‘Wanted Women’ 

By KatieTuttle |    

  JANUARY 15, 2012

Harper, 539 pp., illustrated, $27.99

WANTED WOMEN:

Faith, Lies and the War on Terror: The Lives of Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Aafia Siddiqui

By Deborah Scroggins

This dual biography follows two Muslim women, both brilliant and restless, whose lives led them toward radically different places. For author Deborah Scroggins, Somali-born Dutch writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Pakistani-born, US-educated Aafia Siddiqui are “opposites, yet related.’’ Each gained fame (or infamy) for how she forged an identity and purpose in the heated conflicts between Islam and the West: one a celebrity activist, the other a FBI most-wanted terror suspect. Both, Scroggins says, were rebels, “though Ayaan rebelled against Islam while Aafia said she rebelled to serve Islam more completely.’’ While the parallels are fascinating, the book’s strength is in its clear-eyed yet sympathetic storytelling. Somehow Scroggins manages to convert a mountain of research into a fast-paced, truly gripping pair of stories.

Both women were born into families marked by political and religious activism, but their early lives differed remarkably. Aafia grew up in a secure family, a carefully raised daughter whose powerhouse mother encouraged her academic ambitions. While in college at MIT and graduate school at Brandeis, she was seen by fellow students and faculty as smart, driven, pleasant (though her insistence on inserting tenets of fundamentalist Islam into scientific papers put off some instructors, and one Jewish professor said she repeatedly tried to convert him). Off-campus, she was an organizer and speaker for radical Islamist groups, activities that frightened her first husband, a Pakistani medical student with no interest in jihad. By contrast, Ayaan’s chaotic childhood left her, she later said, a teenager who was “angry at everyone and everything.’’ Arriving in the West as a refugee, she embraced life in her adopted Netherlands. Her work as a Somali-Dutch translator thrust her into the burgeoning debate over Muslim immigration, where Ayaan’s willingness to criticize Islam – especially for its treatment of women – made her a darling, especially among American neoconservatives. While Ayaan tended to “wrap her calls for the liberation of Muslims in the banner of the Enlightenment,’’ critics complained that this line of rhetoric, particularly when it called for the closing of Muslim schools, for instance, “seemed to be turning the language of feminism and the Enlightenment inside out.’’

 

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