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Children of Jihad: A Young American's Travels Among the Youth of the Middle East Hardcover – October 25, 2007
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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.
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“A riveting read from start to finish.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"Children of Jihad is a very smart, insightful account of a young Jewish- American (and rhodes scholar) trying to understand his generation across the line in the middle east.”
— Tom Brokaw, NBC Universal
"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 martyrs 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
"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 Arab world."
— Frank Carlucci, Former Secretary of Defense
"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
"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
"Children of Jihad succeeds at breaking down some inaccurate generalizations and replacing them with more accurate generalizations, and it does a good job of humanizing Middle Eastern youth by telling their individual stories"
"An important book to read."
— Joe Scarborough, host of MSNBC Morning Joe
"I admire Jared Cohen's courage, vigor and insight. He has been a wonderful source of information and understanding about Iran, particularly youth attitudes and ideals. His advice is helpful in fostering better relations, better public diplomacy and progress toward greater democratic freedoms and openness in Iran."
—Senator Richard Lugar, Ranking Member on Senate Foreign Relations Committee
“Cohen’s chronicle is fine fieldwork for students of the Middle East”
— Media --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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If you believe the reason for the east-west discord is much more nuanced and complicated, then Cohen doesn't provide anything insightful. It's not a new discovery to learn that most people want jobs, dignity and live in peace. That most children in the middle east grow up with a healthy diet of Oprah, Hanna Montana and McDonalds.
Again, if you've ever travelled to or studied in the region in anyway, this book (with the exception of party scenes in Beirut) is dull.
He makes compelling arguments, through anecdotes and recollections of his travels throughout Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Lebanon, etc, that these young people are precisely the hearts and minds we need to be winning. The true value of his approach lies in the fact that he doesn't view his encounters through the lens of a foreign policy expert but rather as a peer, as someone who is genuinely looking for answers, and as someone who will listen to the stories that are so often left unheard and reflect on the implications for the America, the West and the World.
It's refreshing to hear an informed perspective on how the West and the Middle East can and will co-exist, despite the many perceived differences. "Children of Jihad" is a must-read for anyone who wants to attain or update an informed opinion on the current and historical issues facing this important region.
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.
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. It makes for a fresh and novel approach, and Cohen is a truly gifted storyteller. He strikes a narrative balance between observation and empathy that feels right, and reads well. Brief historical backgrounders are included where needed for readers new to the subject.
Above all, Cohen allows himself (and the reader) to be surprised and touched by the people he meets because his encounters are rooted in mutual respect. Fluent in Arabic and Farsi, and an area scholar, he is candid about his identity as an American Jew, while remaining sensitive to the repressive political contexts in which he and his new friends must operate.
Whoever said, "Youth is wasted on the young" must not have read this book--energetic and bold, it is a highly accessible, ambitious, and clear-eyed account that I would recommend to anyone with an interest in the region. Cohen used his youth and insouciance to his remarkable advantage, and even area experts likely will be surprised by his findings.
Most recent customer reviews
The writer continuously be in shock whenever he see anti-America propaganda, which is...Read more
Should be required reading for many in our government and I'm glad he's part of it.