I learned so much about the middle east reading this book ...I was so glad the author gave some background on each region that he travelled to. Even though his travels were dangerous in certain areas, I am so glad to read of his journey. Incredibly inspiring and hopeful. I think any American that is pessimistic about the middle east and it's conflicts and violence should read this book. There is hope in the young people there! They are the ones that can bring peace, it seems like. What it all boils down to is that we are all human, with feelings and dignity and aspirations for life.
If you believe that Muslims and Arabs hate democracy and freedom and that is the reason they want to kill us, then pick up this book. It should enlighten you.
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.
Jared's ability to connect with people from such diverse backgrounds is incredible. His courage to go into dangerous places, connect with strangers, and risk his own safety is astonishing- every American should be required to read this book to garner a perspective of the Middle East that is not portrayed by our mainstream media.
I expected Jared Cohen's "Children of Jihad" to read either like a travel journal (author in foreign land feels foreign, learns Lessons), or a collection of Friedman-style essays/episodic dispatches from the Arab street.
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.
In "Children of Jihad," Cohen weaves together an honest and insightful thread of stories about his travels and life in the Middle East. But unlike many experts on the Middle East who have come before, who tend to focus on the charismatic and/or infamous leaders typically associated with the governments of the Middle East, Cohen looks to the future, to the demographic bulge of young people who will both inheret and dominate the political and cultural landscape in the Middle East.
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.
The book starts out with the oft-familiar and now-trite language of having traveled abroad and having been "changed" by it all. Okay, fair enough--I figured I'd indulge him before he gets to the meat.
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.