In early 1986 Kathy Gannon sold pretty much everything she owned (which wasn't much) to pursue her dream of becoming a foreign correspondent. She had the world to choose from: she chose Afghanistan. She went to witness the final humiliation of a superpower in terminal decline as the Soviet Union was defeated by the mujahedeen. What she didn't know then was that Afghanistan would remain her focus for the next eighteen years. Gannon, uniquely among Western journalists, witnessed Afghanistan's tragic opera: the final collapse of communism followed by bitterly feuding warlords being driven from power by an Islamicist organization called the Taliban; the subsequent arrival of Arabs and exiles, among them Osama bin Laden; and the transformation of the country into the staging post for a global jihad.
Gannon observed something else as well: the terrible, unforeseen consequences of Western intervention, the ongoing suffering of ordinary Afghans, and the ability of the most corrupt and depraved of the warlords to reinvent and reinsert themselves into successive governments. I is for Infidel is the story of a country told by a writer with a uniquely intimate knowledge of its people and recent history. It will transform readers' understanding of Afghanistan, and inspire awe at the resilience of its people in the face of the monstrous warmongers we have to some extent created there.
Drawing upon Gannon's years of experience as an AP correspondent in Afghanistan, this contemporary history of the country is strongest when it focuses on the ins and outs of reporting. Particularly compelling is her account of being the only Western journalist allowed into Kabul after 9/11. Less gripping, but still sound, is her "big picture" overview of the Taliban regime, from its origins as a humble vigilante force assembled to stop post-Soviet corruption to its eventual overthrow in 2001. Gannon takes the United Nations to task for refusing to confront the Taliban on women's rights, thereby abetting its repressive edicts, and argues that Osama bin Laden orchestrated the destruction of Afghanistan's ancient Buddhist temples in order to turn the country into a safe zone for himself. But Gannon also has little respect for the current mujahedeen leaders, underlining their reputation as "mass murderers" while noting their possible links to bin Laden. Some readers might wish that Gannon had tied together the various strands of her analysis more neatly, but her firsthand knowledge of the region ultimately gives her interpretation of its recent history strong legitimacy.