I Was Told to Come Alone by Souad Mekhennet

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I Was Told to Come Alone Summary

In I Was Told to Come Alone, Souad Mekhennet details her life from her birth in Frankfurt to her work as a reporter in 2016.

The book opens with her preparing for a meeting with an ISIS leader, Abu Yusaf. The author worries over whether it's safe to meet at night and alone with an ISIS leader, especially after she received kidnap and forced marriage threats in the past. However, she recognizes the journalistic value of a Western reporter meeting with an ISIS commander—so she chooses to attend. She debates Yusaf about the merits of Western society and her place in it. Mekhennet is known as a liberal and has experienced issues as a Muslim woman trying to make a career in Western journalism. 

After describing the meeting, Mekhennet returns to her childhood. Her parents were Muslim immigrants in Frankfurt, Germany. She describes historical events from her life, including the abdication of the shah in Iran in 1979. Mekhennet discusses her family, their background, and their perspectives. Each of these contributes to how she sees the world. She also explains how she felt about the rise of anti-Islamic sentiment in Germany. Mekhennet writes, "I told my parents we had to leave Germany. I begged them, 'First they burned the Jews, and now they'll burn us.'"

Mekhennet gets increasingly involved in politics and the news. She's told to stay out of these spheres but chooses to push forward despite opposition. At age sixteen, she had her first internship at a newspaper. Later, she becomes deeply embedded into her career in journalism. Unfortunately, it's not the safest life for Mekhennet. Both her interview subjects and foreign intelligence services pose some risk to her. She writes:

I told my editors at the Times that I felt some intelligence services posed a greater threat to my safety than the jihadists did. A few months later, I met an American intelligence operative at a conference in an Arab country. I got the feeling that he knew more about me than I did about him. After we’d talked a few times, I asked if he knew anything about what had happened in Algeria.

"Look, there was a time when people had questions about you," he told me. "You had access to people who were on most-wanted lists and people wondered if you were a sympathizer. We later understood that you were doing it because you believed in journalism, but people wondered before, what’s behind her drive to reach all these guys?" He confirmed that my family background and religion had led some to question my motives.

Mekhennet is often subject to suspicion from both Muslim and non-Muslim people. 

She traces her own journey aside that of the rise of ISIS and anti-Western sentiment. I Was Told to Come Alone  discusses the radicalization of the September 11th terrorists, the way people in Iraq began to fight based on whether they were Sunni or Shia, and how ISIS came to exist. She discusses the ways that young people can be radicalized and what circumstances make it easier for recruiters to convince...

(The entire section is 767 words.)