Aukai Collins fought in some of the world's most dangerous places, but his book lacks introspection or analysis.
By THERESA HEGEL
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
"My Jihad: The True Story of an American Mujahid's Amazing Journey from Usama bin Laden's Training Camps to Counterterrorism with the FBI and CIA," by Aukai Collins (The Lyons Press, $22.95)
In "My Jihad," Aukai Collins, an American who converted to fundamentalist Islam, recollects his experiences as a mujahid fighting in Chechnya and his eventual decision to collaborate with CIA and FBI counterterrorism efforts.
Over a decade ago in a San Diego mosque, Collins learned of the concept of jihad, a form of Islamic holy war which he describes as "the highest act of faith in Islam." He became exhilarated with completing his faith by defending oppressed Muslims and becoming a shaheed, or Muslim who is martyred while fighting jihad.
Collins' quest led him to some of the world's most dangerous places. He trained in Afghanistan, lost a leg fighting in the front lines in Chechnya and spent some time in Kosovo, Albania and Pakistan.
With experiences such as these to draw on, Collins should have been able to craft an exciting and incisive book containing pertinent reflections on current world events. Unfortunately, that is not quite the case.
For the most part, "My Jihad" is poorly written and difficult to follow, and Collins is rather lacking in introspection. The book is riddled with typographical errors, and some of the information on the dust jacket is misleading at best. (These last two errors are due more to the publishing company than the author, but they still make for a jarring read.)
The dust jacket insinuates that Collins decided to work with American intelligence after he was asked to "raid a town in Kashmir that would include hostage taking and the killing of civilians." However, this event happens several years before he decides to join forces with the CIA.
Collins arrived at his decision to collaborate shortly after a jihad group with which he had once been associated prevented him from forming his own group. The way he writes, it almost sounds as though his decision were some sort of convoluted revenge plot, forged in spite and not out of humanitarian concerns.
However, Collins contends he never abandoned the principles of jihad. He was merely disillusioned by the way the Arab world handled jihad and wanted to prevent terrorists, whom he considers cowardly because they are not on the front lines, from tarnishing the reputation of true mujahedeen.
This does sound like a pretty noble pursuit, but through most of the book, it is difficult to develop any sort of connection with Collins. Despite his profession of high ideals and strong morals, Collins comes off as an immature young man, eager to join any group willing to let him play with guns and blow up stuff. If circumstances had been different, he could just as easily been a Marine or a member of some clandestine militia.
One particular statement, written about his experience in Chechnya, sheds some light on Collins' mind-set: "We even looked forward to maybe taking out a Russian or two on the way to my wedding." He's not exactly talking about fancy restaurants.
To Collins' credit, he appears to gain a bit more wisdom and perspective in later years, especially after his beloved son is born and he realizes martyring himself no longer holds as much appeal as it once did.
Perhaps the most significant contributions of "My Jihad" are Collins' insights about why America was unprepared for the events of 9/11. While he was working for our government, Collins was actually invited into Osama bin Laden's training camps, but the CIA and FBI were leery about allowing him to pursue this, and Collins contends the organizations later betrayed him.
If certain recent events had not occurred, "My Jihad" is probably a book that would have had a hard time getting published, if it were indeed ever written. However, the book, despite its flaws, does fill in some details about the perilous existence of the mujahedeen.