In an era where politicians and people are fond of shouting fake news every time something comes up that does not fit their agenda, this book is a powerful reminder of the commitment of journalists the world over who dedicate their lives to finding and disseminating the truth, in some cases at great personal risk.
This book is not an easy read by any stretch of the imagination. When Ms Mekhennet described what it was like to grow up in Germany as a little Muslim girl with darker colouring than the rest of her classmates, I had to put the book down because I needed time to process what I had read.
“..the teachers included a mean-spirited woman who would read us fairytales. “You see, all the nice princesses are blond, and all the bad people are dark-haired”, she’d tell me.”
Ms Mekhennet’s background as a second generation immigrant born to Muslim parents in Germany put her in a unique position to understand the mindset and motivations of jihadists radicalised in Europe. She describes her terror as a 14-year-old watching news reports when right-wing gangs set fire to the homes of two Turkish families in Molln (Western Germany), killing a grandmother and two little girls, which only escalated the following year when two skinheads chased her and her little brother shouting “We will kill you. We will take you to the gas chambers!”
My daughter is 14 so it is easy for me to imagine how traumatising such events would have been for an adolescent, and in Souad’s case the situation was exacerbated by the fact she felt she never quite fit in. As she explains in the book she was not Turkish enough, or Moroccan enough, or German enough. That is a difficult situation for anyone to deal with, let alone a teenager.
Instead of giving up, or channeling her feelings into alienation or hatred, Souad Mekhennet found strength in the love of her family and the support of the many good German people who had befriended and helped her, to overcome these challenges and turn these negative emotions into a determination to seek out the truth.
However it is clear that these experiences gave her an empathy and an understanding of the vulnerability of those who are recruited by the dark forces of terrorism, and they form the background to her career as a journalist seeking the truth about Al Qaeda, ISIS, the Taliban and most especially about young immigrants in Europe radicalised and recruited as terrorists.
“I sometimes wonder what would have happened if an Islamic State recruiter had found me in those dark moments. I’m not sure how I would have responded, or whether I would have been strong enough to resist.”
As a Muslim journalist she had unique access to men who would never agree to talk to a Western journalist. This access was not without its risks. There were times when as a woman I wondered at her bravery. The title of the book says it all – I Was Told to Come Alone. Words that would send a shiver down any woman’s spine.
The book recounts the story of how she broke the news of Khaled el-Masri who was allegedly kidnapped by the CIA in Germany, flown to Afghanistan and tortured for several months.
It goes on to describe her investigation into the identity of “Jihadi John”, ultimately identifying him as Mohammed Emwazi, a west-Londoner who was born in Kuwait.
Throughout the book Souad Mekhennet endeavours to shed light on the issues that are creating the global scourge of terrorism, and how terrorist recruiters manipulate the insecurities and unhappiness of migrants to radicalise them. Eradicating inequalities in Europe and ensuring that all citizens have access to education and good work opportunities are key to ensuring integration of these migrants. It is often desperation that leads them to terror, and the only way to stop this happening is to eradicate the desperation itself.
In conclusion I strongly recommend this book. It is a must read for anyone who wants a fair and balanced overview of the different forces at play in the rise of the jihadists.
The first step to finding a solution is to understand the problem.
I have now ordered the first book written by Souad Mekhennet in collaboration with Nicholas Kulish. It is called The Eternal Nazi and recounts the story of Aribert Heim, who was a concentration camp doctor who evaded justice by hiding in Cairo, becoming the most wanted Nazi war criminal in the world. It promises to be another riveting read and I look forward to reading it and reviewing it on SmellingFreedom.com soon.
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