Summary and book reviews of I Was Told to Come Alone by Souad Mekhennet

I Was Told to Come Alone

My Journey Behind the Lines of Jihad

by Souad Mekhennet

I Was Told to Come Alone by Souad Mekhennet
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  • Published:
    Jun 2017, 368 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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Book Summary

"I was told to come alone. I was not to carry any identification, and would have to leave my cell phone, audio recorder, watch, and purse at my hotel..."

For her whole life, Souad Mekhennet, a reporter for The Washington Post who was born and educated in Germany, has had to balance the two sides of her upbringing – Muslim and Western. She has also sought to provide a mediating voice between these cultures, which too often misunderstand each other.

In this compelling and evocative memoir, we accompany Mekhennet as she journeys behind the lines of jihad, starting in the German neighborhoods where the 9/11 plotters were radicalized and the Iraqi neighborhoods where Sunnis and Shia turned against one another, and culminating on the Turkish/Syrian border region where ISIS is a daily presence. In her travels across the Middle East and North Africa, she documents her chilling run-ins with various intelligence services and shows why the Arab Spring never lived up to its promise. She then returns to Europe, first in London, where she uncovers the identity of the notorious ISIS executioner "Jihadi John," and then in France, Belgium, and her native Germany, where terror has come to the heart of Western civilization.

Mekhennet's background has given her unique access to some of the world's most wanted men, who generally refuse to speak to Western journalists. She is not afraid to face personal danger to reach out to individuals in the inner circles of Al Qaeda, the Taliban, ISIS, and their affiliates; when she is told to come alone to an interview, she never knows what awaits at her destination.

Souad Mekhennet is an ideal guide to introduce us to the human beings behind the ominous headlines, as she shares her transformative journey with us. Hers is a story you will not soon forget.



An extensive excerpt is available at The Washington Post (link opens in a new window).

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

I was surprised at how balanced Mekhennet's opinions are throughout. While she blames Western attitudes toward — and actions in — predominantly Islamic countries as largely responsible for the rise of jihadism across the Arab world, she also criticizes Muslims who promote violence against Christians and practitioners of a different sect of Islam. Mekhennet points out that there's an essential rift between the Western understanding of the concept of democracy, and how those from other cultures might view it. Where we may see a system that guarantees protection to all (or tries to, at least), the democratic movement in Egypt or Syria seems to be more about majority rule, where the winning party uses their mandate to justify their blatant oppression of the losers - generally women and minorities.

I Was Told to Come Alone works on many levels. Mekhennet's life and experiences are fascinating in their own right, but her take on the current political and social issues facing our world is enlightening. While her condemnation of Western attitudes may alienate some readers, most will find that this book gives them much to think about and it may possibly provide new insight into the problems we face as we seek peace with the Islamic world.   (Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Full Review (748 words).

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Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews

Revealing ... Mekhennet provides an eye-opening picture.

Publishers Weekly, a Best Summer Book of 2017

Starred Review. A spellbinding fusion of history, memoir, and reportage in this enthralling account of her personal experience as a journalist and a Muslim on assignment in Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa.

Booklist

Starred Review. Compelling, insightful, and shockingly relevant, Mekhennet's chronicle is a must-read and nothing less than a revelation.

Library Journal

Starred Review. The thrilling narrative brings up critical, persuasive insights while trying to answer the questions of where terrorism comes from and why it's so difficult to eradicate.

Author Blurb Joby Warrick, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS
Souad Mekhennet dares to confront the issues head-on, often at great personal risk, and she weaves her own experiences into an unforgettable and deeply absorbing tale. If you want to truly understand the nature of the crisis facing the West in the twenty-first century, this is the place to start.

Author Blurb Jessica Stern, coauthor of ISIS: The State of Terror and author of Terror in the Name of God
I Was Told to Come Alone reads like a thriller, as Souad Mekhennet takes us on a journey into the heart of the Muslim world. Mekhennet is a Western journalist who is female and Muslim, which gives her access that few reporters can match.

Author Blurb Peter Bergen, author of United States of Jihad: Who Are America's Homegrown Terrorists and How Do We Stop Them?
Souad Mekhennet has written a fascinating memoir that functions on two levels. In the first, she is the daughter of Muslim immigrants to Germany, seeking ways to bridge these two worlds. In the second, she is an intrepid reporter investigating some of the most dangerous and important stories of recent years, and gaining unparalleled access to leading jihadist militants. Both stories are hers, and together they are truly compelling.

Author Blurb Azadeh Moaveni, author of Lipstick Jihad and Honeymoon in Tehran
If only every journalist with Souad Mekhennet's culture-straddling perspective and access would write an incisive book like this. It will haunt you, because the truth on the page is vaster than anything we're usually offered.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

A Few Outstanding Women War Correspondents

Souad Mekhennet is one of many women journalists who have entered dangerous situations to try to inform the world about conditions in a war zone. A few of the most influential and best-known, now deceased, are listed below.

Kathleen Kathleen "Kit" Coleman (1864-1915) covered the Spanish-American War for the Toronto Mail in 1898. The Ireland-born mother of two had been hired by the paper in 1890 in response to Canada's emerging "New Woman" movement, and was originally tasked with writing columns related to things that might potentially interest the paper's female readership: fashion, housekeeping, advice, etc. Coleman's outspoken writing quickly attracted a wide audience and she was given more responsibility, tackling everything from politics to...

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