I Was Told to Come Alone: My journey behind the lines of jihad

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Read 14/04/2018-22/04/2018

Rating: 4 stars

All you need to know is, you need to read this book.

I became aware of I Was Told to Come Alone when it was included in the March Madness Reading Challenge. After I read Home Fire, I felt like I needed to read something based on the real experience of the young men who become jihadis and the young women who become jihadi brides. So I reserved it at the library. And I’m very glad that I did.

Almost twenty years ago, I lived in Sheffield. I shared a house with a Muslim woman. I have known Muslims all my life, from school and university to the workplace and my own family. Everyone I’d known up to that point had been funny, friendly, caring, no different to me other than in the religion they followed. Initially, my housemate seemed the same but, over the year or so that we shared the house, she became increasingly strict in her observance of Islam. At first, we talked about her choices. She was worried about how people would react to her changed appearance. She explained that, to her, covering herself when in public was a freeing experience that allowed her to concentrate on being in the world without being of the world. But she also knew that it attracted suspicion in certain quarters. As time went on, and her observance deepened, she stopped talking to me about her new path. She was civil, but she didn’t want to be friends. She ensured that we rarely encountered each other in the house. She didn’t want to talk to me about religion because, as she told me, I wasn’t Muslim and couldn’t understand. I was still a practising Christian at the time, and when I countered an anti-Semitic comment she made one day, she told me that the closeness of my religion to Judaism meant that I couldn’t understand her hatred of Israel. She met a young man whom she eventually married. I liked him. He was a funny, engaging person. But he spoke a lot about Iraq and how he wanted to go there to fight. From my perspective, they were people who enjoyed the freedom to live the religious life they chose to live. They weren’t persecuted. And yet it seemed as though their choice was rooted in anger at the West. It seemed more like a route to revenge than a route to harmony with God. At that point in my life, I didn’t really understand why. This was towards the end of the period between the Gulf War of 1990-1991 and the Iraq War that began in 2003.

When the planes were flown into the World Trade Center and George W Bush proclaimed his War on Terror, and when Bush and Blair insisted that Saddam Hussein had Weapons of Mass Destruction in order to invade Iraq, I could see that we in the West were beginning to reap the consequences of a century of successive European and American governments interfering in the Middle East. I started to understand why young Muslim men born and raised in the West might hate the countries they were citizens of, and why they might feel more allegiance to their religion and the idea of a nation state for Muslims that mirrored the one carved out for Jews after the Second World War. I didn’t agree that it was the right way, but I could see how generations of suspicion and oppression led to the point we’re at now.

That was my starting point for reading this book.

Souad Mekhennet’s memoir is about trying to balance her Islamic identity with her other identity, one that has been formed through being born, raised and educated in Germany. The prologue documents her first meeting with a high ranking member of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIS, ISIL, Daesh. Mekhennet meets with a man whom she later learns is involved in the torture of hostages. Like Mekhennet, he grew up in Europe. Like her, he was a well educated professional, having trained as an engineer. During their conversation, he challenges her to explain why she believes the European system is fair and just. From his perspective, the West doesn’t respect Muslims or treat them equally. Mekhennet understands his point.

I obviously didn’t agree with Abu Yusaf that the caliphate was the solution. But I couldn’t help thinking that Western societies and politicians have made little progress toward addressing the policies that radicalize young men like him. More intelligence services putting more restrictions on people is not the solution, nor are global surveillance networks that compromise the privacy of the innocent along with the guilty.

This gave me pause. What Mekhennet describes is the sort of persecution based on religion that Afro-Caribbean people experience based on the colour of their skin. It’s presumption of guilt based on appearance. It’s prejudice. If you’re treated as a suspect just by existing, then why wouldn’t you feel as though the society you’ve grown up in doesn’t respect you or see you as equal?

I liked very much what Mekhennet said to this man.

You may be right that we face discrimination and the world is unfair,” I told him. “But this is not the jihad, what you’re fighting. Jihad would have been if you’d stayed in Europe and made your career. It would have been a lot harder. You have taken the easy way out.

It made me curious about why one Muslim would see jihad as being a fight from the inside to change the perception of Islam held by the society around them, ending its oppression so that they could co-exist, and another would see it as a fight to destroy the society around them to end its oppression and replace it with universal Islam. It made me want to understand what we in the West can do to foster the first perspective, instead of pushing people towards the second.

