Books: Children of Jihad

When I read Children of Jihad this week – and it is a quick and engrossing read – I thought of its significance primarily in making known to a wider audience the views of young people in the Middle East. A twenty-something himself, Jared Cohen found it easy (once he got into these countries to begin with, which wasn’t so easy) to find people his own age eager to talk with them.

Images in American media often focus on terrorists – or their victims. But the majority of the young people – who are also a majority of the whole population – want Americans to know that they are similar to their counterparts in the U.S. They listen to Western music, eat Western food, and wear Western clothing (to the extent that the laws of their country all it – which may mean wearing jeans under a chador).

They admire the U.S. in the abstract as a symbol of freedom, and many of them welcome Americans such as Cohen. But they hate the U.S. government, because they have been taught that it – together with the government of Israel – has caused a great deal of the hardship in their daily lives.

Like young people everywhere, those in the Middle East are more open to new ideas than the older generations. They have grown up seeing the devastation of war, and they want something better. They want an education and better job prospects, and they resent the leaders of their own countries that have failed to provide such opportunities. Through technology such as mobile phones and the internet, they are able to broaden their knowledge of the world and try to find ways to influence it.

When I read reviews of the book at amazon.com, I found some that had found the book as fascinating as I did. But others point out that there is nothing new in the book for anyone who has traveled in that region. Naturally, most of us have not (Cohen has an appetite for danger, though I also read in some reviews that he seems to exaggerate the dangers he faced), so Cohen’s book is illuminating.

When I looked for more information on the author, I found out that Jared Cohen has since served in the U.S. State Department, where Condoleezza Rice picked him to serve on the policy planning staff. All those interviews with young people in the Middle East convinced him that it was important to pinpoint ways to use technology as a tool in foreign policy. I found two articles, here and here, that give multiple examples of how Cohen has harnessed the power of 21st century technology as a catalyst for change.

Just this fall, Cohen was hired by Google.

Before, he was in public service, reaching out to the private sector. Now he’s joining the private sector to see how it can help advance public goals.

I look forward to reading more about the positive difference Jared Cohen is making in our troubled world.

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