Wanted Women, a new joint biography of two Muslim women, refuses to distinguish between an al-Qaida terrorist and a feminist intellectual
Foreground: Ayaan Hirsi Ali in June 2007. Background: Pakistani political activists hold a portrait of Aafia Siddiqui during a protest in Quetta on Dec. 10, 2011. (Photoillustration Tablet Magazine; original photos Banaras Khan/AFP/Getty Images and Ian Waldie/Getty Images.)
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.