Mekhennet describes her upbringing and family history. It’s a story rooted in resistance and conflict.

When Mekhennet was born, the Arab world was about to enter a period of turmoil that continues to this day. This aspect of her story clarified for me how the establishment of an Islamic republic in Iran in 1979, the Siege of Mecca in Saudi Arabia a couple of weeks later, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan a few weeks after that laid down the conditions for the invasions and phoney wars we have seen in the Arabic world ever since. The news as I read the memoir was all about air strikes against Assad in Syria, with Russia on one side and the West on the other, just like Afghanistan in the 1980s.

The mess goes back further than 1979. Black September, a militant group that was associated with the Palestine Liberation Organisation, killed two members of Israel’s 1972 Olympics team and took another nine Israeli athletes hostage. The 1972 Olympics were held in Munich. Mekhennet’s parents lived in Frankfurt and felt the impact of the siege on Muslims working in Germany.

The Baader-Meinhof Gang also had links to the Palestinian liberation movement starting in the late 1960s. The members of the group trained in Lebanon and some joined the military action of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

It was within this atmosphere of increasing tension between the Muslim Arab world and the West that Mekhennet grew up.

Mekhennet spent the first four years of her life with her grandmother in Morocco. Her grandmother sounds wonderful. A strong, independent woman, she is clearly an inspiration to Mekhennet who has learned from her not to shy away from what she believes, even in the face of danger.

When Mekhennet related a story from the mid 1980s, about a friend of her father who returned to Pakistan to visit his family and returned a changed man, I was reminded of my Sheffield housemate. The friend had been a man who dressed in Western clothes, was friends with people from different backgrounds, and spoke easily with Mekhennet’s mother. When he returned to Frankfurt, he wore traditional Pakistani clothes, refused to look at or speak to Mekhennet’s mother, and berated her father for not making his wife and children wear the hijab. The rapidity of his transformation was similar to that of my housemate and the way he berated his friend had echoes of the way she would speak to her parents and sister on the phone, urging them to turn from Western ways and become good Muslims. The friend, it turned out, had joined the mujahideen movement, fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. I was a teenager at the time and remember the West backing the mujahideen because they shared an enemy in the Soviet Union. I remember news reports celebrating them as freedom fighters, which they were. I don’t recall anything about their long-term aims or their beliefs. The different groups that formed this Islamic collective included what would become the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

Mekhennet’s father ends the friendship with this man. Mekhennet herself reflects on what else was happening across Europe at the time.

In Britain, France, and Germany, some men who had returned from the fighting in Afghanistan began to tell other Muslim immigrants that it was their duty to protect oppressed Muslims around the world. Back then, these men weren’t seen as threats. Western Europe was proud of its freedom of thought and expression, and these former fighters were allies of a sort, helping defeat the Soviets. Political leaders didn’t suspect that the people fighting the Soviets would one day turn against them and their allies in the Middle East. They didn’t realize that a quiet battle was beginning between secular, individualistic ideals and radical religious ideologies coupled with the will to rise up and fight injustice.

When Mekhennet was eleven, the Balkan conflict broke out, dissolving the federation of republics that formed Yugoslavia and separating communities along ethnic lines. Mekhennet’s mother worked with guest workers who had come to Germany from Yugoslavia, and she witnessed the way people who had been friends stopped socialising because they were Serbs, Croats, or Bosnians. Two years later, right wing groups in Germany began attacking immigrant workers, using Nazi symbolism and language. That same year, on a family visit to Morocco, Mekhennet and her sister joined a nineteen year old cousin who was watching TV with a group of friends. They were watching and applauding some of the earliest examples of jihadist propaganda, precursors to the videos used by ISIS to recruit young Muslims to their cause.

After an incident where fascist skinheads chased Mekhennet and her younger brother, threatening to kill them, she became terrified that the type of abuse of Muslims she’d seen on the video at her cousin’s house would start happening in Germany. She begged her parents to leave Germany, but then a turning point came that led her to the conviction that she had spoken about to Abu Yusaf in the prologue. She quotes Michel Friedman, the Jewish leader who changed her mind about fleeing Germany.

Leaving Germany and settling somewhere else would have been taking the easiest option. We – and I am talking about whoever has a sense of humanity, no matter if Jewish, Muslim, or Christian – cannot let these right-wing groups win by allowing them to shut us up or by packing our bags.

