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Decade of Fear: Reporting from Terrorism's Grey Zone Hardcover – September 13, 2011
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Michelle Shephard is one of the great national security reporters of our time. In this age of journalists’ embedded in their air-conditioned offices, she is a rare exception: a real reporter”—Jeremy Scahill, author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army
Michelle Shephard has delivered a wide-ranging, well-written, witty account of the war that began on 9/11 that is also a serious, knowledgeable and empathetic journey ...She takes the reader on quite a ride. My advice: Go along!”
Peter L. Bergen, author of The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict between America and Al-Qaeda and Holy War, Inc
Reading Decade of Fear is essential to understanding the post-9/11 world. ... If you care about the world you live in and can only read one book this year, this should be it.” Marina Nemat, author of Prisoner of Tehran and After Tehran
...so thrilling and terrific, I wish it wasn’t true.”
Christopher McDougall, author of Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen
Through her outstanding reporting, Michelle recounts how the war on terror’ has yet to be won and bears witness to the consequences of a decade in which justice was not blind, and the world was only viewed through the prism of fear.”
Lt. General (ret) Senator Romeo Dallaire, author of Shake Hands with the Devil and They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children
About the Author
Top Customer Reviews
(Full disclosure: I'm thanked in the acknowledgments. But I don't believe my familiarity with the book or the fact that Shephard says some nice things about me blinds me to objectivity. In this case I think familiarity with the material is a plus.)
I think one of the strengths of Shephard's book is that it gives the reader a sense of how the war against al-Qaeda is being conducted in different places around the globe, the centers of upheaval like Yemen and Guantanamo Bay that we often hear about in passing, but never really get quality reports from. It is a story of the other side of the war against al-Qaeda. There is no Iraq or Afghanistan here, no big army or lengthy embedded trips (although there is a "spy cruise), but rather this is how the war looks from the shadows, the places where the US is fighting by other means.
And I think Shephard is the right person to tell the story, a Canadian, writing for the Toronto Star (Hemingway's old paper), she brings a slightly different lens to bear on events than an American might, sort of like looking at yourself in the mirror from a different angle - you see things you never noticed before.
The book is really is a snapshot of a lost decade, one that Shephard's title suggests will ultimately be remembered as a time of fear, when people, to paraphrase Gibbon, were more concerned of their safety than they were of their liberties.
The book does what good reporting is supposed to do: it makes a complicated world understandable without dumbing it down. And that is no easy task. The fact that she does it while telling a compelling story, made all the more real through the men and women she meets, makes reading it entertaining as well as educational.
If you want to know what has been happening in the shadows over the past decade this is a book for you.
Michelle's account puts a human face on the knotty legal, ethical, and political problems the United States and its allies have grappled with as they tried to stop al-Qaeda and its supporters: torture for information, overthrowing stable governments who might align with terrorist groups, rendition, entrapment, collateral damage, and indefinite detention. There are also the less "kinetic" but no-less-knotty problems like countering radicalization online in multi-cultural societies that value free speech.
What struck me most about Michelle's account was her juxtaposition of violence and inanity. Hassan Aweys, the head of a group allied with al-Shabab in Somalia, covets Michelle's boots. Hamid Gul, the former head of Pakistan's ISI and sponsor of some of the United States' worst enemies in the region, does not know who Tony Soprano is but, upon being told, empathizes with his bifurcated psyche. The white-polo-and-khaki-wearing Abu Jandal, UBL's chief bodygaurd, is gracious to Western journalists while explaining that Bin Laden didn't target the civilians in September. "He simply hit targets, and civilians happened to be around." Kitch and karaoke permeate Guantanamo, along with euphemisms to describe poor detainee treatment.
Wisely, Michelle does not try to resolve the contradictions or unravel the knots. But she is hopeful that the Arab Spring and the death of bin Laden will take the wind out of the sails of the global jihadi movement and help the United States and its allies put the threat in perspective so they can abandon some of their worst counterterrorism tools. Me too.
I also didn't expect any book about terrorism to have humour, but it does. The gift shop at the Guantanamo Bay prison or Ms. Shephard's trip on a Spy Cruise. I caught myself laughing in places.
But Ms. Shephard also asks the hard questions about the war on terror. From this you get real insight into the decade since 9/11, and its impact around the world. Her reporting is honest, and she doesn't neatly wrap it all up at the end. The writing in this book flows, as if you are sitting across from the author at a coffee shop and she is recounting her experiences to you. You don't have to be interested in politics to enjoy this book, it's more thoughtful than that...and for aspiring journalists, read up, this is how it's done.