August 27, 2008 | Op-ed
My Year Inside Radical Islam: A Memoir
My Year Inside Radical Islam is a memoir of first a spiritual and then a political seduction. Raised in liberal Ashland, Oregon, by parents who were Jewish by birth but dismissive of strict dogma, Daveed Gartenstein-Ross yearned for a religion that would suit all his ideals. At college in the late nineties he met a charismatic Muslim student who grounded his political activism with thoughtful religious conviction. Gartenstein-Ross reflects on his experience of converting to Islam-a process that began with a desire to connect with both a religious community and a spiritual practice, and eventually led him to sympathize with the most extreme interpretations of the faith, with the most radical political implications.
In the year following graduation, Gartenstein-Ross went to work for the al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, a charity dedicated to fostering Wahhabism, Saudi Arabia's austere form of Islam-a theological inspiration for many terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda. Shortly after he left al-Haramain-when his own fan-aticism had waned-the foundation was charged by the U.S. government as being a source of funds for terrorist organizations. Gartenstein-Ross, by this time a lawyer at a prominent firm, volunteered to be questioned by the FBI. They already knew who he was.
The story of how a good faith can be distorted and a decent soul can be seduced away from its principles, My Year Inside Radical Islam provides a rare glimpse into the personal interface between religion and politics.