really get an understanding of where she is coming from, and I would argue that her personal story is an important part of the broader geopolitical phenomenon that she reports on This was a tour de force of a memoir, and certainly one of my favorite books on jihadism in recent years It s one that I wish that all Westerners, and Americans in particular, would take the time to read


About the Author: Souad Mekhennet

Souad Mekhennet is a German journalist of Arab descent Focusing on Islamic extremism, she has written for the New York Times, Washington Post and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung She is the author of several books Mekhennet speaks Arabic, German, French and English.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *