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Wanted Women

What the West can learn from two fiercely intelligent Muslim women who took opposing paths in life.

By Lee E. Cart / January 30, 2012

Wanted Women By Deborah Scroggins HarperCollins 539 pp.

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How do two women – both in their 30s, highly intelligent, and raised as Muslims – develop radically different ideas about militant Islam and its treatment of women?

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This was the question journalist Deborah Scroggins set out to answer in Wanted Women, her six-year investigation into the lives of Pakistani neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui and Dutch-Somali politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali. In “Wanted Women,” Scroggins (who is also the author of the award-winning 2002 “Emma’s War,” about a British relief worker who married a Sudanese warlord), covers events from before the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 up through the terrorist attacks on 9/11 and on to the present. She provides readers with a behind-the-scenes look at the war on terror as seen through the lives of two women who played prominent yet deeply contrasting roles in that war.

Scroggins’s exploration began after reading the headlines about the beheading of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh. Van Gogh’s murder was directly linked to a controversial film, “Submission,” which portrayed fictional Muslim women discussing the “rapes, beatings, and incest they have suffered at the hands of Muslim men.” Van Gogh had directed the movie and Hirsi Ali had written it.

Scroggins was already on assignment to investigate the mysterious and brilliant Siddiqui for possible connections to Al Qaeda. Scroggins couldn’t help noticing a “weird symmetry” to the lives of Siddiqui and Hirsi Ali. “They were opposites, yet related,” Scroggins writes. “Like the bikini and the burka....”

Written in alternating chapters (a device that disrupts the continuous flow of each woman’s personal story), Scroggins examines the public and private lives of Hirsi Ali and Siddiqui from birth to near present-day. Although both women grew up in Islamic households, their lives took vastly different routes. Siddiqui was raised “to be a hero of Islam” and did not fail in her promises. Her parents sent her to the United States to receive a doctorate in neuroscience so she might become a “true mujahida” – an educated Muslim woman, following the “model of the Prophet Mohammad’s wives.”

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