Review score: * out of *****
In his book War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning the war correspondent Chris Hedges describes the attractions of that greatest of human created horrors: war. War, he writes, provides its own meaning. It provides an all consuming cause that takes over the waking moments of many of those who take part. While war is horrible for many people, for some it provides a thin cause in an otherwise directionless life. This describes Aukai Collins, the author of the autobiographical book My Jihad.
In purchasing this book I hoped to gain some insight into the Jihadist mindset and to understand something of what the remnants of the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan became. The book did provide some insight, but it was an insight of little depth.
At the start of the book the author seems to be a directionless young man. He converts of Islam and after four month, still knowing little of Islam, decides that he will take part in Islam's "highest calling, Jihad" to fight for Muslims who are being oppressed. Collins meets someone through his mosque who has connections with the Jihadists in Pakistan. Soon Collins is off to Pakistan to take part in the Jihad. The only problem is that Collins is just another ignorant American, who knows little about what is going on in the rest of the world. He knows nothing about Pakistan, it history or the war in Kashmir. Collins seems to hope that he will die in the Jihadist cause and go directly to heaven.
The Pakistani intelligence service, the infamous ISI, supports a low grade border war in Kashmir against the forces of neighboring India. In doing this the ISI has historically backed several Pakistani Islamic factions. These factions have training camps in the Kashmir border regions. It is not clear that the Pakistani Islamic group that Collins hooks up with knows what to do with him, but they do have an endless need for bodies to throw into the conflict with India. So they send Collins off to the Kashmir training camps. He does little there and is denied what he claims to be his desire for a Jihadist death.
After Kashmir, Collins is then sent to a training camps in Afghanistan. The camp has a large arsenal, ranging from assault weapons to heavy machine guns and mortars. Collins gets to play with all of these, until he and another Jihadist he hooks up with irritate the leaders in the camp enough that they are forced to leave (Collins' friend goes on to a career as a kidnapper and terrorist who was implicated in the murder of the Wall Street Journal Reporter Daniel Pearl). They make it out of Afghanistan and Collins finally returns to the US (his father sends him money for a plane ticket).
Back in the United States Collins gets together with an old girl friend, who he marries a few months later, after she converts to Islam. Reading of the Russian assault on Chechnya, Collins again heads out to Jihad, leaving behind his pregnant new wife. Collins moves from group to group in Chechnya killing Russians when the opportunity arises, with much apparent pleasure (he justifies this by the fact that the Russians are killing and raping in their attempt to subdue Chechnya).
My Jihad is a poorly written book by a poorly educated man, who seems to have no insight into his life or the religion he claims to prize. Apparently at some point Collins became an agent for the FBI and CIA. But I did not follow his account to this point. I have a bookcase full of unread books and by page 87 this book and its author had lost their charm. If I had read farther I would have found out a bit more about Collins' rootless life:
Collins was the product of a difficult childhood (by which I mean, "mother killed by Samoan gang members in a drug deal gone wrong" kind of difficult), and he found himself in a variety of penal institutions throughout his youth. One Saturday morning while watching television in the California Youth Authority system he was invited to attend the Muslim chapel. "If I went to see what this was about I would miss Soul Train," he writes, "but I figured what the hell, something new always helps." He was the only white man there, but since the Aryan Brotherhood had a price on his head for not joining up with them, he was accepted. A few weeks later he converted, and four months after that, while on parole, he embarked on his jihad.
Today Collins is a bounty hunter specializing in south-of-the-border apprehensions, "a description of which," he promises, "would require at least another book."
Accidential Jihadist: one "crazy American" and his very strange book by James S. Robins, June 21, 2002, The National Review Online (Just for the record: I don't read the National Review, since I utterly despise its politics - I found this book review via Google).
According to a brief story published in the Montery County Herald on May 26, 2003:
Aukai Collins -- the U.S.-born former Islamic holy warrior, former FBI informant and author of My Jihad -- is being held in northern Mexico on weapons and illegal immigration charges after authorities found an assault-style weapon and grenades in his vehicle.
Collins is believed to have been working as a bounty hunter, seeking a fugitive from the United States when he was arrested Tuesday by state police in the northern state of Durango, according to the Mexican attorney general's office.
Charges against Collins, 29, of Phoenix, and companion Mariel Fernanda Santillan, an Argentine woman who Collins described as his girlfriend, are not related in any way to terrorism, a spokesman for the attorney general's office said Sunday.
The U.S. Embassy in Mexico did not return messages left on Sunday.
Collins and Fernanda have been charged with transporting weapons in violation of Mexico's federal firearms law and entering the country illegally, the attorney general's office said. They were being held Sunday at a state jail in the northern Mexico city of Durango.
Collins had a wife in the United States and married another woman, presumably under Islamic law, in Chechnya (with whom he had another child). He was unable to get his second wife into the United States, since the United States does not recognize Islamic polygamy. Given that Collins was running around Mexico with Ms. Santillan, I assume that he and his first wife divorced. So much for the life of a man who claims to be deeply religious.
Justice can move slowly in Mexico and apparently Collins remains in jail in Mexico at the time of this writing.
All this reinforces the fact that Collins is an unsavory character and a disturbed individual. I cannot recommend this book. It was a waste of money and worse, a waste of time. There is little enlightenment is to be found in it.
American Fighter's War in Chechnya (Aukai Collins arrested in Mexico-may get extradited to Russia) by Matt Bivens, The Moscow Times, Monday, Jul. 21, 2003
According to a blog put up in support of Aukai Collins, Mr. Collins was sentenced to 4 years in a Mexican prison, presumably on illegal weapons charges (apparently Mr. Collins was arrested with an AK-47 assault rifle and smoke grenades).
Last updated on: February 2006
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