Wanted Women, a new joint biography of two Muslim women, refuses to distinguish between an al-Qaida terrorist and a feminist intellectual
There are occasionally some books that are so deeply unpleasant, indeed repulsive, that one feels like washing one’s hands after reading them. Dripping with unremitting bias, and utterly missing the big picture, such books leave one despairing of the moral vacuum in which they were written. Such a work is the American journalist Deborah Scroggins’ new book Wanted Women, which explicitly seeks to draw a parallel between the lives of two women she presents as “mirror images” in the war against terror: the Pakistani-born convicted Islamist terrorist Aafia Siddiqui and the Somali-born campaigner for Muslim women’s rights, Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
One understands immediately why Siddiqui might justify the term “Wanted” in the book’s title: She featured on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists list in May 2004. Yet the only way in which the word applies to Hirsi Ali is that since a fatwa was pronounced upon her after the murder of her friend, the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, the same year, Islamic fundamentalists have wanted to murder her. It is precisely this loose, facile equation of a lawful, constitutional, democratic entity such as the FBI with vicious murderers like van Gogh’s killer Mohammed Bouyeri, who beheaded the filmmaker one November morning in Amsterdam, that makes this book so thoroughly objectionable. Besides a couple of mea culpa sentences that are clearly inserted for pro forma reasons, Scroggins’ entire leitmotif drips with despicable moral equivalism. She even devotes alternate chapters to each woman throughout the book.
The author’s obvious personal aversion to Hirsi Ali makes it seem that of the two women she is profiling, Scroggins is keener to explain away the actions of the terrorist rather than the target of terrorism. Hirsi Ali, readers will recall, is a human-rights activist who fights against forced female genital mutilation, decries so-called honor killings, and highlights the way the Quran justifies the mistreatment of women. Siddiqui is a viciously anti-Semitic terrorist serving 86 years in prison for attempted murder.
Throughout the book there is the assumption that political conservatives of all stripes are unthinking bigots and that “Westerners who want to keep the Muslim world under Western rule have used Islamic attitudes towards women not so much to help free Muslim women as to justify the West’s continued domination of Muslim men.” What complete unadulterated tripe. Westerners haven’t wanted to keep the Muslim world under Western rule since the Suez Crisis of 1956, and Islamic attitudes toward women genuinely disgust Westerners, male and female, conservative and—theoretically, at least—liberal. Lastly, where are these countries where Muslim men suffer “continued domination” by Westerners? Scroggins doesn’t name a single one. If anything, given many Muslim countries’ draconian laws, it is Jews and Christians who suffer “continued domination” almost throughout the entire Middle East—a phenomenon that the Arab Spring, tragically, shows no sign of alleviating.
Writing of a speech that Hirsi Ali was set to give, Scroggins alleges that “some of the anti-gay Islamic attitudes she planned to criticize weren’t very different from those of some conservative Republicans.” Really? Show me a bill in which conservative Republicans have attempted to change the law so that homosexuals are hanged, as happened to three gay men in Iran this past September. Those innocents were only the most recent victims of that country’s blood lust against homosexuals.
In alleging that Siddiqui and Ali are, as she puts it, “mirror images of each other,” Scroggins, a former award-winning foreign correspondent for the the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, ought to be able to produce serious factual evidence to back up her case. Yet her book is replete with tell-tale words and phrases that suggest that she is simply using guesswork to fill the enormous gaps in her knowledge that lie between the sources—often mere websites, magazine articles, and other books as tendentious as her own that she cites in her footnotes. Thus we get scores of weaselly phrases such as “it’s said,” “some of her friends wondered,” “by one account,” “she is said to have been,” “probably,” “must have been,” and “reported to be.” These are not good enough to support a sustained 539-page attack on Hirsi Ali, someone whom many people—including this reviewer—see as one of the bravest and most admirable women alive today.
Several of Scroggins’ attacks are self-contradictory. Hirsi Ali’s husband, the British historian Niall Ferguson, is accused of being “tight-fisted” but also of “reputedly picking up the tab for many thousands of dollars” at a birthday party for her. Hirsi Ali is likewise accused of going into “hiding” in America, but also of being constantly self-promoting and high-profile. The author’s relentless sneering—Hirsi Ali “wails” rather than argues—very quickly palls as a literary technique.
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