Mekhennet took those words to heart, refused to give in to fear and instead challenged herself to work hard to face down and refute the forces that frightened her. She also acknowledges that it could easily have gone the other way. In her moment of fear and anger, without her parents’ rationality, if instead of hearing a Jewish man speak about not giving in she had encountered a recruiter for Al Qaeda or ISIS, she admits that she might not have been strong enough to resist.

All of this is covered in just the first chapter. I found reading it an intense experience. I was grateful, though, for the clear way that Mekhennet writes. It could have been overwhelming, if she had chosen a more academic way of writing, but the memoir format means that she speaks from experience and brings in evidence as and when it is needed. I feel that I got a sense of what it was like to grow up Muslim in a Western European country and have links to the Arab world at a time when the will to rise up against the perceived oppression of Muslims by the West was growing stronger in places where European intervention in Muslim countries had been the most harsh. Because Mekhennet is willing to put herself in the shoes of her contemporaries who chose differently to her, in order to understand why their choice was different, I feel as though I started to think about their choice less judgementally.

That first chapter was so intense that it took four hours to read its twenty-six pages. After I emerged and finished processing my initial thoughts, I was ready for the rest of the book.

Mekhennet describes her first steps in journalism, the prejudice and suspicion that she faced, and the happenstance that led to her first big break. When it was revealed that the men who planned and delivered the attacks on New York, Washington DC, and Pennsylvania were from Hamburg, Mekhennet used her Muslim and Moroccan background to her advantage, keen to discover the truth about the Hamburg Cell and the motivations of the groups of radicalised Muslims that were meeting in mosques and coffee shops around the city.

Her investigation of these men eventually led to a job with the Washington Post and then a trip to Iraq to find out the truth about Saddam’s alleged cache of WMDs. As Mekhennet tells the story of these years she also discusses the tension between Sunni and Shia Muslims, and the origins of these two strands of Islam. Reading up on the two sects, I discovered that one of the aims of ISIS is to wipe out all Shia Muslims. I’ve read previously about Saudi Wahhabism being the root of organisations like Al Qaeda and ISIS, as well as Boko Haram (now Islamic State in West Africa), but I hadn’t picked up on the Wahhabi belief that Shia is not Islamic. Saudi Arabia has long been the major funder of Islamic schools around the world, meaning it’s little wonder that the Islamic revival that began in the 1970s has taken such a hard-line Wahhabist form. My husband has a copy of David Fromkin’s A Peace to End All Peace, which I think I need to read to get my head around how and why the Islamic revival gained momentum.

On the ground in Iraq, Mekhennet comes to understand a simple truth about Western intervention in the Middle East.

Our politicians and advisers hadn’t done their due diligence. They had come with the perspective that our system – democracy – would work for everyone, and they didn’t consider the consequences that adopting an entirely new system might have for people living elsewhere. I wondered, not for the first time, whether the West was unintentionally opening the door to a more religious and sectarian Middle East.

Personally, I think she’s too generous. Political leaders in the West don’t care about the consequences of imposing a new system on a different culture, they only care about access to resources that will make their nations wealthier. The West has misjudged the Middle East, which is a place with a cultural history as long and influential as that of Western Europe. The problem, it seems to me, is that the USA believes history and civilisation began with the Founding Fathers in the 17th century, and that non-Western cultures are backward and need the US to bring them up to date. I know. Not All Americans. But, still.

Mekhennet encounters women who have lived free, independent lives, gaining positions of influence, even under alleged repressive regimes. In Iraq, a leading female politician, Aquila al-Hashimi, is killed before Mekhennet has chance to interview her.

With al-Hashimi’s death, they had won again, but this time it felt even worse. As we drove back to the hotel, I began to tremble. I had a very bad feeling that we in the West were destroying the structure of a country that had not been a democracy but that had offered a place to a woman like al-Hashimi, a Shia, who was able to study and enter politics. Maybe it wasn’t a system we liked, but we, the decision makers, were now destroying it and destroying all those people, intelligent people like her who came from diverse backgrounds and who should have had a role in the future of their country. I felt that her killing was another step toward disaster.

Mekhennet writes compellingly. There were moments when I felt as though I was in the car with her, travelling into some religious group’s camp, or in the room with her as she interviewed someone wrongly detained by the CIA. She also writes clearly, without over dramatising or making things too emotional. She comes across as logical and truthful, someone who wants to show both sides of the story and shine a light on what is actually happening and why, rather than add to the existing propaganda on both sides.

