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My Year Inside Radical Islam

Old 03-08-07, 09:17 AM
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My Year Inside Radical Islam

http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles...e.asp?ID=27267
By Erick Stakelbeck
FrontPageMagazine.com | March 8, 2007

When I first heard that I’d be working alongside a former employee of an Al-Qaeda-linked, Wahhabi charity—one shut down by the federal government for funneling money to terrorist groups, no less—I was deeply concerned. I’d been assured that Daveed Gartenstein-Ross had left his Islamist past far behind, that he’d since converted to Christianity and was fresh off a stint as an attorney for one of the leading law firms in the United States. This all sounded perfectly reasonable, and his resume was indeed impressive. And yes, people change. Still, my suspicions lingered.

Could Gartenstein-Ross be a jihadi “plant?” After all, my employer at the time, the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT), was a leading counter-terrorism think tank whose location was a closely guarded secret, and its Executive Director, Steven Emerson, had long been targeted for death by jihadists. Perhaps Gartenstein-Ross was acting as an inside man for a jihadi group, ingratiating himself at the IPT only to glean sensitive information about the organization that could be passed on to his Islamist cohorts. Unlikely, given IPT’s thorough screening of prospective employees, but possible.



Upon meeting Daveed for the first time, my suspicions only deepened. He was articulate, clean-cut, friendly, and knowledgeable about a wide range of my favorite topics, from history, to music to sports. He also possessed a keen intellect and was, at times, brutally honest (like a friend should be). Heck, the guy was completely likeable—the perfect sleeper agent. I thought of the Al-Qaeda handbook, which calls on jihadists to use deceit in order to obtain information about the enemy’s “vital establishments,” and even encourages them to strike up false friendships with infidels.



Call me a paranoid Islamophobe if you must, but I still believe those initial concerns back in the summer of 2004 were wholly legitimate, given the circumstances. Still, I must admit, I’m struck by how absurd they now seem. Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a sleeper agent? The same down-to-earth guy with whom I’ve shared countless laughs and great conversations, and with whom I’ve been fortunate enough to bond with on a personal and professional level these past two-and-half years? The same rising star in the counterterrorism field who contributes regularly to respected publications like The Weekly Standard and Reader’s Digest? The fact that this brilliant, well-adjusted young man of Jewish descent could somehow get sucked into the primitive world of radical Islam—even if for a relatively short time—demands an explanation. Thankfully, Daveed provides that and a whole lot more in his absorbing new memoir, My Year Inside Radical Islam.



The two most notorious cases of white converts to Islam who adopted a fundamentalist strain of the faith are, undoubtedly, American Taliban John Walker Lindh (serving a 20-year sentence in federal prison for treason) and Al-Qaeda mouthpiece Adam Gadahn (aka “Azzam the American,” thought to be hiding somewhere in the tribal regions of Pakistan). Both men had unusual religious upbringings and were raised in the progressive environs of California. Gartenstein-Ross has said his path towards radical Islam mirrored theirs in some respects.



Raised in liberal Ashland, Oregon to hippie parents, he was taught to revere Jesus and Buddha equally as great teachers; but that no one religion held a premium on truth. By the time he left Ashland in 1994 to attend Wake Forest University in North Carolina, Gartenstein-Ross had grown into a free thinker with a passion for social justice. At the same time, he found himself searching for spiritual answers. He was befriended by a Muslim student who practiced Sufism, which is generally considered a more moderate form of Islam (although opinions vary). Gartenstein-Ross was attracted to several aspects of the religion, but one seems to have particularly struck him: Islam’s belief that Jesus was a prophet with a close relationship with God, but that he had never claimed divinity. This seemed to answer some of the nagging spiritual questions he’d been contemplating after years of debates with Christian friends.

In reading the book, one gets the sense that loneliness and a few near-death experiences made Gartenstein-Ross slightly more susceptible to such a major life change as converting to a new religion--particularly one not known for its fondness toward Jews. Nevertheless, his new life as a progressive-minded Muslim proved gratifying at first, both intellectually and spiritually. Upon graduation, he accepted a job at an Islamic charitable organization back in Ashland called the Al Haramain Islamic Foundation. Before long, his entire world was turned upside down.

Al Haramain was a Saudi government-funded operation that billed itself as a religious charity. Although Saudi Arabia officially closed down Al Haramain because of its terrorist ties in late 2004, the question remains whether it is actually defunct; its leadership is reportedly still in place, as is its support infrastructure.

