Author: Jürgen Todenhöfer
Title: Inside IS – 10 Tage im „Islamischen Staat“ [Inside IS – Ten Days Within The „Islamic State“]
Length: a few weeks
Type: war reporting
Down with the idiots
[Note: This book has been very successful in Germany upon its release in the spring of 2015. But there doesn’t seem to be an English edition out yet.]
The story: JT is a German journalist with a background in politics and law who takes a strong interest in the Muslim world, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the winter of 2014/2015, he decides to contact members of the so-called „Islamic State“ (IS) in Syria in order to do some on-the-ground reporting. It takes a while for him to establish a basic level of trust, but he eventually receives an official invitation by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the head of the organization. He travels to Turkey with his son, and they get taken across the border to Syria. They spend several days there, carrying out interviews and learning about the lives of the ordinary people. [Spoiler Alert:] They make it home safely. This book came out a few months after all this.
why talk about this book?
This is obviously not a travel book in the original sense. But then I have also included authors like Henry Kissinger and Favell Lee Mortimer on this blog before. And while large parts of JT’s book are made up of interviews and political/cultural commentary, there is actually some traveling going on, too: He shares his doubts and concerns before departing from Germany to Turkey (he provides himself with a dose of poison intended for suicide in case IS should want to kill him), and he vividly describes the border crossings into Syria and back. He also shares some of his observations of every day life within the so-called „Islamic State“, making it a relevant piece of journalism.
Jürgen Todenhöfer has a message
I’m glad to have read this book. There is so much talk going on about IS these days, so it felt good to have access to a first-hand account of what might be going on on the ground. Some of the interviews are real eye-openers when it comes to the hybris and idiocy of the members of IS. You have to applaud JT’s bravery for even going there in the first place. His writing is a bit dry at times, but the parts where he is talking about his „travel“ experience are fast-paced and interesting to read. But make no mistake: JT is clearly a man with a message: he sees the emergence of IS mainly as a failure of American/UN politics in the Middle East, and he makes a strong point in distinguishing between regular Muslims and the terrorists of IS.
You can choose to agree or disagree with JD’s opinions, but this is still a valuable book to read. That being said, it ows most of its value to its relevance – as soon as IS becomes a less powerful factor in the Middle East, this book will probably feel a bit outdated.