She is particularly good on the Arab Spring and the willingness in the West to believe that the democracy that the protesters in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Bahrain were calling for was the same thing as Western democracy. By visiting these places and witnessing the aftermath of the different uprisings that brought down dictatorships and sought to replace them with democratic process, she begins to realise that all is not as the West would like it to be. She interviews a former rap artist about his embracing of Islam and his support for former prisoners of conscience in Tunisia who were now preaching the truth about Islam.

This was the first of several conversations I had with Cuspert that spring. The more we spoke, the more I wondered if there was some kind of underground network of jihadists that was taking advantage of the Arab Spring … These don’t sound like radical ideas now, but at the time this wasn’t the story that international news networks and major Western newspapers and magazines were telling. Instead, they carried report after report about the end of Islamism and the outbreak of democracy, as if a giant light bulb has been switched on across the Middle East and North Africa. And while many liberals and young people in Tunisia, Syria, Egypt, and elsewhere wanted more rights and craved more progressive governments, journalists focused on these groups at the expense of other, more sinister forces. Readers and viewers were told that if they looked at Tahrir Square, they would understand what Egypt wanted. But Tahrir Square was not Egypt. Meanwhile, we ignored or failed to see people such as Cuspert and his friends – or we didn’t want to see them because they didn’t fit into the happy narrative of democratic progress.

There are times when Mekhennet questions whether her journalism is the sort of journalism that is worthwhile, whether it is a welcome addition to the discussion in the West or whether she is too much of a distraction from the story she is trying to tell.

I began to be deeply worried that the way I was trying to do my job – not taking any side but speaking to all sides and challenging them all whenever I could – was becoming untenable for someone with my background. 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 an object of special interest and suspicion? How much longer would I be able to do this kind of reporting?

… the truth was that I was in a deep crisis over my profession. Being a journalist of Muslim descent who helped track down the true story of a Nazi doctor accused of hideous crimes against the Jews made me fodder for rumours and accusations. The Arab Spring had also had a profound effect on what counted as international reporting, with one online outlet after another starting up. “Citizen journalism” seemed to be the new big thing, but I worried about what such activist reporting would do to what we call “truth”. If readers and viewers got used to a kind of journalism that told them only one side of the story, how would their view of the world ever change? … Would someone else ask again why no one had reported that the Arab Spring was turning formerly stable countries into security threats? That in fact it was contributing to the sectarian rift that was increasingly dividing the Arab world? That some of those who claimed they were on the streets for democracy did not share the democratic values of the West?

A lot of what Mekhennet says I started thinking after 9/11, and what I continued thinking when terrorist attacks became more frequent in the UK and across Europe. I thought about how easy it is for young men who feel marginalised in the place they were born to be radicalised. The West’s game of deposing dictators and declaring war on Gulf states in the name of bringing the democracy to the people living there, without understanding what the people in these countries mean by democracy, or understanding the religious sectarianism within Islam, or providing long term support for the transition from dictatorship to democracy, left a generation of young Muslim men angry about the way their countries are picked up and dropped again at the whim of the West. Those men are now raising families where jihad is normalised, where the expectation is that boys will take their place on the frontline as soon as they are old enough.

Again, I’m not saying that I agree with their choices, but I feel increasingly able to understand why they feel those are their only choices. The question is, how do their own communities counter the radicalisation process and show them that there are other options? And how do Muslim and sympathetic non-Muslim communities challenge the political leaders, subjective media and anti-Muslim groups that their approach to the issue of radicalisation isn’t working?

Mekhennet’s book is an eye-opener, and I am filled with admiration for her tenacity, bravery and commitment to uncovering the truth. If only there were more journalists like her, who are driven by passion for the truth and not simply filing copy that fits the publishers’ agenda. Not only has what Mekhennet identifies as citizen journalism, what I think of as subjective or biased journalism, impacted on how Islam and the Arab world are perceived, it has influenced a Presidential election and a referendum result.

