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Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on January 12, 2012
AT A TIME when so many books on politics, religion, and world events are little more than puffed-up pamphlets which are simultaneously high on hyper-partisanship and low on facts, J. M. Berger's Jihad Joe, a treatment of the radicalization and actions of American Muslims who have dedicated themselves to "violent jihad" (the author's chosen term), is a breath of fresh - and troubling - air. Painstakingly researched and heavily footnoted (the author, an investigative journalist, consulted thousands of pages of court records and documents obtained through FOIA request, as well as source material from the making of multiple documentaries on jihadi activities in Bosnia and in the U.S.), Jihad Joe does not couch opinion as fact, but instead makes use of often disparate stories and information sources to weave together a factual account of radicalized American Muslims, from their diverse motivations and processed of radicalization to their actions.

The bulk of Jihad Joe is a lesson in recent history, recounting the motivations and activities of Americans who have "go[ne] to war in the name of Islam" from the siege of Mecca in 1979, where two Americans were involved, to the present. It traces the heady days of the heavily-endorsed (by Islamic leaders and the U.S. alike) jihad against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, when Muslims from America and around the world traveled to fight against the Russian invaders, to the founding of al Qaeda, where an American from Kansas City served as note-taker, through the Bosnian conflict, to the "war on America" that al Qaeda began in the 1990s (which included action in Somalia during the infamous "Black Hawk Down" incident), and which is currently ongoing. Among the major takeaways from this fast, engaging read (it can be comfortably read in a single weekend) is the realization that the radicalization of, and participation in what Berger refers to as "violent jihad" by, American Muslims is far from a new phenomenon.

[...]

IT IS DIFFICULT to come away from Jihad Joe without having acquired a view of domestic radicalization as a problem that is a mile wide or more, even if it is only the proverbial inch deep in relation to the wider American Muslim population. It is likewise difficult not to be palpably frustrated by a law enforcement apparatus that seems, over the course of the last three decades of Americans participating in violent jihad, to have been utterly incapable of getting out of its own way when it came to tracking dangerous individuals and getting them off the streets. The story of Ali Mohamed, mentioned above, is the most dramatic example of this, but a recurring theme within the stories presented in Jihad Joe is an unwillingness or inability on the part of the military, law enforcement, and the nation's political leadership to properly deal with the topic of religiously-based radicalization. During the Afghanistan conflict in the 1980s, this was largely understandable, as the U.S. was a supporter of the mujahedin, which drew Muslims from around the globe to fight the Soviet Union; however, the precedent set then and in the early 1990s carried over through the last years of the last millennium and beyond, resulting in an America which was unprepared for the guns, bombs, and rage of the violent jihadi minority to be turned from the "near enemy" - those threatening Muslims in Afghanistan and Bosnia - to the "far enemy" here in America, which was more accessible and more "realistic" to native jihadis (p. 77).

A particularly valuable contribution made by Jihad Joe is a survey of our increasingly web-based world's impact on the radicalization and recruitment of young Muslims to violent jihad, including the phenomenon of "jihobbyists" who interact online with militants, sometimes getting their "fix" that way, and sometimes (in much smaller numbers) progressing in radicalization to the point where they too engage in violent jihad. The Internet has allowed the public at large access to unprecedented information, including radical Islamic literature, audio, and video; partly as a result of this, and partly as a result of the scattering and destruction of terrorist training sites and organizations in the War on Terror, the process of radicalization and engagement in violent jihad has been turned on its head, from the 20th century model of intensive, rigorous, and highly organized religious and military training to the 21st century model of potential radicals in any geographic location taking the "Wikipedia approach to expertise" and declaring themselves religious experts "capable of deciding religious questions that have life-and-death consequences" (p. 201). "Before 9/11 someone who selected himself for jihad usually did so because he was pretty damn tough," writes Berger. "After 9/11 someone who selected himself was more likely to be a voracious reader" (p. 201).

This new world of individualized violent jihad, in which people anywhere in the world have access both to radical Islamist literature and media and to instructions on the construction and use of a wide range of weaponry, has allowed for violent jihad to be waged with less religious grounding and on a far more scattered - and potentially common - basis.

