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Children of Jihad: A Young American's Travels Among the Youth of the Middle East Hardcover – October 25, 2007

4.1 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Rather than globetrotting for pleasure like many post-collegiate backpackers, Cohen charms his way through Middle Eastern countries typically thought of as unfriendly to the West. This type of travel is not without its problems: he suffers intimidation, unauthorized searches and other threats over the course of his two years spent among the twentysomethings of Lebanon, Syria and Iran. While gamboling across the region, Cohen drops in on Palestinian refugee camps, chats up Hezbollah members at a McDonalds, talks nuclear power with Iranians over illegal moonshine and meets "Iraqis who like us" in Iraqi Kurdistan. It is often repeated that the colorful and gifted youth immortalized in this book are surprisingly similar to their class of American counterparts, valuing education, dreaming of the future, and tooling with emerging technologies to broaden their sense of the world. Cohen's accounts are sharp and his intentions admirable.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"In this remarkable book Cohen provides a fresh perspective on the Middle East. Seen through the eyes of the youth, and poignantly describing their hopes and despairs, Cohen provides a timely commentary on the troubled relations between America and the Middle East. Looking at the habits and passions that binds the youth across the cultural divide as well as the politics that which divides them this book provides much food for thought for Americans and Middle Easterners alike."
—Vali Nasr, author of The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam will Shape the Future

“An intrepid writer journeys to the Middle East at the dawn of the 21st century to document the lives of young people whose countries are immersed in social and political upheaval.

In this engrossing book, Cohen artfully combines his natural confidence and flare as a writer to produce a revealing look at the youth of Iran, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and Iraq. He gives a loose overview of the history of each region and then eloquently details his encounters with the young people he meets. The trip begins in Iran with Cohen clutching a piece of paper listing all the important political figures he wants to interview. But a chance meeting with two sisters at the University of Tehran, and an introduction to the city’s nightlife, propel the author away from these lofty goals and toward a documentation of youth culture. Once he hits his stride, the highlights come thick and fast, with tales of illegal alcohol consumption in Iran, encounters with Hezbollah members in fast-food restaurants, a pulse-racing scenario in a Palestinian refugee camp and a daring entrance, and terrifying exit, from Iraq. But the real revelations come from the author’s conversations with the people he meets along the way. Many express pro-American sentiment, and despite some healthy debate, particularly in Cohen’s meetings with university students in Iran and Iraq, he is never subjected to overt hostility, even from Hezbollah. The author also makes some telling observations on how the Internet and cable television have provided a vital, and heretofore unthinkable, link between the Middle East and the rest of the world. To his credit, Cohen rarely hides the fact that he is Jewish and American, and his openness appears to have been highly respected among the people he encountered—it’s also one of the primary reasons why this book makes for such compelling reading.

Riveting from start to finish.”
Kirkus, starred

"Jared Cohen has written a unique book. Imagine a young American circulating in the back alleys and cafes of Iran, Lebanon, Syria, Palestinian refugee camps, and Iraq meeting other youth on their terms and asking pointed questions about their aspirations, concerns and attitudes toward their rulers and toward the United States. There are breathtaking descriptions of flirting with danger and fascinating dialogues that provide deep insights into the politics and sociology of four key countries in the Middle East.

It is a fascinating read, which I recommend to anyone who wants to develop a better understanding of the Middle East and the Arab world."
—Frank Carlucci, Former Secretary of Defense

"This young gutsy writer knows that the East-West struggle is being fought over the cafe tables of the Near and Middle East.  Do the youth of the Islamic world dream of an engineering degree from Michigan State or a martyr’s death?  This young American has had the moxie to sit and listen for hours at those tables.  In the words of the poet, Jared Cohen has taken the road "less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.
--Chris Matthews, Host of MSNBC's "Hardball" and NBC's "The Chris Matthews Show

"An enlightening and entertaining story that is part travelogue and part cultural analysis.  Gaining insights through simple conversation, Cohen paints a compelling picture of the politically awakened youth of the Middle East."
—Zbigniew Brzezinski, Former National Security Advisor --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Gotham; First Edition edition (October 25, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1592403247
  • ISBN-13: 978-1592403240
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,023,580 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By JK VINE VOICE on October 28, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I expected Jared Cohen's "Children of Jihad" to read either like a travel journal (author in foreign land feels foreign, learns Lessons), or a collection of Friedman-style essays/episodic dispatches from the Arab street.

