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My Year Inside Radical Islam: A Memoir Hardcover – February 1, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Born into a spiritually ambiguous family (his parents are nonpracticing Jews who follow the "Infinite Way"), Gartenstein-Ross grew up in the 1980s, in Ashland, Ore., a bucolic, posthippie paradise with a live-and-let-live ethic. Spiritually adrift through his teens, he discovers Islam through a classmate at Wake Forest University. Gartenstein-Ross—young and searching, like so many Americans of his socioeconomic class—quickly falls under the spell of fiercely committed Muslims. He begins working for al Harman, a radical Islamic charity that would eventually be linked to al-Qaeda, and soon starts a simultaneous process of being drawn deeper into the world of radical Islam and being repulsed by its brutal realities. Gartenstein-Ross fights an inner battle between his idealism, shaped by his socially conscious if somewhat scattered liberal upbringing, and his sense of the growing gap between his personal notion of Islam and the mounting list of rules and limitations its practice entails. This would seem compelling stuff, but throughout the story seems blunted. Even the chapters near the end that deal with Gartenstein-Ross's role as an informer for the FBI after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, lack tension and real insight into the dilemma faced by so many cut adrift in Western secular culture. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Gartenstein-Ross reveals how widening doctrinal tensions are dividing twenty-first-century expressions of Islam in this memoir of his journey into and out of the faith. Raised by freethinking Jewish parents in a world of former hippies, Gartenstein-Ross finds himself pondering ultimate questions after two brushes with death. Friendship with a progressive Shiite Muslim offers answers. Gartenstein-Ross therefore converts. But both he and his Shiite friend subsequently encounter--and then cross over--the chasm separating moderates from radical orthodoxy. Gartenstein-Ross even works for a Muslim charity diverting funds to terrorists. After eventually turning away from the group hatreds and anti-intellectualism of radical Islam, Gartenstein-Ross embraces Christianity--and becomes an FBI informant. To his great joy, he subsequently discovers that his Shiite friend has likewise turned away from radicalism and has returned to moderate Islam. For readers trying to understand Muslims on both sides of the radical-moderate divide, Gartenstein-Ross' story will be an eye-opener. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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But I know it to be true from my studies of Islam. Everything he writes about I have come across in different degrees, in different Muslims. Further, David graduated from the same high school as me but five years later, and was part of the same debate team under Mr. Treadway, leading Ashland High to debate glory for two decades. It was simply amazing (and rather eery) to read about the town I spent so much time in, as David described a radical Islamist cell there, masquerading under the guise of peace, in the midst of Lithia Park, Immigrant Lake, and the South I-5 exit. (Though I'm not sure what he means by calling Amazon a "hippie town"- the liberal bastion of Southern Oregon, famed for it's arts and world-famous Shakespearean Festival.) I know David is speaking truth because I've been to the places he talks of, and I've met people just like those he worked with.
This story is a search for spiritual enlightenment, and a commentary on the brave new world we now live in. For all those who blindly reject Muslims without understanding where they're coming from, this book is a must-read. For all those who think Islam is a religion of peace, because some Imam has once told them that name of the religion means "peace"- this book is for you. If you want to be enlightened by someone who has lived the dream and the nightmare of radical Protestant Islam, of someone who has the bravery, integrity, and the authority to speak on the subject, you have come to the write book.
Gartenstein-Ross discusses Islam and its various sects with a strong command of the viewpoints and theologies involved. For those who do not know the rich diversity that can be found in Islam, Gartenstein-Ross guides the reader nicely through these viewpoints simultaneously through the eyes of an average American as well as one who understands those views on a personal level. It is exceedingly rare to find a discussion of the Nation of Islam, Wahhabism, and Sufism that can dovetail between all of them from a first-person perspective but which gives them their due.
I thought the book interspersed the drama with humor masterfully; Gartenstein-Ross is a great story-teller. What the reviews of the book largely do not mention is that the book is a story about the conquering power of love. It is as riveting and thought-provoking a love story as I have ever had the good fortune to come across.
For example: if the Koran says homosexuality is a sin and should be punished by death, a fundamentalist Muslim accepts this without question, whereas nonbelievers with a more nuanced view (such as homosexuality is deviant from normal human behavior and should be discouraged, although not outlawed under penalty of death) reach their conclusions through personal soul-searching, reason, and argument. There is no debate, however, about what is written in the Koran.
Bit by bit Daveed's Muslim brothers at Al Haramain in Ashland, Oregon, take him further out of his comfort zone. First they tell him he can't wear shorts at the gym, then he has to grow out his beard, then he can't listen to music, and before he knows it his life is completely transformed.
Daveed's insights about radical Islam are dead-on accurate. He understands that fundamentalist Islam is THE pure form of Islam and the form to which all converts are pulled toward like gravity. The fundamentalist Islamic community is anti-Israeli, anti-American, and anti-West in general, to the point of hysteria. He also understands that making jihad on infidels is condoned by fundamentalist Islam, which explains why so few Muslims speak out against the atrocities their brothers commit.
The story doesn't end after Daveed leaves Islam. There's one account he tells of his interactions with NYU students after 9/11 that is particularly instructive of those who continue to delude themselves about the causes of radical Islamic terrorism.
The book is a short and easy read. It is written in a straightforward style. Highly recommended.
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