Johnny Jihad is a provocative and thoughtful look at the al Qaeda terrorist movement and role of American foreign policy in Middle Eastern politics. With crisp black and white illustrations Ryan Inzama tells the story of how a boy from New Jersey ends up in Afghanistan in September 2001.
Johnny is one of America’s disaffected youth. His grades are mediocre at best. He is bored with his life, but has no sense that there is a better future that he can attain. By chance he meets Salim at work. Through Salim he discovers a new sense of purpose and structure in Islam. Salim introduces him to Islam as a religious political movement, and Johnny embraces the radical politics. He soon takes Johnny to a training camp in up state New York where Johnny easily falls into the pattern of learning how to be a terrorist. Target practice, making bombs, and covert operations are all outlined in a “Training Manual for Jihad” which is as much a canon text in the camp as the Quran. It isn’t until Johnny actually commits an act of terrorism that he begins to question this lifestyle, but by that point it is too late and he winds up in Afghanistan as an unwilling mole for the CIA. His time in Afghanistan cements his disillusionment with both the America he grew up in, and with the Islamic movement that he embraced.
This is a book for mature teens. It deals explicitly with violence and with the tragedy of 9/11. I think that it would be a fascinating book to use in a high school classroom as a starting point for a discussion about the intersection of religion and violence, the tensions in the Middle East, and the ways in which American foreign policies have contributed to the increasing violence against America and Americans. Librarians should be aware that the book presents points of view which could be controversial regarding the causes of 9/11.
By Ryan Inzana
NBM Publishing 2003