Instead, COJ succeeds on a whole other level--part page-turning adventure, part history/social study, part conversational reporting--truly unlike anything I've read on the subject. Cohen draws heavily on personal interviews and daily interactions from his months abroad to paint a surprisingly vibrant portrait of young people across the Middle East (most strikingly, Iran); one that is more dynamic, perceptive and pro-American than most of us think.

His interviews and anecdotes compellingly remind us that the campaign for "hearts and minds" is a two-way effort. In public diplomacy, it's not enough for us to get our message out to "them"; we must also actively listen to what "they" have to say to us--about their hopes and aspirations; about the US role and how our policies affect their daily lives--if we are ever to acheive the diplomatic goals we seek. In this respect, the book is an excellent source for public diplomacy scholars and practitioners.

Organized by destination (Iran, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq), COJ reads like an exciting and informative ride across Cohen's death wish of a map. Thematically, the book focuses on what Cohen calls the "Youth Party," which serves as a purposefully broad demographic marker (two-thirds of the ME is under 30), as well as a metonym for an ineluctable, generational thirst for change.

Cohen and the majority of his subjects--ranging from students to taxi drivers to members of Hezbollah--were all under 25 at the time of writing.
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By Pat on November 26, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Are you looking for useful insight into the minds of Middle Easterners? You won't find it here, but you will find a good amount of ego and misconception. The book has some interesting accounts from the youth in Iran and Kurdistan, but the merits of this book are completely outweighed by an irritating narrative of an American constantly projecting his Orientalist fantasies while trying to confirm pre-formulated views about the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Right away he looses all credibility with his exaggeration. He fondly describes how risky it was to sneak into an African Civil War on a truck of bananas. Is this necessary? Lines like "I was flirting with the idea of crossing from Iran into Basra." But he didn't, so why would he write this? To stroke his ego of how adventurous he is to ignorant people back in America who will never travel over here. The whole part leading up to entering Kurdistan and how he was going into a war zone is fabricated. He obviously knew this wasn't the case beforehand if he was a guest of the KRG, so why the long drawn out blabber about how he might die. People travel freely in Kurdistan and it is hardly dangerous, and he knew this going in. Much of the Middle East is very safe for travel, so why the constant reminders that he might die at any second? He is concerned with painting a picture of himself as a risk taker, regardless of the actual circumstances. This holds true in much of his writing about Arabs. He has a picture he wants to paint regardless of the actual situation.

The section that Cohen writes about Hezbollah is absurd. I am an American student at AUB, and what he says about hundreds of Hezbollah "operatives" "infiltrating" the university is ridiculous.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The book starts out with the oft-familiar and now-trite language of having traveled abroad and having been "changed" by it all. Okay, fair enough--I figured I'd indulge him before he gets to the meat.

But his writing suffers from a couple of flaws. First, he writes about too much history. Now, I love history--I was a history major--but Cohen is not a historian and this is not a historical book. I appreciate that some of what he talks about is useful to understanding the situation in which he finds himself--but the history need not go on for pages. It is amateurish. And second, the whole theme and writing seem rather hackneyed. "As an American Jew, I couldn't believe how nice they were...etc., etc., etc." Every chapter is new scenery, new people, but the same exact story over and over again. Disappointing.
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Format: Kindle Edition
I previously had no idea who Jared Cohen was, but I found this book while prepping to work through a series of books on Islam, including ones looking at modern conflict and reform. Cohen's adventure in this book eventually led him to great success at the State Department and now at Google. There are some events in this book that I think are unbelievable-- how a person "just happens" to end up in Mosul in the middle of a war zone, avoids detention in Iran, and more tight spots that it seems a Jewish-American could easily have been kidnapped or badly mistreated. He intentionally wanted to sneak through the Syrian-Iraq border in the middle of the insurgency against the advisement of any local who can help him. Details about how he made sleeping arrangements, was able to wash his clothes, or get by with his worn out treads, etc. get lost between conversations with students and wild parties in Lebanon. (I also imagine much goes unsaid about those parties and what happens afterward, he knows too much not to have experienced things very personally.) Nonetheless, I found the work captivating; I admire his courage. I was intrigued also because I once also spent part of my formative years traveling and even lived with some college-aged youth in a Muslim context, watching them walk the line between cultural conservativism and their desire to drink and party. Children of Jihad is an excellent book to get a primer on the Arab Spring as the seeds were beginning to germinate during Cohen's travels. But it is worth keeping in mind that he does not speak Farsi or Arabic, he is reliant on English.Read more ›
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