Review: Wanted Women by Deborah Scroggins
Title: Wanted Women: Faith, Lies & The War on Terror: The Lives of Ayaan Hirsi Ali & Aafia Siddiqui
Author: Scroggins, Deborah
Length: 560 pages
Genre: Non-Fiction, Politics, Religion
Publisher / Year: Harper / 2012
Source: From the publisher for review.
Why I Read It: I was intrigued by the combination of women.
Date Read: 30/12/11
Most of us have heard at least something about Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Aafia Siddiqui and one or the other (or both) is likely to generate strong reactions in anyone who hears their names. Ali was born in Somalia and immigrated to the Netherlands, becoming a fierce critic of Islam. Aafia Siddiqui was born in Pakistan, studied in the United States of America for many years, and became a wanted terrorist. Both have their loyal followers as well as their ardent haters. Both have led controversial lives and their stories are both full of inconsistencies and half-truths.
In this book Scroggins tells the stories of both women, alternating between the two through time. Throughout she highlights the inconsistencies in the stories of both women, showing that they both belong to extremes. Many in the West adore Ali, many in Pakistan and the Middle East adore Siddiqui. Both women have compelling stories and can claim the status of victim in some ways and both have managed to tell their stories in a way that ensures they come across as heroines, at least to some. Both have also managed to completely polarize the debate in their own way, completely ignoring and bypassing any middle ground – and there is a lot of it if we only ignore the extremes.
I was nervous going in that the book would lean toward one side or the other heavily and be prejudiced against the other side. Given that Scroggins is an American author I was of course more concerned that she would fully endorse Ali while demonizing Siddiqui. I was incredibly happy to see that this was not the case and that she managed to portray both sides humanely and evenly. The author highlights stereotypes and prejudices that are held in various parts of the world and the ways that these play into our beliefs and actions.
Ali’s story was most familiar to me as I had read two works by her previously. Both of them resonated with me when I first read them but I do wonder, as with many books I read years ago, how they would sit with me now. One thing that Scroggins kept highlighting was the way in which Western academics, pundits and feminists eagerly embraced her, often saying things along the lines of how they were happy to see someone from that background admitting the things they always though. This really struck me and I think that a lot can be taken from these simple statements. We are so ready to believe anyone who confirms our suspicions, often without much research to back up those facts. Rather than a nuanced view, we eagerly embrace things that are often untrue. The implications are enormous and I know this is what I will stick with me most from this book.
My biggest issue with the book was the way it was framed in the introduction. The author talks about why she chose to write about these two women and why, and in doing so she says that she found their stories so similar in many ways and so found it interesting that they ended up on such opposite extremes later in life. In reading their life stories though, and from what little I had known about them both before, there are few similarities beside the fact that they are both non-Western females raised in semi-practising Muslim families. This comparison of the two and claiming of ‘similarities’ prejudiced me against the book and the author to a large degree and made me incredibly wary reading it. In the end, however, as I reached the end and the closing thoughts, I had to agree that the two stories work well together in highlighting many issues – though comparing the two isn’t as easy as the author might say.
In total the book was interesting especially in examining the polarization we are facing today in the media and in the world. The way we latch on to what seems right or familiar rather than looking for the truth in any situation is telling and is problematic. While the book wasn’t perfect, and I can’t speak to some of the facts behind it, it was definitely an interesting read.