[...]

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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on June 24, 2011
Very readable, thoroughly researched book on an uncomfortable topic. Easily accessible for people who are not as familiar with the field and players as the experts. I would recommend it to anyone who wants some insight into why our fellow countrymen take these actions.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon September 3, 2011
There is a great deal of hyperventilation in America about the threat of Americans --primarily Muslim Americans--embracing jihadist ideology and seeking to become violent or actually committing acts of violence. The very limited literature breaks down into two categories on the topic:

-Books that grossly misunderstand and hype the threat: These include works by authors who would have you think that thousands of Muslim American terrorists are going to start marching down the highways of America and impose a shariah state by force on us Americans.

-Books that "see no evil": These absolutely refuse to accept the fact that some Muslim Americans have embraced violent extremism and more infuriatingly act as if September 11 never happened and that things like the Patriot Act happened in a complete vacuum fueled by rampant anti-Muslim sentiment.

"Jihad Joe" mercifully falls into neither category. The book gives the truth...that some dozens of Americans --mostly Muslims-- have embraced violent extremism. And while this number is miniscule, people such as that can kill a lot of people and harm a country nonetheless.

"Jihad Joe" is very well researched and well written. I only wish it had some diagrams to depict the networks of individuals it discusses because all the names can get rather confusing. I also would have welcomed some photographs.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on July 2, 2011
I heard about this book from a friend, and since I knew nothing about the subject I decided that this would be an opportunity to educate myself.Keeping the names straight proved to be a little difficult for me,but understanding the threat that looms before us is criticl. In my opinion all Americans should have access to this information.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on August 5, 2013
I was surprised how much I enjoyed this. I was expecting something more polemical, so the book's balance and moderate tone were appreciated. Berger has a very engaging style, and juggles massive amounts of information effectively, staying within a narrow scope. "Jihad Joe" is not an in-depth study of radicalization on all its diverse levels, rather, it examines cases of Americans, who for a wide variety of reasons, chose to engage in jihad, outside of the US, and within. There's an effective timeline here; beginning with examples prior to 9/11, and Berger is very good at compartmentalizing that world-changing event. An author with less focus might have become bogged down with what to include or exclude, but historical events flow very neatly within the narrative.
My only minor criticism is, I would have liked to see just a bit more discussion of the effect of humiliation, real or percieved, on the radicalization proccess. Since this is not a pyschological study of radicalization, it need not have been analyzed in clinical detail, but merely addressed in reference to the subjects and their choices.
I hope that Berger continues to write on this subject, which he clearly has a deep knowledge of. With Americans fighting in Syria as I write this, the world is providing ample material for another book.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on July 16, 2011
Did you already know that an American was present when Al-Qaida was founded -- Mohammed Loay Bayazid, aka Abu Rida al Suri? Until Berger's book came out, there simply wasn't a comprehensive account of Americans jihadists. Now there is, and it begins at the beginning, with Bayazid.

Jihad Joe is the product of a great deal of research on a troubling subject, presented with clarity and care. Very highly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 12, 2013
I can't say enough complimentary things about this book. It's very well written, well researched and very informative. I look forward to reading other books by JM Berger.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
This book is a well researched and detail packed. Berger documents how Americans have been a part of the jihad movement and Al-Qaida since its inception and examines the reasons for the attraction.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on June 7, 2013
This very informative book helped me understand just how pervasive Islamic terrorism is in the United States. I was especially alarmed at the presence of training camps in this country.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on March 16, 2012
I thought Jihad Joe would be a tough read; the subject is pretty scary stuff. The material called for a master reporter who was also a fine storyteller, and that's Berger. He is scrupulous in sticking to the facts, allowing the evidence to speak for itself, but also very good at painting an engaging - if scary - picture of characters and events. The footnotes alone would be intimidating if the narrative itself were not so compelling. If you are interested in an objective, reliable account of American jihad that will pull you page to page, this book is an excellent use of your time.
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