New Travel Book: ‘Children of Jihad

Travel Blog  •  Julia Ross  •  11.27.07 | 12:14 PM ET


Full title: “Children of Jihad: A Young American’s Travels Among the Youth of the Middle East”

Author: Jared Cohen, U.S. State Department policy planner and 25-year-old second-time author

Released: Oct. 25, 2007

Travel genre: Travel memoir, cultural commentary

Territory covered: Internet cafes and house parties from Beirut to Tehran

Promo copy: “Written with candor and featuring dozens of eye-opening photographs, Cohen’s account begins in Lebanon, where he interviews Hezbollah members at, of all places, a McDonald’s. In Iran, he defies government threats and sneaks into underground parties, where bootleg liquor, Western music, and the Internet are all easy to access. His risky itinerary also takes him to a Palestinian refugee camp in southern Lebanon, borderlands in Syria, the insurgency hotbed of Mosul, and other frontline locales. At each turn, he observes a culture at an uncanny crossroads: Bedouin shepherds with satellite dishes to provide Western TV shows, young women wearing garish makeup despite religious mandates, teenagers sending secret text messages and arranging illicit trysts. Gripping and daring, Children of Jihad shows us the future through the eyes of those who are shaping it.”

Critical verdict, Zagat-style: “In this engrossing book, Cohen artfully combines his natural confidence and flare as a writer to produce a revealing look at the youth of Iran, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and Iraq ... Riveting, from start to finish.” (Kirkus) “Rather than globetrotting for pleasure like many post-collegiate backpackers, Cohen charms his way through Middle Eastern countries typically thought of as unfriendly to the West ... [his] accounts are sharp and his intentions admirable.” (Publisher’s Weekly)

Praise from pundits: “This young gutsy writer knows that the East-West struggle is being fought over the cafe tables of the Near and Middle East.” (Chris Matthews, MSNBC) “There are breathtaking descriptions of flirting with danger and fascinating dialogues that provide deep insights into the politics and sociology of four key countries in the Middle East.” (Frank Carlucci, Former U.S. Secretary of Defense)

Choice author quote: “You meet these young kids and you party with them, and they know the world has misperceptions of what they’re like. Every single young person is reachable. Ask them what dating is like in their country, ask them if they have a girlfriend, ask them what their type is. There’s nobody who’s too conservative to talk about that.” (The New Yorker)

Find it: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, publisher

Julia Ross is a Washington, DC-based writer and frequent contributor to World Hum. She has lived in China and Taiwan, where she was a Fulbright scholar and Mandarin student. Her writing has appeared in the Washington Post, Time, Christian Science Monitor, Plenty and other publications. Her essay, Six Degrees of Vietnam, was shortlisted for "The Best American Travel Writing 2009."

3 Comments for New Travel Book: ‘Children of Jihad

j n 12.12.07 | 3:06 AM ET

Haven’t read it but I wonder how forthcoming he was with his Jewishness.  Anyone know, did it have any bearing on the story?  Or did the lack thereof?

NDB07 01.16.08 | 1:26 PM ET

He was interviewed on the Colbert report and talked to the youth about other things such as their hopes and dreams, and after connecting with them on a personal level told them he was Jewish.

Mariana 11.19.08 | 3:25 AM ET

We met Mr. Cohen while he was “researching” in Beirut for this book. His research methods essentially consisted of drunkenly asking my friends to distribute biased surveys on his behalf in tourist-populated parts of Beirut (“help me and I’ll hook you up with a green card”). He claims to speak Arabic but his language skills are beneath elementary. No one trusted him; therefore, no one honestly spoke with him. Though an undeniably talented and a well-connected child of the East Coast elite, Cohen remains ignorant on issues pertaining to the Arab world. I’d read everything with a Titanic-sized grain of salt, as his research methods were dubious at best. That is to say, he’s a seasoned bullshitter.

I should also add that I have met innumerable Americans in Beirut (students, journalists, researchers, humanitarian workers, tourists) and all of them, with the sole exception of Jared Cohen, have impressed me with their sincere desire to understand our often villified population and often-convoluted sociopolitical landscape. Mr. Cohen quickly earned a reputation in Beirut for his arrogance, racism, and sexism. It’s shocking, and somewhat hilarious, to us that he’s deemed an “expert” on Middle Eastern youth; Mr. Cohen spend his summer of “research” in Lebanon partying, fighting with locals over girls, living in a remote penthouse owned by a high-level UN official, and shamelessly begging Arabic speakers to do the work on his behalf.

We Lebanese would love to foster dialogue with Americans—just send someone moderately honest and respectable next time around.

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