Not surprisingly, after just a few days at Al Haramain’s Ashland branch, Gartenstein-Ross learned that his moderate interpretation of Islam was dangerously out of step from that of his co-workers. It seemed that everything, from listening to music, to owning a dog, to wearing shorts above the thigh, to dating a non-Muslim woman, was strictly haram (forbidden) and worthy of eternal damnation.

In one eye-opening passage of My Year Inside Radical Islam, Gartenstein-Ross describes an uncomfortable interaction with a local elementary school teacher in which he refuses to shake her hand, because such contact between the sexes was viewed as inappropriate by his radicalized peers at Al Haramain. When Gartenstein-Ross voiced disagreement over these restrictive ground rules, he was lectured—often times loudly, and straight from Islamic texts—by his outspoken co-workers, who’d been Muslims longer and, hence, viewed Gartenstein-Ross as a theological novice with much to learn about his new faith.

The incessant browbeating and indoctrination continued on a daily basis, and regular visits by radical Saudi sheikhs to the Ashland office only helped reinforce Gartenstein-Ross’ view that perhaps his initial, moderate interpretation of Islam had been off the mark. The more he studied the Koran and other Islamic texts, the more he found a compelling argument for the legalistic practice of the faith as trumpeted at Al Haramain. What at first seemed ridiculous now seemed divinely sanctioned.

In a sense, Gartenstein Ross’ steady drift towards radicalism encapsulates the West’s great dilemma in its ongoing struggle against fundamentalist Islam. Are the jihadists just a small sect of extremists that have hijacked a “great and peaceful religion,” as our leaders and media elites reassure us after every new terrorist attack? Or do bin Laden, Nasrallah and the charitable chaps at Al Haramain actually practice Islam as its founder and prophet, Mohammed—himself a warrior—intended it? Yes, there are moderate Muslims. But are they essentially akin to “cafeteria Catholics,” who conveniently pick and choose which practices they want to take from their religion, while ignoring the more stringent, or “outdated” ones? In other words, is Islam itself moderate? Or is it, if taken literally, an inherently violent faith incompatible with modernity and Western values? As European and American victims pile up and the global jihad intensifies, that’s a question a reluctant West, paralyzed by political correctness and self-doubt, will eventually have to confront.

By the time he left Al Haramain in 1998 to attend law school in New York City, Gartenstein-Ross had his own issues to confront. His descent into radical Islam had caused a growing chasm between he and his Christian fiance, Amy. He also felt increasingly distanced from his still-liberal parents. Overall, Gartenstein-Ross’ experience at Al Haramain had left him disillusioned and spiritually restless. He could no longer reconcile the fact, for instance, that celebrating Christmas with Amy and her family was haram, and that marrying her would be even worse. He recounts a solitary stroll through Central Park when all of the doubts and questions that had been building up overwhelmed him:

When you became Muslim, you thought that the moderate interpretation was clearly right. You thought that extremists were either ignorant or manipulating the faith for their own gain. Your time at Al-Haramain has made you question this. As your cherished vision of Islam collapses, you’re left feeling depressed, hopeless, confused…you once unreservedly condemned the “extremists”; now you say prayers for the mujahideen. But you still have doubts, and you’re not happy with where you are.

Gartenstein-Ross decided to read and re-read the Quran, to once again pore over every important Islamic text with a fine-toothed comb. He was left with more questions than answers. He soon found himself attending church on Sundays, and reconnecting with an old friend who was a devout Christian. When Gartenstein-Ross learned that Al Haramain’s Ashland office had been raided by the F.B.I, he decided to step forward and help with the investigation. To his surprise, the Bureau already knew all about him.

How times change. In my current job as a correspondent and terrorism analyst for CBN News, Gartenstein-Ross is one of the first experts I dial whenever I need information on developing events in the War on Terror. His tumultuous time spent in the grip of radical Islam has given him a personal insight into the enemy that few counterterrorism analysts can match. He continues to work closely with U.S. intelligence agencies, and shares his expertise in frequent appearances on radio and television. My Year Inside Radical Islam promises to only enhance his reputation, and deservedly so.

Other reviews, quite rightly, have focused on the larger issues the book speaks to: among them, the road to radicalization, the poisonous role of many American Muslim organizations and mosques, and the ease with which Islamists have quietly blended into the American social fabric. At its heart, however, I think the book is more about a conflicted young man’s personal journey from the brink of oblivion to redemption. Despite its subject matter and cautionary lessons, it’s also a love story. And I can assure you that it’s completely and utterly above suspicion.


