Questions for Eliza Griswold, author of "The Tenth Parallel"
Eliza Griswold traveled to some of the world's most dangerous places to explore the relationship between Christianity and Islam.
In journalist Eliza Griswold’s own words, “I went to the places where [Islam and Christianity] meet. I went to the fault line – the most jagged places – intentionally.” Griswold chose the 10th parallel, the line of latitude 700 miles north of the equator, where more than half of the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims live, as do 60 percent of the world’s 2 billion Christians, as a point of observation from which to report on relations between Christianity and Islam in Africa and Asia. In the course of the reporting collected in “The Tenth Parallel,” Griswold spent seven years traveling in Nigeria, the Sudan, Somalia, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines.This week I had a chance to speak with Griswold about her reporting.Skip to next paragraph
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Q: So much of what you write about in your book is the story of conflict between Christianity and Islam. And yet, as you note, in many of the places you visited there was peaceful coexistence between the two religions for centuries. Why now are we seeing this conflict?
A: For a couple of interlinked reasons that have to do largely with population growth. [The 10th parallel] is the knife edge of where the world’s populations are growing the fastest and religion is also growing the fastest. We’re seeing an increase both within Islam and Christianity [and the forms of these religions that are growing the fastest] ... tend to be the most radical and the most effervescent. And when those forms rub up against each other, that tends to cause conflict.
Q: Why is there a resurgence of fundamentalist spirit just now in both Christianity and Islam?
A: The cause is almost impossible to determine and I would say it doesn’t have one cause at all. In fact, what’s going on is that what we’re seeing is a truth that’s long been the case, which is the interlinked reality of the world’s religion. It is the world’s religion, and not the world’s weather, that links us to one another, whether we like it or not. We’re definitely seeing spikes of a more fervent kind of faith. Is there one determining factor? No, there is not. Definitely both for Christians and for Muslims there’s a heightened desire to have a closer relationship with God, one that isn’t mediated by the church and its rites or in a mosque with an imam. And it’s those direct personal experiences of God that are the underlying cause of revival on both sides.
Q: Do religions cause conflict or do they simply excuse it? Would the conflict be there anyway – and religion is just a way of drawing up sides?
A: I don’t think it’s possible to tell when a secular conflict ends and religion begins. In the religious conflicts that I saw, most of them had a secular trigger, whether it was a crop of cacao plants, water, land, oil – all of these factors had something to do with the religious conflict.
Q: Your book depicts – sometimes in devastating fashion – the impact that these religious conflicts can have on society’s most vulnerable members – often women and children. Was it hard to see this firsthand?
A: Yes. There was a Christian woman named Fakcit Alexander who lived in a Muslim town in Nigeria. The way that it works in this town is that the Christians live at the edge of the city. That’s pretty common in some of these heavily Muslim areas in North Africa. Well, the edge of the town also meant the bank of a river. With environmental degradation there were people squished on smaller and smaller pieces of land up to the edge of the river. They were using land right up to the edge of the river – basically they were using flood plains to live on. And that’s exactly what it sounds like – sometimes it floods.