Wednesday, January 13, 2010

JOHN CHUCKMAN REVIEW OF KATHY GANNON'S I IS FOR INFIDEL

Ms Gannon writes at the beginning of her book’s Acknowledgments, “This book is the culmination of eighteen years covering Afghanistan and Pakistan as a reporter.”

Well, I’m sorry, but you would never know it just from reading the main part of the book.

Here is a book by a seasoned journalist, although I’ve never read Ms Gannon’s reportage, and it is poorly written, repetitive, but most importantly, it just fails to give the reader the much-desired understanding of a complex situation.

Even more, her credentials would lead us to expect some genuine enlightenment concerning the desperate matters in Afghanistan, a sparkling narrative history of events so incompletely understood. We do learn some things here, but the quantity, quality, and the consistency are meagre at best.

Moreover, I was quite troubled to read passages of the book, which seemed to me, could well have been written by a CIA operative: their tone and the direction in which they take the reader simply do not ring true for the observations of a genuinely independent journalist, at least not a first-rate one.

Some while back, I heard Ms Gannon on CBC Radio as part of a panel of people commenting on the conflict in Afghanistan. It was because I heard her say a few striking things that I so looked forward so much to this book, her first.

But what a disappointment it proved. Ms. Gannon’s writing is so poor, something one does not expect from a seasoned journalist. She repeats herself many times in so brief a book, and there is a fair amount of padding which seems ridiculous in a book of about 160 pages.

But what I found most disappointing was the incompleteness and anecdotal nature of the story she tells. As just one example, she introduces al Qaeda well into the book with no explanation of its origins. Or for a time she is writing about the Mujahedeen, then the Northern Alliance shows up. There is an explanation of the rise of the Taleban, but in bringing in the role of Pakistan’s intelligence service (ISI), there is confusion and statements made which are never expanded upon.

She attributes motives to Osama bin Laden for which she has no basis, at least she offers readers none. One should remember that to this day, we have never been given any genuine proof of bin Laden’s role in 9/11, and requests for his extradition by the Taleban government of day were rejected because the U. S. offered no evidence, a normal part of extradition requests by any country.

She brings Pakistan’s Musharraf onto the stage briefly and gives a highly slanted view of him.

No good newspaper editor would run with a story which contained the same kind of flaws this book does.

Because there are a few passages worth reading, I do not give the book the lowest possible rating, but neither can I possibly recommend it.

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