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Terrorists in Love: The Real Lives of Islamic Radicals Hardcover – October 4, 2011

4.3 out of 5 stars 75 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Exclusive: Ken Ballen on Terrorists in Love

Terrorists in Love defies conventional thinking. Even though I had studied radicals and criminals for most of my career, when I went behind the lines, and got to know some of today's terrorists closely, everything I thought I knew was shattered. That's why I decided to write this book.

I started out as a federal prosecutor, a job in which I convicted international terrorists and then I became a Congressional investigator. From nearly two decades in this line of work, I learned a simple truth: you can really only find out about people by talking to them—in depth and at length.

So I started a non-profit organization to learn what makes people support extremism and spent five years researching and interviewing more than a hundred extremists—-in Pakistan, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, and throughout the Muslim world.

And what I found surprised even me. From frustrated love to mystical visions, from envy of Americans to blind hatred, here is a world so different from our own, it begs for understanding—-and a different response than what our policy makers have given so far.

I got to know Taliban soldiers, Al Qaeda suicide bombers and extremist leaders, even though I'm American and Jewish. I learned what no amount of torture or confinement of terrorists could ever tell us: what lay within their hearts. These straightforward lessons will help give us all a clearer path to defeat terrorism in our times-—and build better understanding across religions and cultures. --Ken Ballen


"Revealing, often touching interviews with six young Islamic men.… [Their] stories cast a revealing light on an exotic, unfamiliar culture."—Kirkus Reviews

“The 9/11 Commission grappled with the question of what drove the 19 hijackers to their terrorist acts in 2001, but we did not have time to investigate and fully understand their motives. Ken Ballen’s exhaustive research, scores of interviews, and gripping writing make Terrorists in Love a uniquely valuable––and sometimes chilling––behind-the-scenes account of the extreme beliefs that often fuel the actions of jihadist militants.”—Lee H. Hamilton, former Congressman and Co-Chair of the 9/11 Commission

“Ken Ballen has managed the impossible for an American. He has worked his way into the intimate thoughts and frustrations and family conflicts that drove six young Muslims toward the jihadist movement, and he presents his findings in a series of compelling narratives.”—David K. Shipler, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Arab and Jew and The Rights of the People: How Our Search for Safety Invades Our Liberties

“It’s simply astonishing how much Ken Ballen, an outsider, penetrated the closed world of Islamic radicals. In a fast moving, absorbing and at times shocking narrative, Ballen destroys stereotypes and defies conventional wisdom by allowing the ‘enemies’ to speak for themselves. America, meet the terrorists, really for the first time. And if you find yourself in the strange position of empathizing with them, don’t recoil in horror, for you might just have stumbled upon that unexpected insight that could help design a more effective response.”—Ammar Abdulhamid, former Islamic radical and leading pro-democracy activist in the Arab world

“Many authors write about terrorism. Ken Ballen took the rare step of talking directly to terrorists. If you want to understand them, read their stories, in their own words. By giving them voice, this book offers a rarely-seen glimpse into another world, the world of terrorists, not just terrorism.”—Philip Mudd, Former Deputy Director of the Counterrorism Center at the CIA, former Senior Intelligence Advisor for the FBI, and Senior Global Advisor, Oxford Analytica

“A valuable, even-handed and insightful window into the mindsets and emotions of jihadi terrorists. Ballen draws a telling portrait of the human side of terrorists, from childhood traumas to moments of transformation to radicalism and, in some cases, to renunciation of terrorists cause.  A compelling, if at times frightening study, one that should be read by anyone interested in the roots––and possible deterrents––of terrorism.”—Karen Greenberg, author of The Least Worst Place: Guantanamo’s First 100 Days

“Terrorists in Love shatters the dominant dispassionate treatment of modern day Islamic purveyors of death and destruction and instead offers a profoundly intimate portal into the fragile, emotional, even sexual factors that drive their behavior. Ballen blasts past the clichés about what animates terrorists and takes readers to places that no one has gone before. The profiles and revelations in this book are at times as uncomfortable as they are vital to appreciate what lies in the mind of some terrorists. I couldn’t put the book down.”—Steve Clemons, Washington Editor-at-Large, The Atlantic and Senior Fellow & Founder, American Strategy Program

“Deploying techniques developed during his two decades as a prosecutor and investigator, Ken Ballen interviewed more than a hundred Islamist terrorists in depth, evincing from them their inner stories. Here he profiles six of these men, and the results are eye-opening and full of startling implications.”—Daniel Pipes, founder and president of the Middle East Forum, and author of Militant Islam Reaches America

“Ballen not only gets beneath the skin of terrorists, but all the way into their hearts, revealing unimaginable emotional and personal secrets. He has shed surprising light on the never-ending question about militant jihadis––what are they thinking? Anyone who wants to know ought to read this unusual book.”—Jane Mayer, bestselling author of The Dark Side

“An unusual atlas of extremism — a riveting, behind-the-scenes look at the events that turned six young Muslims into terrorists.” —Washington Post

“[Ballen] adds nuance to a problem that Americans have tended to understand only in terms of good and evil …a much more human—though no less terrifying—picture of [those] committed to defeating the United States and Western civilization.” —The Boston Globe

“Illuminating, if harrowing, real-life love stories of Muslim extremists. From their sexual desires and liaisons to frustration with the backlash against these romantic fantasies, to mystical dreams and fiery verses summoning them to martyrdom, the book explores intimate sparks of Islamic fundamentalism…[A] must-read.” – The St. Louis Dispatch