Erick Stakelbeck is a correspondent and terrorism analyst for CBN News. He also contributes to Hot Air.com.
Some analysis and insight into how radicalization is done.
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Old 03-08-07, 10:13 AM
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Originally Posted by bhk
Some analysis and insight into how radicalization is done.
I thought you said they're all automatically born radical. I'm confused. Some might not be?
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Old 03-08-07, 11:50 AM
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That doesn't mean they can't recruit
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Old 03-08-07, 08:22 PM
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How did this turn into a thread about homosexuality?
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Old 03-08-07, 11:24 PM
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So wait, this guy got lectured to by some fundies, but eventually didn't buy into it? So what's the story?
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Old 03-09-07, 02:11 AM
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Which guy? The author of the article is a friend and colleague of someone who converted to Islam, got exposed to and indoctrinated to the point where some radical thought(such as not shaking hands with women) almost became logical and acceptable. Until his friend and colleague stepped back.
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Old 03-09-07, 04:22 PM
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Yeah, that's what I said. Again, what's the story...that there are some fundamental crazies out there, or that some people realize that and don't get sucked in?
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Old 03-09-07, 04:23 PM
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Originally Posted by Numanoid
Yeah, that's what I said. Again, what's the story...that there are some fundamental crazies out there, or that some people realize that and don't get sucked in?

OK I get you. I think the point is getting constantly bombarded/exposed to the radical makes it seem logical.
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Old 03-09-07, 08:15 PM
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You really need your own subforum.
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Old 03-09-07, 08:22 PM
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Originally Posted by cinten
You really need your own subforum.
xxx The Political Forum Three Strikes Rule xxx

Just a reading suggestion.

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Old 03-09-07, 08:25 PM
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Old 03-09-07, 08:38 PM
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Originally Posted by kvrdave

So are you laughing at me or at the poster above? Somewhat ironic that you've been warned about posting only a smiley face, which is against the forum rules.
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Old 03-09-07, 08:42 PM
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Originally Posted by kvrdave
Originally Posted by cinten
So are you laughing at me or at the poster above? Somewhat ironic that you've been warned about posting only a smiley face, which is against the forum rules.
Funny, I understand exactly what he's laughing at.
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Old 03-09-07, 08:52 PM
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Originally Posted by crazyronin
Funny, I understand exactly what he's laughing at.
Funny how you don't point out the fact that he's been warned about only posting a smiley face and how it's against the rules.
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Old 03-09-07, 08:53 PM
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Originally Posted by cinten
You really need your own subforum.
mod warning - cinten, you really need to take a step back and cool off. If you can't do this voluntarily, the mods will do it for you.

Address the topic, not the poster.

kvrdave and crazyronin, there's no need to egg people on.

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Old 03-09-07, 08:58 PM
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I'm sorry, i will address it in a different way. I thought that a subforum on Islam would be a good idea since their are eight topics (all of which are pretty much the same of which and could easily be posted in one topic) on how Islam is dangerous on the first page alone.
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Old 03-09-07, 11:33 PM
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Originally Posted by cinten
So are you laughing at me or at the poster above? Somewhat ironic that you've been warned about posting only a smiley face, which is against the forum rules.
Oh take it easy. I just found it amusing.

But....I don't actually remember being warned about posting only a smiley face, nor did I know it was against the rules....odd. Do you have a link to both? I'll actually believe it if I see a link.
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Old 03-09-07, 11:55 PM
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I don't think it's in the rules, but I remember a different poster being told by a mod that they discourage it.
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Old 03-10-07, 02:14 AM
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Originally Posted by kvrdave
But....I don't actually remember being warned about posting only a smiley face, nor did I know it was against the rules....odd. Do you have a link to both? I'll actually believe it if I see a link.
Mainly to avoid confusion/misrepresentation about why are particular smilie is being posted (aka laughing at me or w/ me sort of thing) people are discouraged from just posting a smilie and nothing else.
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Old 03-10-07, 02:20 AM
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Well I knew that, but didn't think it was in the rules. But hell, I learned that in August of 1999.....oh wait, you may not have around for that thread.
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Old 03-10-07, 06:25 PM
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Originally Posted by cinten
You really need your own subforum.
See, that's why I liked the "Don't deny that some Moslems are hot for jihad thread." I could put articles that dealt with people going on jihad in the west into that thread. But a couple of people flew off the handle and got that thread closed.
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Old 03-10-07, 08:55 PM
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Slate reviewed this book:
Whitewashing Radical Islam
My Year Inside Radical Islam wasn't so extreme after all—and to suggest otherwise is dangerous.
By Holly Lebowitz Rossi
Posted Monday, March 5, 2007, at 2:50 PM ET

