Alexis Okeowowrites for the New Yorker about Arab-German journalist Souad Mehennet's new book and her journey to the centers of jihadi networks in the Middle East and North Africa:
In news reports about terrorist acts in Europe and the United States, or stories of Westerners going off to join isis in Syria, there are certain similarities. They often tell of young and intelligent people who may have ancestral roots in a Muslim country but have spent much of their lives in the Western cities of their birth, or upbringing, or permanent relocation. They are usually people who, often inexplicably, and quite suddenly, drew closer to a fundamentalist view of Islam. Friends and relatives tell reporters that, despite these young Muslims’ leanings toward radical beliefs, they had been “normal,” well adjusted, even, and it was a surprise to learn that they had become committed to jihad.
When we talk about radicalization, the narrative moves from vague discontent to extremism—a journey spurred by alienation, discrimination, and poverty. In the Arab-German journalist Souad Mekhennet’s new book, “I Was Told to Come Alone: My Journey Behind the Lines of Jihad,” an enthralling and sometimes shocking blend of reportage and memoir from the centers of jihadi networks in the Middle East and North Africa, Mekhennet interrogates those assumptions, which don’t always hold true. A Frankfurt correspondent for the Washington Post, Mekhennet has a singular perspective on the modern crisis of terrorist violence, intimate and constantly questioning. Mekhennet says that she is someone who narrowly escaped being radicalized herself—owing to the influence of her involved parents and family friends. Instead, she turned to uncovering what motivates the most fervent of believers in jihad, and how they became so unrepentant.