The chapter on the women who give their lives over to supporting jihad was very interesting. Some of the women that Mekhennet talks to have made choices that include accepting that organisations like the Taliban do not oppress women but instead have their best interests at heart. I had the book with me on my lunch break and it led to an interesting discussion among the women in the room. The department that I work in is currently entirely white British. Most of us have no religion. Some of us have children. We talked about the disconnect between the people we encounter on a daily basis, our neighbours, colleagues, friends, our children’s friends, who are from different cultural and religious backgrounds to us, and the lack of visibility their communities have in popular culture – in soaps, in children’s TV, in films, in dramas. One woman talked about how she lives in an area with a strong Muslim community, mostly people of Asian heritage, some of Arabic heritage. She is concerned about explaining to her children why young girls and women from that community dress so differently to young girls and women of white European heritage. We talked about choice, and about how we who don’t have a religion find it difficult to comprehend anyone who places honouring their God above all other considerations, and even how those who have a Christian faith can’t see past their ideas of freedom to understand that a Muslim woman might consider covering herself to honour Allah as freedom, too.

In Mekhennet’s chapter Brides for the Caliphate, she meets a German woman who converted to Islam at the age of fourteen and over the following four years became increasingly radicalised. A close Muslim friend of hers was stabbed and killed. She went to his mosque to join his community in praying for him.

She liked the way that in Islam, families and members of the community were supposed to care for one another. People shared food and helped those in need, she said. She felt acceptance and warmth she hadn’t felt in her own family in a long time. Her divorced parents were surprised but took no action to stop her conversion.

I think this is key to understanding the attraction of Islamic extremism. The recruitment of people to the cause is based around giving people a feeling of community and belonging. Reading Mekhennet’s book, I can see that for some Muslims living in the West, their feeling of belonging has been eroded. Even for white Europeans, I think that’s true. Capitalism and neoliberalism both encourage us to look out for ourselves. They try to make society and community redundant, because then we are more easily manipulated. I suspect that this is also what makes so many white people suspicious of Muslim communities, because we have lost our old sense of community and some try to replace it with feelings of nationalism, Us against Them. But for some Muslims the erosion of community is due to the influence of Western culture turning people from the “true” Islam. If people are looking to belong somewhere and their immediate community doesn’t offer them a good enough feeling of belonging, then the promises made by extremist groups, of whatever cultural or religious background, must be difficult to resist.

Mekhennet draws the same conclusions, but also identifies broken family structures as a contributing factor.

… large numbers of Western jihadists have come from troubled or broken homes, where poverty, joblessness, and upheaval are the norm … In Europe, society is atomised. ISIS advertises its commitment to sisterhood, friends, and family, equality no matter where you come from – Arab, German, American, we’re all Muslims. It represents a utopian vision that many European converts crave.

This made me think about the current row about anti-Semitism in the UK Labour party, and the rage that some people, largely on the left of politics, feel against Zionism and on behalf of Palestinians. This contrasts with the rage that some people, largely on the right of politics, feel against Islam. Israel as a political nation state poses the same threat as the idea of a Muslim caliphate to many in the West. Both Judaism and Islam cross the divide between religion and race. Just as Jew can mean someone who is a follower of Judaism, so it can mean an identification with a specific cultural and ethnic group. Muslim can mean someone who is a follower of Islam, but also, in the context of the caliphate desired by ISIS and similar organisations, identification with a specific cultural and ethnic group. A similar reactionary process is happening among some white people in Europe and the US. Existing nationalist feeling is intensifying, because people feel under threat from something they don’t understand, and are turning more openly to white supremacist organisations that talk about Western nations being for indigenous white people. They believe that communities and cultures shouldn’t mix. And yet they support governments that intervene in other communities and cultures. Hmmm.

It all makes me wonder whether the process of evolution hasn’t favoured some kind of insanity gene that renders the human species incapable of living harmoniously and weirdly in need of some higher power that can be used to absolve us of our worst excesses. It’s great that this insanity gene makes us creative as a species, but man we make some stupid and dangerous decisions as a result of it, too.

Personally, I don’t think you need to be instructed by a god or gods to treat others with kindness and respect. That’s basic decency, surely? However you choose to make sense of the world, yours is not the only way. Try reading some Vonnegut. He got it. Try reading this book. Mekhennet gets it. In fact, I think all Western politicians should read Mekhennet’s book, and they should set aside their personal ideologies as they do so. They might learn something. What? A woman can dream.

The chapter documenting Mekhennet’s investigation and uncovering of ISIS executioner Jihadi John’s identity was filled with tension and Mekhennet got across the sense of danger and urgency really well. I also hadn’t appreciated that there had been a race to publish the story after the Washington Post informed the British authorities of their intention to publish.

