September 11, 2001 marked the beginning of the United States’ War on Terror – or, more accurately, brought into focus our nation’s ongoing efforts to combat the religious and ideological other of radical Islam. It thrust mainstream Islam into a spotlight that many have used to educate and illuminate while others use it to underscore the flaws inherent in the faith (while conveniently ignoring those inherent in other faiths, but this is not an op-ed).
One particularly interesting study in these times is the role of women in the war on terror. War has traditionally been understood as man’s territory despite the historic participation of women, but in the last several years women have readily stepped up on both sides of the ideological divide to fight for what they believe is right. Female soldiers, female suicide bombers…the list goes on.
In Wanted Women, Deborah Scroggins tells the story of two of the most famous female faces of the Islam-Western struggle: Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistan-born neuroscientist who disappeared for several years after being identified as a supporter of al-Qaida; and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born activist and politician who was previously named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world and who is known for her outspoken opposition of Islam.
Not only is this dual biography a complex and intriguing picture of two equally influential women, but it is also a compelling investigation of how their personalities, upbringings and circumstances influenced their development. Would Hirsi Ali have immigrated to the Netherlands if she had not been displaced by her father’s opposition of Somali leaders? Would Siddiqui have developed the leadership to carry her devout adherence had she been born to less influential parents?
Neither Scroggins nor anyone else can claim to have those answers, but by tracing the lives of Hirsi Ali and Siddiqui she has made it possible to dig deeper than the legends built up around each and to draw some important conclusions about women in Islam, in the West, and in the War on Terror. Scroggins’ strong storytelling skills make even the most complex details of these parallel decades-long stories easier to understand.
I wholeheartedly recommend this book to everyone – women, history buffs, and those who want a better understanding of this oft-overlooked element of the conflicts in which we’ve been engaged for well over a decade.
Shannon lives in Cleveland, Ohio with her husband, son, and two cats. When she isn’t reading, getting paid to play on social media, or running her own business she enjoys playing with her baby and cooking.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Harper. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.