In a crowded publishing industry, marketing is everything. And Daveed Gartenstein-Ross' new book, My Year Inside Radical Islam: A Memoir, seems at first glance to hit all the right notes, beginning with its provocative title. Gartenstein-Ross is billed as someone who barely escaped from the very grip of evil, a radical Muslim turned Christian, a counterterrorism consultant who has testified before Congress and volunteered for questioning by the FBI. Conservative commentators, from syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin to Front Page magazine's Jamie Glazov to talk-radio host G. Gordon Liddy and Fox News' Sean Hannity, have seized on Gartenstein-Ross as a conquering hero who resisted terrorism and extremism to emerge a Christian. "If there were justice in Hollywood, the book would have already been optioned as a movie by now," Malkin gushed.

But there was nothing particularly radical about Gartenstein-Ross' experience with Islam in the first place, except for a few alarming opinions that he briefly subscribed to—in his mind—as a very young man. The book is more a journey inside the developing religious conscience of a 22-year-old than inside the world of radical Islam. Along the way, Gartenstein-Ross does a serious disservice to moderate and progressive Muslims, who are too often suspected of terrorist activities, and non-Muslim Americans curious about the differences between moderate and radical Islam.

Americans tend to have a hard time comprehending the nuances of Islam. Headlines since 9/11 about the religion haven't offered nearly enough insight into the multifaceted Muslim community and its broad spectrum of beliefs and practices. Even five years into our supposed education about the faith, what usually comes to people's minds is still the extremism of al-Qaida and the Taliban, groups that are far removed from the faith practiced by most American Muslims. But even that modicum of knowledge is incomplete. Radical, extremist groups follow specific schools of thought, interpretations of the Quran, and religious practice. And we're still struggling to figure out the difference between Sunnis and Shiites.

Gartenstein-Ross does little to illuminate either the political world of radical Islam or the theological underpinnings of orthodox Muslim practice. Worse yet, he conflates theological conservatism and radicalism. But following religious law in a strict way is not nearly the same thing as taking up arms in defense of that law, and Gartenstein-Ross confuses the two to the detriment of his readers.

Shortly after Gartenstein-Ross began his college career, he was deeply shaken by a life-threatening bout with Crohn's disease. After that, the liberal Jewish/Unitarian religious relativism his parents had raised him with in hippie-haven Ashland, Ore., felt flat and meaningless. With guidance from his best friend, a Sufi Muslim who leaned toward progressive politics and mystical religion, Gartenstein-Ross became not only a passionate social-justice activist but also, during a semester abroad in Italy, a Muslim.

In 1998, after graduating from college, Gartenstein-Ross took a job with the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation essentially because the group, flush with money from Saudi Arabia and the sole Muslim outpost in town, was looking for an employee.* (After 9/11, the FBI shut down Al-Haramain and indicted Gartenstein-Ross' former boss for conspiracy to defraud the United States and for filing a false IRS return by a tax-exempt organization. Gartenstein-Ross was neither involved in nor aware of any of these illegal actions.) This job encompasses Gartenstein-Ross' "radicalization and the long slow climb out" of Islam, an odd label, considering the entirety of his indoctrination and extrication is less than two years. The book would be better titled My Yearlong Job at a Charity That I Had No Idea Was Funding al-Qaida. But that would hardly make the front table at Barnes and Noble, would it?

While working at the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, Gartenstein-Ross adopts some conservative Muslim practices, including a few advocated by the puritanical Salafi school of thought. He grows a beard; wears a kufi, or skullcap; refrains from praying together with or shaking the hands of women; avoids contact with dogs; rolls his pants above his ankles when he prays; and throws away his music collection. But he also dates a Christian woman, to whom he proposes without asking her to convert. And I never caught mention of him requesting halal food in his parents' home, where he was living during his job. His new religious behaviors were surely meaningful and important to him, but they hardly meet the prevailing American definition of a "radicalized Muslim" as someone who retreats from secular society, advocates a nation governed by Muslim law, and resorts to violence against those who would thwart such plans. And if that definition truly is wildly off-base, Gartenstein-Ross does nothing in the book to challenge it with an alternative.

