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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
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2005, 320 pages
    Dec 2005, 327 pages

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Samuli (04/25/08)

A layman's journey into... well, Indonesia
Allah's Torch makes for a pleasant, leisurely reading but is seriously undermined by the numerous, glaring factual errors (many of which concern Dahlby's interpretation of the history of Banda islands, for example: Benteng Revenge was not built by the Dutch, but rather the British; Run was never the most nutmeg-rich of the islands, quite on the contrary). Furthermore, the author insists on using a variety of terms in Indonesian language -and is lucky to get it right a few times.

More worryingly, though, the dialogues seem to be manufactured posthumously, thus bringing the authenticity of the events under scrutiny. Why do I say that? Well, take Dahlby's conversations with the venerable "Norman" as an example. This Javanese man talks as if he had been born and raised in New York, rather than the heartlands of Java. The same goes for all the characters, who, we are told, engage in discussions that no Indonesian ever would, as far as the stylistic nuances are concerned. Later in the book, Norman has a discussion with an alleged leader of radical Muslims again; the dialogue is nothing like an actual dialogue between 2 Indonesians. Those with understanding of the culture will know what I'm talking about.

Which brings me to my next point, which is the target-audience for this book. Obviously written with casual readers in mind, I guess some of the minor errors can be forgiven. However, the author is obviously partial to wildly exaggerating the danger of the situations he puts himself in. Contrary to the picture given, Indonesia in 2003 (or in 1999/2000, for that matter) was no Afghanistan c.2003; working as a journalist in Jakarta and Yogyakarta, with Bali thrown in for good measure, doesn't exactly equal to running the scoop from Sadr City. Describing the hostile glances thrown towards his general direction by skinny men in goatees gets a bit old towards the end.

All in all, while a good read to while away a couple of hour's flight or equivalent, don't buy it expecting a serious study of the subject matter.
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