Carol Platt Liebau: The convert.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The convert.

I am interested in religion in public life, and so I was pleased to come across the ReligionWriter website, which is, as far as I can see, filled with decent pieces on religion and journalism. It's not the equal of the incredibly good GetReligion, but for a one-woman show, it's worth a read. It's that woman who is the truly interesting bit: Andrea Useem has an impressive portfolio of mostly freelance religion-journalism -- and she is a convert to Islam. As her biography explains it:

After reporting first-hand on the 1998 embassy bombing in Nairobi, Andrea became intrigued by Islam, a religion she knew little about. She studied informally with Muslim leaders in Kenya, Egypt and Sudan, and what started as a journalistic interest gradually became a personal conviction. Just before leaving Africa for good in the fall of 1999, she formally embraced Islam while in Zimbabwe.

This is, to put it kindly, strange. And this is not to pick on Andrea Useem -- her story pales beside the bizarre journey of Yvonne Ridley, who converted to Islam after a fairly awful experience at the hands of the Taliban. These women are not alone: since the present campaign of Islamist terror began -- dated from 1979 or 1998, depending upon whom you ask -- there has been heightened interest in Islam, and consequently, a growing cadre of persons who convert to Islam. This is wholly counterintuitive from a moral standpoint: having come to examine a faith as a consequence of that faith's bloody commandments -- in Islam's case, the doctrine of jihad -- the embrace of that faith can only take place as a result of moral abdication. The convert must either assent to the commandment, or willfully ignore it. Whatever is done, the initial act of terror, slaughter, murder, etc., thus wins -- not only are unbelievers killed, converts are made. In this light, we must ask: is violence truly the most effective proselytization of all?


Blogger Chepe Noyon said...

Your article assumes that it was the violence that led to the conversion. I find this assumption doubtful and I see no evidence in support of it in your article. It appears that you are making a standard post hoc, propter hoc error.

I further suspect that your assumption is predicated upon a misunderstanding of the heterogeneity of Islamic beliefs. It is rather like a Muslim claiming that all Christians are polygamists because Mormonism accepts polygamy. Perhaps you are unaware of the nonviolent component of Islam, exemplified by the many condemnations of the 9/11 attacks issued by Islamic religious leaders.

9:01 AM  
Blogger Joshua Trevino said...

Nothing whatsoever is assumed. Ms Useem explicitly states that acts of violence -- jihadist terror -- led her to investigate Islam. (The same is broadly true of Ms Ridley.) Furthermore, if you look into her public activities, you will find that she converted to ordinary, orthodox Sunni Islam: which itself contains and endorses a doctrine of violent jihad. (As do most Islamic sects, to some degree.)

Having traveled in Muslim communities in Africa, Europe, and the Middle East, I am quite aware of "the nonviolent component of Islam." I am also aware that this component is of no value whatsoever when its violent component remains in effect.

2:01 PM  
Blogger Chepe Noyon said...

Your leap from "investigate" to "convert" is a non-sequitur. The two are entirely different concepts. And your suggestion that orthodox Sunni Islam is intrinsically violent is absurd. One could just as easily argue that orthodox Christianity is violent. The historical truth is that orthodox Sunni Islam has been with us for more than a thousand years and during that time has demonstrated no greater proclivity towards violence than orthodox Christianity.

3:04 PM  
Blogger Dr.D said...

Chepe, you clearly don't know much about Christianity or you would know that Mormons are not Christians. That is why this is such a problem for Mitt Romney right now.

The phenomenon of any thinking person converting to Islam is strange to me. The only appeal that I can see is in the discipline, but if they were more familiar Christianity, they would know that the same demands for discipline are there as well, just without the brutal enforcements of Islam.

3:14 PM  
Blogger Joshua Trevino said...

It's not ignorance per se that's bothersome, but relentless, aggressive ignorance.

4:45 PM  
Blogger Marshall Art said...

Whenever I hear of someone trying to claim that orthodox Christianity compares to Islam for violent motivations, it's a sure sign that the speaker has no real knowledge of Christianity. The comparison is foolish and completely innaccurate.

10:14 PM  
Blogger Chepe Noyon said...

I read two accusations that I don't know anything about Christianity. First, Dr.D writes that Mormons are Christians. I'm sure that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints would disagree.

He also writes "The phenomenon of any thinking person converting to Islam is strange to me."

Yes, I can agree with that; of course, the phenomenon of any thinking person converting to any religion is strange to me.

Finally, Marshall Art finds the comparison between the violence of Christianity and the violence of Islam to be "sure sign that the speaker has no real knowledge of Christianity." I remind Mr. Art that the most destructive war in history was started by a Catholic by the name of Adolf Hitler. Throw in the Crusades, the Thirty Years War, St. Bartholomew's Day, the Albigensian Crusade, and the body count you get from Christian violence far, far exceeds the body count from Muslim violence.

8:15 AM  
Blogger Greg said...

Adolf Hilter is a representative sample of Christianity, right Chepe?

And Christianity is the same today as it was during the Crusades, right Chepe?

Therefore Christianity and Islam are the same, right Chepe?

8:13 AM  
Blogger Andrea Useem said...


Thanks for your posting. I don't agree with your understanding of Islam -- i.e. that the jihadi point of view is normative and obligatory -- but I am also interested in the question you pose: How can it be that such horrible acts of violence have, even in a very indirect way, contributed to conversions?

Virginia Tech comes to mind. I would imagine that over the next several years Virginia Tech will experience a rise in applications. This would be totally counterintuitive -- why would anyone want to go to a school where such an act of violence had occurred?

I think applications will rise simply because of media exposure. Suddenly, "Virginia Tech" is a household world. Through media reports, we all learned it was a "top school" located in an "idyllic" college town in Western Virginia. Although the story is so sad and tragic, we notice in the background that the campus is very beautiful and the students seem to be very loyal to their school. This would prove the adage: There is no such thing as bad publicity.

This is how it happened for me. I was and am horrified by the violence committed in the name of Islam. But while I was learning about Islam to provide depth to my reporting, I found the five pillars of the religion to be very beautiful and simple -- elegant, in the scientific sense of that word. The people who bombed the embassy, or perpetrated 9/11 call themselves Muslims, but I certainly reject not only their religious interpretations but their political motives and violent tactics as well.

As the earlier poster said, should all Catholics leave the church because of the priest scandal? Must anti-abortion protesters abandon their cause because of a handful of clinic-bombers? Should we leave the United States if we don't agree with a president's decisions?

Belonging to a group that includes millions of people, as well as thousands of years of history, means accepting some level of contradiction in our identities.


Andrea U.,

8:42 AM  

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