Sunday, May 8, 2011

3 of 26: The Jihad Next Door

I'm like a turtle, slowly crawling along on my '26 books in 2011' journey. Slow and steady wins the race...right?

My third book was The Jihad Next Door: The Lackawanna Six and Rough Justice in the Age of Terror by Dina Temple-Raston. As ye faithful readers will remember, I saw Dina Temple-Raston speak at the University of St. Thomas last year, subsequently purchased her book and finally finished reading it a little over a week ago (even more timely given the May 1 Osama bin Laden announcement).

The Details
NPR counterterrorism correspondent Dina Temple Raston provides an inside look at the case of the "Lackawanna Six" - six Muslim American kids who grew up in the town of Lackawanna, N.Y., near Buffalo and traveled to Afghanistan in the spring of 2001 to attend a jihadi camp. The six young men were arrested on the first anniversary of Sept. 11, considered to be a sleeper cell of homegrown terrorists plotting the next attack.

Temple Raston traveled from Yemen to Afghanistan to Pakistan to Lackawanna in an effort to share this story, offering perspectives from the families of the young men, the FBI agents involved in the case and others with connections to the case. Throughout, she focuses on this idea of 'rough justice' following the Sept. 11 attacks and how that day forever altered the American justice system.

My Take

The Jihad Next Door serves a valuable purpose: it makes you think. Were the boys would-be terrorists? Would they have committed the next terrorist attack on American soil? Did they merely think they were strengthening their Muslim faith in a time before most Americans even knew what jihad was or who Bin Laden was? Was the American justice system - and the media for that matter - guilty of exploiting this case to make it look like a counterterrorism victory?

No matter what side you ultimately fall on, Temple Raston presents facts and details that expand your critical thinking set, opening your mind to different perspectives.

What I Liked

I liked that Temple Raston truly told a story. One of the hallmarks of a good reporter (from my perspective) is the story-telling ability. To bring the people, the facts and the events to life. From the very first pages of the prologue, "Mukhtar's Big Wedding," readers find themselves in a hotel room in Yemen, where the first of the six men was arrested.

She also does a great job of setting up the key players - Lackawanna and its roots, a look at the local Yemeni community, an understanding of life in Yemen, brief histories of key law enforcement officials and the attorneys of the accused.

What I Thought Could Have Been Better

The only thing I can think of that would have made the book easier to follow is a timeline of key events. There were a few instances where I got confused about when things took place and would've appreciated an easy reference point.

My Takeaways
As was the case with the first book I read, I read The Jihad Next Door with a slight feeling of regret that I hadn't really been paying attention when the Lackawanna case first came to light. I don't really remember watching the news and hearing about the details in real-time. Instead, here I am in 2011, getting an in-depth look at something that happened nearly 10 years ago now. It's like I'm in my own mini history class, learning about the events from the first part of this century. At least, it's an interesting journey.

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