Thursday, March 8, 2012

My take on: Wanted Women

Until a few months ago, I had never heard of Ayaan Hirsi Ali or Aafia Siddiqui, two Muslim woman juxtaposed in a biography by Deborah Scroggins. Ali, who was born in Somalia, grew to reject her Muslim upbringing as an adult. Siddiqui, who was born in Pakistan, embraced her Muslim upbringing, but from my point of view took it to the extreme. Wanted Women: Faith, Lies & The War on Terror: The Lives of Ayaan Hirsi Ali & Aafia Siddiqui delves into the lives and similarities of these women. I didn't see any concrete similarities between the two. They're both women, they were both raised as Muslims and they are both polarizing figures. But they took very, very, very different paths in their lives.

Ali came of age when Somalia was at war, leading her to seek and gain refugee status in Kenya. But living and working there was not enough, she aspired to have a new life in the Netherlands. Ali eventually became a prominent politician in Holland. How and why Ali came to live in Holland seem to be in dispute. She says she went there to escape an arranged marriage and possible death by an honor killing. Her former husband tells a different story, claiming Ali used him to gain entry into Holland. Her own family says Ali's claims weren't true. What's Ali's defense? It's not totally clear because she refused to speak with Scroggins for this book. But in several media reports, Ali gave conflicting accounts of her past. I didn't know what to believe here, but perhaps Ali's own books offer an explanation.

Ali used her political career to make several attacks against Islam. To her, Islam suppressed women's rights. She wanted women to reject Islam and embrace Western ways. She even went so far as to call the prophet Muhammad a pedophile. Everyone has the right to speak their mind, but sometimes you really have to think before you speak. Making an inflammatory claim like that is just asking for trouble. I was just stunned how she couldn't see that. Her radical views led to her needing bodyguards. Her own family distanced itself from her claims.

Siddiqui is on the other side of the spectrum. She was born in Pakistan, but college-educated in the U.S. She married and had three children. Her husband, Amjad, became a doctor. Outwardly, people might assume she was pursuing the "American" dream but that was not the case. Siddiqui embraced Islam way more than her husband wanted. She believes Jewish people are the cause for the problems of the world. She believed in violent action to bring about change. Her husband tried to play along, thinking she wasn't serious. Her views eventually tore them apart. There didn't seem to be any chance at reasoning with her. Everyone who is isn't Muslim is somehow the enemy.

After her divorce, the U.S. alleges Siddiqui was in contact with the mastermind behind 9/11, eventually marrying a relative of his. The U.S. also alleges she helped plan another attack, one that never came to fruition. I say "alleges" because based on what I've read I'm not sure what to believe. In the years following 9/11, Siddiqui was either in hiding or in a secret prison. Nobody knows for sure or they just aren't telling. She magically appeared again in 2008 after outcry from her family, the media, and Pakistani officials. It just seemed to be a little too convenient. She was captured by Pakistani officials and then tried to kill U.S. military officers, but she was the only one battered, bruised and had a gunshot wound. It just didn't add up for me.

Regardless of what I believe, Siddiqui is serving 86 years in a U.S. Federal prison. I don't agree with her views, but the circumstances that brought her to a U.S. court just seem suspect. Could she have eventually done something harmful if she wasn't in custody? Probably. I'm just not a fan of the suspect methods used here. I believe the U.S. had her in custody for years and when their hands were forced, a case was fabricated. U.S. officials probably weren't sure how to use her. She wasn't going anywhere, just admit you have her in custody and find a legal way to use her as a source of information to prevent further attacks. It's cases like this that make people hate the U.S.

The book shows very well how faith can shape who you are. It is a well-researched and interesting read. Scroggins never interviewed either woman, but still manages to paint a vivid picture of both.

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (HarperCollins) in exchange for an honest review.

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