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

by Souad Mekhennet

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Souad Mekhennet's status as a German-born woman of distinguished Arab descent, raised multilingual by a mixed Sunni-Shia working class immigrant couple in Germany and a Moroccan grandmother in Morocco then trained in US ivy league institutions has given her an almost unparalleled ability and access to report critical stories on the ever-escalating conflicts between Western and Islamic ideologies. She has bravely and resourcefully used the combined powers of her intellect/background/femininity/journalist tools to keep the strained lines of communications open between warring factions, often at great peril to her personal safety. A very interesting and important read. Highly recommended for all journalism majors and members of international diplomatic/security corps. ( )
  dele2451 | Jun 11, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Souad Mekhennet was born in1978 in Frankfurt, Germany to an immigrant, Shia and Sunni mixed Muslim couple; her father from Morocco, her mother from Turkey. Her mother taught her the shared religious traditions of Christians Jews Muslims. Her father broke off an old friendship with a man who had become radicalized. In their ecumenical, inclusive home Christmas was celebrated along with the Muslim holidays. Clearly, her upbringing fostered high standards of inquiry to learn the full story behind an issue, and a deep appreciation of others who might not agree with her openness.

In this fast paced, page turning memoir, Mekhennet traces her early years and entry into professional journalism. She has felt a compulsion to tell the full story of controvercial issues so that people can be more fully informed. She recounts in detail some dramatic, suspensful interviews with ISIS members and other jhadists.

She is frustrated by both the narrow minded ignorance of those Westerners who insist that all Muslims are killers, and those militant Muslims who watch videos of atrocities carried out by Western-backed regimes as part of the jihadi recruitment process. She tells of some militants became radicalized due to their alienation as immigrants who were not accepted.

She finds in her experiences “a clash between those who want to build bridges and those who would rather see the world in polarities.” This book does not offer glib, formula solutions for building bridges. But it does provide an eye-opening picture for readers. ( )
  Oporinus | May 22, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Overall, this is an informative book examining what may be driving so many Muslim men and women to wage jihad--joining Al Qaeda, ISIS or similar radical groups. Souad Medhennet is a Muslim woman born to a Moroccan father and Turkish mother. She was raised in Germany and thus, has a firm foothold in the West as well. She also understands the split within Islam, having both a Sunni and a Shia parent, but argues that their union shows that the division and distrust is not necessary. Souad has worked for both the Washington Post and The New York Times as a reporter, traveling to Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, and the border regions of Syria to conduct interviews with leaders of some the world's most menacing terror groups. She is granted access where others might not be because of her Muslim background and fluency in Arabic.

The book is well written and contains some fascinating stories from the years of Mekhennet's investigative reporting. For example, she learns the identity of Jihadi John through reaching out to her extensive network of contacts. She covers the attacks in Paris, Brussels, and, in a very personal encounter, the attack on a mall in Germany. She seeks answers to why so many Muslims hate the West and are willing to kill, and also questions some US or Western policies and techniques or practices in the war on terror. Her book reports on the widening sectarian violence in the Middle East as the split between Sunni and Shia intensifies. It is a highly readable and important book that is mostly balanced, though a clear ideological bent is detectable in her views. ( )
  Dgryan1 | May 21, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This book is incredible: fascinating, terrifying, distressing, and totally absorbing. The places Mekhennet has been and the people she has met seem like something out of fiction, which makes this book hard to put down and perhaps blunts the edge of the deeply uncomfortable truths the book reckons with. This book is an excellent reminder of where America and the West in general have been over the last seventy years, geopolitically speaking, from the colonialism and its sometimes violent end through the cold war and into the modern era of conflict along religious lines: not very pretty places, mostly. Mekhennet is looking at the question of why people - people like her, even people she knows - choose one path, one way of thinking, over another, and the answers are deep and complex and heartbreaking and confusing in a way that even long-form journalism has difficulty addressing. Much of what has happened has deep roots in the past and is in no small part the result of decisions made by people - outsiders, foreign governments with specific goals - with too little information and too little forethought. It seems there is little reason to believe that that better-informed decisions on how, when, and why to become involved are being made now.

The feelings of exclusion and profound alienation that Mekhennet encounters in talking to people who have chosen to join groups like ISIS or Al Qaeda affiliates, and to those who knew them, should not be surprising. These stories hold a lesson that we would all do well to remember, which is that both deliberate and careless exclusion lead, perhaps not inevitably but quite regularly, to profound alienation, and whether that alienation is cannily exploited by others or simply runs its own course, it is a monster that feeds on itself, leading to actions that only serve to deepen divisions between individuals and between groups, between societies. This lesson has, I think, broader implications than the conflict Mekhennet studies here. Her writing is excellent, her story is vitally important. You should read this book. ( )
  upstairsgirl | May 19, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
In this thrilling memoir Souad Mekhennet recounts her upbringing and how it influenced her to always seek the truth. As a child of Sunni and Shia muslim parents, she saw first-hand that there is no need for the divisiveness that seems so prevalent in the muslim community today.

As a journalist, she used her muslim background to gain access to many of the people in the radical muslim community to try to find out why people became radicalized. In response to terror attacks, she actually went out and asked, "Why?" instead of using the standard western assumptions about the cause of terrorism.

She also spends much time in Iraq trying to understand why Sunni and Shia people that had previously gotten along together suddenly are killing each other. The answers are not encouraging.

This is a fantastic book, well written, and constantly engaging. Highly recommended to anyone trying to understand the evolution of extremist Islam.

(Note: This book was provided to me by the publisher as a LibraryThing early reviewer.) ( )
  lpg3d | Apr 30, 2017 |
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