He does undertake one genuinely "radical" religious action: Midway through his job, he begins to pray daily for the mujahideen.* Outside of his conscience, though, the closest he comes to doing anything radical, illegal, or related to terrorism is when he nearly meets at the airport a man he later learns was trying to procure money for al-Qaida. To repeat—he almost met someone who he had no idea was in the country to do evil. If this is the experience of a young Westerner who's been drawn into the world of radical Islam, then perhaps we have less to worry about than we thought.

But Gartenstein-Ross isn't John Walker Lindh, interrupted. His is merely the tale of a confused, suggestible kid with what comes off as an unquenchable need for acceptance within whatever community he happens to find himself. For conservative commentators to suggest that this is a cautionary, inspirational tale is off the mark. Time and again, Gartenstein-Ross reports examples that we're supposed to react to with the horrified feeling that he's being brainwashed. Instead, though, they come across as confusing behavior by someone undergoing a spiritual crisis and who seems almost eager to back down from beliefs he once held dear. First he is chastised by a colleague for saying that female genital mutilation is not rooted in the Muslim faith. "Removing a woman's vulva is a complex area of Islamic law? I thought. But debating, I realized, would have been futile." Later, when he receives an e-mail referring to "pervert Jews" and "their so-called Holocaust," Gartenstein-Ross recalls, "I thought about replying with a message saying that you don't have to attack the Jews to support the Chechens or the Muslims. … But what good would that have done?"

If this litany of nonconfrontation in the face of hateful teachings is supposed to speak to radical Islam's terrifyingly irresistible recruiting power, it fails. Instead, it leaves the reader with the odd impression that radical Islam is sort of benign—strange and mean, maybe, but benign. And that's something that America can ill afford to believe.

There's far more to extremist Islam than provocative pamphlets, anti-Semitic e-mails, harsh speech, and private jihadist prayers; radical Islam, unfortunately, does not begin and end with words. What immunized Gartenstein-Ross from making the leap from rhetoric and theology to radicalism and violence? We never find out, which is a shame, because it might have shown us something about what goes wrong when newfound religious devotion does take a violent turn. With his book, Gartenstein-Ross misses an important opportunity to illuminate how—and why—the ideas he discovered incite action, hatred, deception, and violence in others.

The need for Americans to better understand Islam in all its complexity, in all its forms, has been apparent since 9/11 and is renewed every day on the streets of Baghdad and in the mountains of Afghanistan. It's far too serious a world for books that fail to illuminate this complexity, especially those that would drain the term "radical Islam" of its power, reducing it to something as frivolous as a marketing strategy.

Correction, March 9, 2007: This piece originally and incorrectly referred five times to Gartenstein-Ross' internship with the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation. It was actually a job and has been corrected throughout the piece. (Return to the corrected sentence.) The article also stated incorrectly that Gartenstein-Ross began to pray for the mujahideen in Chechnya. Gartenstein-Ross did pray for the mujahideen, but the Chechen war had not yet begun at that time.
I know we're not supposed to post articles without comment, but honestly, I have not read the book, so I can't attest to the accuracy of the criticism in Slate. All I have to go on is the stated reaction to the book by such esteemed commentators as Malkin and Hannity -- not exactly a ringing endorsement. If they endorsed oxygen, I might just give up air.

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Old 03-10-07, 10:44 PM
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Originally Posted by NCMojo
Slate reviewed this book:

I know we're not supposed to post articles without comment, but honestly, I have not read the book, so I can't attest to the accuracy of the criticism in Slate. All I have to go on is the stated reaction to the book by such esteemed commentators as Malkin and Hannity -- not exactly a ringing endorsement. If they endorsed oxygen, I might just give up air.
Let's pray they don't endorse oxygen or food.
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Old 03-12-07, 12:24 AM
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Or should we?
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Old 03-12-07, 03:42 PM
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But there was nothing particularly radical about Gartenstein-Ross' experience with Islam in the first place, except for a few alarming opinions that he briefly subscribed to—in his mind—as a very young man. The book is more a journey inside the developing religious conscience of a 22-year-old than inside the world of radical Islam. Along the way, Gartenstein-Ross does a serious disservice to moderate and progressive Muslims, who are too often suspected of terrorist activities, and non-Muslim Americans curious about the differences between moderate and radical Islam.
This actually endorses his book. That is what he's saying, that taking young impressionable minds and exposing them to radical thoughts desinsitizes them. You have to wonder about someone writing an arcticle that needs so many corrections so quickly.

Oh and those moderate moslems who are being a disservice, here's the sound of a very tiny violin. And dear Slate bimbo, the author of the book isn't doing the moderate moslems a disservice, it's their bretheren who are running around blowing things up that are doing them a disservice.
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