posted on May 22, 2018 11:51
BkRev #1831. I Was Told to Come Alone: My Journey Behind the Lines of Jihad. (2017). Souad Mekhennet. New York: Henry Hold and Company, 354 pp. $30.00. ISBN 978-7-62779-897-6.
Nova Fergueson, Office of International Services, Oregon State University, Nova.Fergueson@oregonstate.edu
As student demographics continue to shift within the landscape of higher education, it is critical that advisors regularly check their level of knowledge about emerging student populations. At a point when identity is a politicized topic, how can advisors assist students to navigate an environment that is not always welcoming or friendly of different identities? In this book, Souad Mekhennet unpacks the experience of Muslims following the events of 9/11, and provides a haunting discussion of the generational consequences when entire religious, cultural, or ethnic identities are questioned.
A journalist by training, Mekhennet skillfully navigates a world in which maintaining neutrality is a challenge. She critically examines the historical events that have contributed to the terror and human loss experienced by both the western and Arab world in recent decades. Advisors with limited knowledge about Islam will appreciate the pace in which Mekhennet presents historical information and current events. No prior knowledge of Islam or Arab politics is needed to engage with the text. Readers already informed about political complexities within the Arab world (e.g., tensions between Sunni and Shia) will find value in Mekhennet’s ability to critically and fairly examine all sides of the conflicts.
Advisors who support Muslim students within their advising caseload will benefit from the historical context and personal impact that Mekhennet provides. Readers acquire a more informed understanding of the challenges many Muslims encounter daily related to their religious and cultural identity. The author effectively portrays the daily struggle an entire population encounters when there is an assumed level of suspicion.
Central to advising is the practice of actively supporting all students regardless of identity. While advisors possess various identities of their own, personal values or beliefs must be put aside to effectively support students. Mekhennet challenges readers to suspend their own beliefs or opinions related to Islam, and instead see the human life behind the oft-sensationalized news coverage. Advisors are called to do the same—to put aside cultural stereotypes and partisan opinions and acknowledge the unique background and experiences each student brings to the table. As Mekhennet explains, “It is difficult to stand in the middle, but I believe losing the ability to listen is far more destructive” (pg. 320).
The nature of the topic may prove challenging for some readers based on personal beliefs. Though the author seeks to be objective and unbiased in her account of religious history and practices, some readers may experience tension between Mekhennet’s depiction of Islam and their own religious beliefs. In addition, much of the work Mehennet engages in as a journalist puts her in direct contact with jihadists who express strong feelings of anger toward western countries. Mekennet does an impressive job placing these sentiments of distrust and hatred within political and historical contexts to explain the root cause. Some readers, however, may find her conversations with jihadists to be unsettling and challenging to comprehend.
Advisors committed to better understanding the historical, cultural, and religious contexts that many Muslim students live within will find this book to be particularly impactful. While unsettling at times, the author successfully provides a powerful means of unpacking the complexities Muslim students encounter by nature of their cultural and religious identity.