'Children of Jihad' Author Hits at Misconceptions about Middle-East

COHEN: It depends. All young people experience some form of humiliation. You get left out, you get picked on, you don't get a job, you get in trouble at school. Young kids in the Middle East experience that, too. A lot is left to chance. What's their relationship with their family? Geographically, what mosques do they live closest too? Who do they happen to meet by chance on the street? If the stars are aligned to the kid's misfortune, he'll meet the wrong person, he won't have the family support, he'll be particularly susceptible, and he might, worst case scenario, be recruited into a violent extremist group.

There may be this vast number of unemployed young people around the Middle East if jobs aren't created, but you better believe that there's no shortage of extremist groups out there that are already thinking about their own solutions to the employment problem, that are already thinking how they can pray on soon-to-be unemployed young people, that are already sort of developing their strategies for how they can be the ones giving young people opportunities.

ABC NEWS: There were young Hizbollah members you encountered, ones that you went with to McDonald's. Were you surprised to see them out at clubs and doing things that were fairly normal?

COHEN: Of course. In "Children of Jihad," I have a chapter called The All Night Party of God, which goes over my shock at seeing these kids at clubs. I don't think that the majority of actual members of Hizbollah can be found out at clubs, but I found some in there. The same ones that told me they would never do that — they were out trying their luck on Christian girls.

ABC NEWS: You waited until you were in a McDonald's to tell your Hizbollah friends that you're Jewish. How did they take that?

COHEN: Well, it was interesting. I wasn't really sure how they would react. How would you feel if you were a Jewish kid from Connecticut and all of sudden you were about to tell Hizbollah you were Jewish? I figured no safer place to do it than McDonald's. It was interesting. I remember one of them put his hand on my shoulder and said, "We don't care that you're Jewish, we don't care you're American. We hate the American government and we hate the Israeli government, but Jewish people and American people have done nothing to us." And then one of them went as far as to say, we don't really have Jewish people in Lebanon, but if we did we might even be friends with them, you know, as long as they weren't Zionists. That was kind of a shock to me that they distinguish between the governments, people and religion.

ABC NEWS: There was another intersection of your identity with your travel when you stumbled upon the Jewish community in Iran. How was that community doing?

COHEN: I was actually really surprised. The Jewish community in Iran is about 25,000. And it's a very Orthodox community. What's interesting is, you go into the synagogues and you have women wearing hejabs because it's still Iran. You walk into the synagogue, and you still felt like you were in a Muslim country. So that was interesting.

People said that I was crazy for going to synagogue in Iran. There's nothing uncomfortable about doing that. There's nothing uncomfortable about looking for the Jewish community in Iran. The Iranian Constitution actually mandates that at least one member of the parliament is actually Jewish, so there's actually a Jewish representative in the Iranian government, by law.

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