Deborah Scroggins’ nonfiction book Wanted Women: Faith, Lies & the War on Terror: The Lives of Ayaan Hirsi Ali & Aafia Siddiqui (HarperCollins, 2012) alternates between the biographies of two women, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a former Muslim who boldly denounces the religion, and Aafia Siddiqui, an alleged terrorist working for al-Qaeda. Scroggins shows the gruesome realities of the war on terror, the complexities of secret organizations, and the global political confusion of choosing sides.
Scroggins successfully balances the life stories of both women without seeming sympathetic to either woman. The reader not only sees the extremes of both perspectives, but can also feel how these extremes affect cultures, specifically cultures in Pakistan and the Netherlands, as well as the ways in which these extremes operate within the United States and other locations around the globe.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali refugee, emigrates illegally to the Netherlands, assimilates into Dutch society and is eventually elected to Dutch parliament as an outspoken conservative who opposes all forms of Islamic religion. Scroggins emphasizes how Hirsi Ali uses literature, art and the media, combined with her political connections, to heighten anti-Islamic sentiments within the Netherlands, and to manipulate the government and the media into providing her with not only a forum to voice her opinion, but also a demand to finance her protection. Hirsi Ali receives international recognition as an outspoken politician against Islam after film-maker Theo Van Gogh, with whom she created a film, is brutally murdered on an Amsterdam street. Eventually, Hirsi Ali loses her place within Dutch parliament as well as her Dutch citizenship. She currently lives in the UK.
On the other hand, Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani from a religiously conservative family, moves to the US in order to study science, receives an undergraduate degree from MIT and a Doctorate from Brandeis University, and eventually becomes affiliated with extremist organizations for whom she tries to recruit converts and to whom she gives speeches glorifying Jihad and extremist actions. Her message consists of how the West exploits women, while conservative Islam protects them. She is eventually suspected of international terrorist activity, arrested and convicted in 2008. She is currently serving an 86-year prison sentence in the US.
Both Hirsi Ali and Siddiqui successfully use propaganda to accomplish their goals. In the case of Hirsi Ali that means gaining protection from the media and the government. But for Siddiqui her protection is in the forms of going into hiding, creating confusion about her whereabouts, and emphasizing the uncertainty in government plans. Scroggins successfully emphasizes uncertainty in the information communicated by not only individuals but also by the media. We see how much confusion war creates and how people change loyalties depending on who is influencing their survival. After reading Scroggins’ impeccably researched book, it’s easy to see why sources should be questioned and why we should ask our media to dig deeper. Reading this book allows an awareness of women’s influence on the topic of terrorism, as well as how messages that are intolerant of Islam can be manipulated by an emphasis of certain cultural practices that are found within some Islamic communities. The book shows that there aren’t concrete views about women or women’s ritualistic practices that can be found in all Islamic branches and communities. Wanted Women shows us the variables and how those practices shift depending on the community, country and government, as well as individual loyalties.
Scroggins writes, “Ayaan and Aafia both proved to be powerfully polarizing; as such, they became useful to the real drivers of conflict in their countries, whether the ISI and the Islamists in Pakistan or anti-Muslim pundits and politicians in the United States and Holland.”
While the book is suspenseful, and Scroggins succeeds in propelling the reader forward with direct and compelling prose, reading Wanted Women requires care and consideration.
Shana Thornton serves as Editor-in-Chief of Her Circle Ezine and Assistant Director of the Institute of Arts and Social Engagement. Her first novel, Multiple Exposure, reveals an intimate, ghostly portrait of the impact of war, and generations of military service, on a family. Multiple Exposure will be available for purchase on Sept. 2. Read more at http://shanathornton.wordpress.com/