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Chronically questioning, funny and bold, a young American writer explores the majority-Muslim lands that scare him most.
Armed only with textbook Arabic and restless curiosity, Adam Valen Levinson set out to “learn about the world 9/11 made us fear”. From a base in Abu Dhabi, he sets out to lunch in Taliban territory in Afghanistan, travels under the watchful eye of Aleppo’s secret police, risks shipwreck en route to Somalia, investigates Yazidi beliefs in a sacred cave, cliff-dives in Oman, celebrates New Year’s Eve in Tahrir Square and, at every turn, discovers a place that doesn’t match its reputation.
While politicians and the media eagerly stoke the flames of Islamophobia, Valen Levinson crosses borders with abundant humour and humanity. Seeking common ground everywhere, he finds that people who pray differently often laugh the same. And as a young man bar mitzvahed at twenty-one (instead of the usual thirteen), he slowly learns how childish it is to live by decisions and distinctions born of fear.