Those who still believe terrorists are mindless fanatics will find little evidence in these revealing, often touching interviews with six young Islamic men.
In despair when his lover was forced to marry another man, a young Arab enlisted in the Iraqi insurgency, found it tedious and returned home only to learn that she had run off to become a suicide bomber. She never returned. Another Saudi, an aimless dropout, galvanized by TV images of American guards humiliating Abu Ghraib prisoners (a priceless recruiting bonanza for terrorists), joined and became the first suicide bomber to survive his attack. Two subjects, one gay, both deeply religious, flirted with terrorism without signing up, but their stories cast a revealing light on an exotic, unfamiliar culture. Wildly cynical and boastful, a midlevel Pakistani terrorist drips contempt for America—by aiding Pakistan, we are financing and fighting terrorism simultaneously—but gives equal time to denouncing former comrades, Pakistani officers and even Taliban fighters and high officials for heartlessness, greed, corruption and an un-Islamic lack of humility. These stories clearly represent the cream of more than 100 interviews.
Ballen admits that they cannot reveal the motivation of all Islamic radicals, but few readers will deny that they illuminate the frustrations of young Islamic men living in repressive societies, alternatively fascinated and horrified by America.