“[A] disturbing, intimate look inside another world.” –The San Jose Mercury News

“[A] ground-breaking book . . . Ballen seeks to dispel our mislaid conceptions of terrorism in order to show the personal struggles and inner demons that inspire an individual to dedicate their life to the jihad…”–Urban Times

“An unprecedented and unusual look at Islamic radicalism.” – Publishers Weekly

“More than a captivating read…exposing first-hand personal accounts…within the terrorist movement [that] likely will hasten its demise."—Foreign Policy

“One of the most in-depth looks at individual terrorists' lives currently available . . . helps reverse some major misconceptions about the motives of these attackers. Ultimately, in Terrorists in Love, Ballen is bringing us closer to the real motives of terrorists, and thus closer to the truth. Even if that is uncomfortable, it's a step in the right direction.” –The Huffington Post

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; First Printing (Numerals Begin with 1) edition (October 4, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1451609213
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451609219
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (75 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,319,218 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Ken Ballen, an American Jew, has gone behind enemy lines to learn what makes terrorists tick. Ballen gained unique access through his background as a former federal prosecutor and investigator, while also conducting five years of on-the-ground research throughout the Muslim world. Originally, from New York City, Ballen graduated from Columbia Law School in 1980. Besides being a federal prosecutor against international terrorists, narcotics trafficking and organized crime, Ballen was Counsel to the Iran-Contra committee and other high-profile Congressional investigations. He lives near Washington DC with his son and daughter.

The website for the book is: WWW.TERRORISTSINLOVE.COM

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I can't say that I am in love with Ken Ballen's Terrorists in Love: The Real Lives of Islamic Radicals. I only really liked it. The stories presented in this book detail the lives of six men who, in one way or another, have been involved in jihadist violence in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

I'll start this post with my criticisms of the book:

My biggest gripe is that the book's biographies are probably not representative of the experiences of jihadists and suicide bombers, with the possible exception of Ahmad's story. In fact, it's clear that the stories were not chosen because they were typical of the jihadist experience, but because they exemplified key points that Ballen--who runs the foundation Terror Free Tomorrow--wanted to make, not the least of which is that Al Qaeda and the Taliban are inherently corrupt, especially from an Islamic perspective. This may in fact be true. But, I feel like Ballen wasted an important opportunity in selecting these stories. He conducted over a hundred interviews with Islamic radicals, but he does not consider whether or not the stories that he ultimately choose are atypical.

As a social scientist, I wanted some sort of analysis of all 100+ interviews. A chapter presenting such generalized data would have allowed the reader to better contextualize the biographies presented in the book. Without such overall data, the naïve reader might end up believing all jihadis have daddy issues, while the skeptic might simply disregard the entire book.

Then there's the issue of sources. My intellectual development coincided with the run-up to the Iraq invasion. As a result, I believe next to nothing I am told unless it is sufficiently sourced.
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3 Comments 41 of 45 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Hardcover
I am a Muslim and completely against extremist of any kind. Thank you, Ken Ballen, for writing this very brave book. You have tried to understand extremists, and why they become that way. You have also shown the path to peace -- how so many Muslims are leading the way out of extremism. I hope everyone, whether Muslim or not, will read this wonderful book. Please.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle."- Sun Tzu

Want to know how jihadists see the world around them--and how they see themselves? Read Ken Ballen's "Terrorists in Love." Ken Ballen spent 20+ years as a federal prosecutor and "Terrorists in Love" tells the stories of six 'radicals' from their own viewpoints. On page 301 Ballen writes: "I still doubt that everything the radicals told me was the truth." After all--this is their story and how they want you to see them.

Read where one of the radicals changes his opinion from the traditional convert or die to "If God had wanted us all the same, He would have created us one." Page 203)

On Page 298 one of the 'radicals' expresses optimism at the February 11, 2011 resignation of Egypt's Hosni Mubarak. I'm reminded of the high hopes for the Russian October Revolution of 1917 and how a small group became worse than the Czar. But Ballen writes (Page 295): "While the United States certainly matters, these stories show us that, if nothing else, we shouldn't view their world simply from our own American perspective."

Two web sites are mentioned in "Terrorists in Love:"

I evaluated the book, not the web sites--so proceed at your own risk.

"Terrorists in Love" is a mile-long walk in someone else's shoes. It woh't be a comfortable stroll.

Anybody have a recommendation for a "know yourself" book that our media and political elites could use?
1 Comment 19 of 22 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Hardcover
Terrorists in Love is one of the best books written on the subject of extremism. I am an Iranian and grew up until age 16 in the Islamic Republic of Iran. My parents were jailed by the government and brutally persecuted by Iran's religious extremists. Unfortunately, I have tasted religious extremism first hand. I had the privilege to read this book before publication and helped a bit with content editing and fact checking. I found it quite a unique and thought-provoking work, which really got to the heart of religious extremists the way no other book has. I felt compelled to write this online review because some people are quick to condemn the book without even reading it. Either they assume they know what's inside from the title or its endorsements, or they don't like who it's dedicated to (not, in fact, either one of the conservative Koch brothers, who are named Charles and David). I ask everyone to be fair. Terrorists in Love is a brave book that can change the way you think. It should be read by everyone--Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Have the courage to buy this book--and read it yourself--before making any judgments. Read the book with an open mind and keep your judgement for when you actually finish reading this important book.

If we fail to really understand religious extremism and the world of those who become zealous followers of it, we will never be able to overcome this catastrophic phenomenon. So, please read Terrorists in Love without preconceived prejudices and let its stories and interviews make you think critically about this growing challenge of our time.

Thank you!
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