An unsettling firsthand report on the motivations of jihadis.
A Muslim raised in Germany, Washington Post national security correspondent Mekhennet (co-author: The Eternal Nazi: From Mauthausen to Cairo, the Relentless Pursuit of SS Doctor Aribert Heim, 2014, etc.) was inspired by the movie All the President’s Men to become an investigative journalist: “I could see that journalists didn’t simply write what happened; what they wrote could change lives.” Her first contribution to the American press came in September 2002, in a piece for the Post on “Hamburg’s Cauldron of Terror.” At the trial of the first man accused of being an accessory to the 9/11 attacks, she met the widow of a New York firefighter who blamed the American government and news media for keeping citizens ignorant of hatred against the West. Based on copious interviews with members of jihadi groups, torture victims, families of men drawn into terrorism, refugees, and desperate citizens, Mekhennet helps to remedy that ignorance by exposing the sources of rage. In addition to on-site research in the Middle East and Europe, where she traveled on assignment for major news outlets, she spent a year as a Nieman Fellow researching long-term strategies of terrorist organizations. She is as frustrated with the West’s insistence that all Muslins are terrorists as she is with the horrific image of the West held by indoctrinated jihadi militants, who watch videos of atrocities carried out by Western-backed regimes as part of the recruitment process. Some militants feel alienated from cultures that treat them like outsiders; others join a struggle of Shia against Sunni. Mekhennet is also frustrated by the Western media’s glossing over reality: she wonders, for example, why the uprisings known as the Arab Spring were not shown to be “turning formerly stable countries into security threats” roiled by sectarian rift. The author sees “a clash between those who want to build bridges and those who would rather see the world in polarities” and to spread hatred.
Little in this distressing, revealing book portends hope for bridge building, but Mekhennet provides an eye-opening picture.