In 1962, Margaret Marcus left her family in New York to start a new life in Pakistan under the new name of Maryam Jameelah. She was raised in a mostly secular Jewish household, but from a very young age she took an interest in the affairs of the Arab people and their relationship with the Jewish people. At the age of approximately 15, she wrote the following regarding the newly founded state of Israel, which I found so sadly naive:
“I am convinced that the Jews and Arabs will cooperate and together create a new golden age such as occurred in medieval Spain. Under Arab protection from Christian persecution, Jews will become real Jews and their lives will once again be filled with meaning.”
Over time she became disillusioned with her secular life and felt great sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians. Eventually, she converted to Islam and moved to Pakistan to live with her adoptive father and new guardian, a well-known Muslim intellectual and promoter of Sharia law and an Islamic state. However, what seems at first to be her dream come true quickly falls apart, giving the book it’s subtitle, A Tale of Exile and Extremism.
Margaret’s story is told as a collage of her letters sent to her parents and other various correspondences (often adapted or rewritten by Baker), and includes Baker’s own interpretation of Margaret’s life. Baker relates how she came across Margaret’s letters and how she was subsequently drawn into the life of this American Jew-turned-Muslim. Throughout, Baker’s bias is very clear. She sees Margaret as being arrogant and haughty in her preaching of the evils of Western culture. However, even without Baker’s commentary I would probably have come to this conclusion myself. I find Margaret’s tone insufferable at times.
That being said, the book is extremely readable and informative. Through Margaret’s letters and Baker’s research, the reader is able to get a glimpse into the mindset behind Islamic acts of terror and see just how those extremists have come to view the Western world.
Definitely one of the best non-fiction books I’ve read in a long time.
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