‘My Friend the Fanatic’ Provides Insight Into Radical Islam

January 13, 2013

‘My Friend the Fanatic: Travels with a Radical Islamist’. If the name of this audio book alone isn’t enough to pique your interest then perhaps the subject matter will do the trick. Author Sadanand Dhume is an Indian man with an Ivy League education (he attended Princeton). Oh, and he’s also an atheist. And yet, he took it upon himself to travel to Indonesia, a largely Muslim country in which radical Islam is on the rise, to determine why a nation that was largely tolerant and inclusive just a generation ago seems to be undergoing a rapid shift in the other direction. To make this journey even more bizarre, he brought along a friend, Herry Nurdi, who just happens to be enamored of the ideals of radical Islam. To call them an odd couple wouldn’t even begin to describe it. And yet, Dhume delivers a narrative that is thoughtful, engaging, and ultimately a story about how divisive the subject of religion can be, especially when it wears the face of a friend.

For those that don’t understand the cultural and political landscape of Indonesia, this audio book will provide an eye-opening introduction to a nation that is little known in the west despite the fact that it plays a pivotal role in world affairs. This is largely due to its geographic position, which puts it squarely between the superpowers of the Middle East and Asia. Dhume offers a sweeping overview of the pros and cons of this position as globalization brings even small countries into the fray of worldwide economic and political issues. But the main bent of his unique travelogue focuses on the minutiae of visiting various locales in the country on his trip, from schools to temples to night clubs. And everywhere he goes he attempts to look deep into the heart of the country and the people who inhabit it, gauging the effect that the country’s recent upheaval and the resultant growth of radical Islamic groups have had.

Of course, he is tempered at every step by his friendship with young Herry, who just happens to believe in the old-school tenets of Sharia, which force women to cover their bodies and train children to be true believers, amongst other things. And it is Dhume’s open-minded stance towards discovery, despite his claim to have “little sympathy for organized religion” that lends this narrative a truly enlightening and exploratory tone that makes it one of the most digestible modern works on the subject of radical Islam.

This is not to say that he glosses over any uncomfortable subjects. He addresses everything from the rote education system to terrorist bombings, while also touching on the valuable social services offered by Islamic organizations in the country. But his main goal is to discuss why and how the shift towards radical Islam is occurring in this once-tolerant nation, as well as to highlight the disturbing nature of the educational process, which is breeding a new generation of closed-minded and unimaginative pupils to believe that their way is the only way. In short, Dhume addresses the fact that radical Islam is changing the face of Indonesia, and likely for the worse. So if you’re looking for cheap airfare and accommodations for travel, you might want to reconsider your upcoming trip to Indonesia.

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