BookBrowse Reviews Allah's Torch by Tracy Dahlby

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Allah's Torch

A Report from Behind the Scenes in Asia's War on Terror

by Tracy Dahlby

Allah's Torch by Tracy Dahlby
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2005, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Dec 2005, 327 pages

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A portrait of a religion under change, which can be as thoughtful and as insightful as it is sometimes irreverent.

From the book jacket: Long before September 11, 2001, terrorism's global elite was already zeroing in on Indonesia -- the world's most populous Islamic nation, where dense jungles and intricate, unpatrolled coastlines conceal almost endless hiding places. Tracy Dahlby takes us into this dangerous terrain, both before and after 9/11, interweaving the divergent perspectives of Koran-thumping preachers, hardened holy warriors, military commandos, and embattled Muslim moderates, in a first-rate reporting adventure that sheds new light on the epidemic chaos now threatening our international community.

By turns harrowing, thought-provoking, and humorous, Allah's Torch charts a fascinating course through a sprawling land unknown to most Americans where the home-bred Jemaah Islamiyah, Asia's answer to Al Qaeda, pursues its deadly ambition of pressing all of Southeast Asia under the yoke of a pure Islamic super-state.

Comment: Reviewer opinion is split on Allah's Torch; both Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews gave it the thumbs down; Kirkus stating 'regrettably, most of Dahlby's narrative takes the form of a sometimes cute, sometimes merely self-indulgent travelogue full of set-piece guerrillas out of Terry and the Pirates, strange food, mysterious rajahs, and so forth--that is at odds with and ultimately undermines the dire import of Dahlby's findings on the ground. Useful, but trying of the patience'; whereas the reviewer for Newsweek found it 'thoughtful and engaging', and concluded that 'Dahlby combines the sharp sensitivities of a political observer with an old-fashioned flair for storytelling.'

I agree with Kirkus to the extent that Dahlby's writing style is a little chirpy, and there's no arguing that he spends as much time highlighting the lighter hearted side of Indonesia and its people as he does the more sinister people and events.  However, I don't agree that this is necessarily a weakness -- I imagine that if one was already familiar with the politics of the area (which I suspect the reviewers for PW and Kirkus are) it could be seen as 'trying of the patience'. However, for the great majority of us who have little knowledge of the current political and religious situation in Indonesia (and, if we're honest, would probably have been hard pressed to find it on a map until the Tsunami hit in December 2004), the combination of travelogue and political journalism is both relevant and interesting, as it explains the current situation in Indonesia while putting a human face on the people - and if you find yourself wanting to explore the historical and cultural background Dahlby gives footnotes referencing additional sources - some of which are available online.

This review was originally published in February 2005, and has been updated for the December 2005 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.



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