After such a well constructed, balanced book, parts of the final chapter didn’t feel up to the same standard. I wonder if that’s because it deals with very recent events. It felt rushed to me at times, as though Mekhennet hadn’t had the opportunity to apply the same level of crafted consideration to her words, or to go into the same detail as she had in earlier chapters.

The start of this final chapter deals with the increase in migration from Syria to Europe, when Angela Merkel took the lead in opening borders to refugees from Syria. Mekhennet points out that Merkel’s speech stated that there was a need to temporarily open Germany’s borders to families fleeing war, but that the speech wasn’t always translated and shared in its entirety, leading to many in North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia taking it as an open invitation to a new life in Europe. This, Mekhennet says, resulted in an easy passage for jihadists, who travelled to Turkey, destroyed their passports, and joined the genuine refugees in seeking asylum. Had this been a report in the mainstream media, or a piece on a single issue website, my instinct would have been to call it out as misinformation. But Mekhennet used her Muslim Arabic identity to talk to refugees at the main railway station in Vienna and identified many who were travelling from Tunisia, Iraq, Egypt, and claiming to be farmers from Syria. To Mekhennet, their physical appearance and the Arabic dialects they spoke didn’t match their claims.

My frustration came when Mekhennet talked about the events in Paris in November 2015, and the links uncovered with the Muslim community in the Molenbeek suburb of Brussels, Belgium. Her descriptions of the investigation she undertook lack the detail of her other investigations. Her ability to connect with people in the community who might have known the ring leaders of the Paris attacks comes across as conveniently easy. Having read about how much suspicion Mekhennet had faced, and how much negotiation she had done in previous investigations, her experience in Molenbeek didn’t seem as convincing, somehow. Not that I am doubting the truthfulness of her writing, just that it didn’t seem as rigorous. Perhaps part of the reason is the sorrow Mekhennet clearly feels after talking with a former friend of the leader of the cell that carried out the Paris attacks.

It didn’t make sense to argue with Farid, I realized. His worldview was set … I wondered what might have been done to deter Farid from criminality and, one day, possibly terrorism. The roles of parents, friends, community leaders, teachers, and youth workers seemed crucial. Beyond that, of course, there was the general mind-set that confronted young Muslims as they came of age in Europe. Farid believed he wasn’t accepted by Belgian society, so he saw no problem with stealing from or even killing Belgians and other Europeans. It was as if they weren’t real. Each side had succeeded in dehumanizing the other.

The key point of the chapter, though, is Mekhennet’s revelation that the woman who betrayed the leader of the terrorist cell is a Muslim, and that French authorities wanted to hide the fact from the public. Presumably because a French Muslim helping to protect her fellow French citizens and residents of other European countries doesn’t fit with the narrative of all Muslims being potential terrorists and therefore under suspicion. It certainly doesn’t fit with the crusade led by tabloid newspapers that demand to know what Muslim communities are doing to tackle radicalisation.

The epilogue is very powerful. It’s also very personal and harrowing. Mekhennet ends by reflecting on everything she has experienced and reported on, and how the personal has changed her perspective on other people’s pain. There is so much that I want to quote from the ending of the book. Mekhennet writes so much sense, and does so with an eloquence that moved me. I hope she gains a broader audience, and starts to be treated more as an authority on the subject of radicalisation and less as a curiosity by the mainstream media.

As I say, there are many powerful passages in the epilogue that resonate with me, and I’ve chosen to group certain passages together in my final quote.

… some people in Western countries don’t see the hazards of setting standards for others, as if our way is the right way and the only way. This is the same argument ISIS makes. Meanwhile, in our democracies, secret detention centers, torture, and mass government surveillance have violated what we call our core values. Our governments have faced no consequences for these transgressions … At the same time, a dialogue is overdue within Islam, and within Muslim societies, about what can and cannot be justified by our faith. Religion doesn’t radicalize people; people radicalize religion … The rise of groups such as Al Qaeda and ISIS is not the problem of any one specific country or group. It is the result of many mistakes … the history of Western involvement in Afghanistan and Pakistan should have taught us all that the one you train and arm today may turn against you tomorrow.

Mekhennet ends by reflecting on the fact that there are people in every generation and every culture who are willing and able to find common ground. Despite all she has witnessed that is the worst of humanity, she is optimistic about the future.

I admire her very much.

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