The day after the 9/11 attacks, MIT professor Noam Chomsky wrote of the need "to understand what may have led to the crimes, which means making an effort to enter the minds of the likely perpetrators." What struck Daveed Gartenstein-Ross about Chomsky's response was that "Chomsky made no real effort to enter the minds of the perpetrators. Instead he simply projected his own grievances against the United States onto them."
Gartenstein-Ross had a much stronger idea as to what motivated the 9/11 attackers. After converting to Islam in college, he held a job at the Ashland, Ore., office of Al Haramain, a Saudi-funded charity that sent money to al Qaeda.
In a fascinating memoir due in stores in February, "My Year Inside Radical Islam," Gartenstein-Ross describes how he was drawn to Islam because he saw it as a religion of peace.
Over time, however, he watched himself and those around him seduced into a fanaticism that required them to loathe not only non-Muslims, but also Muslims who belonged to the wrong sect, listened to music or shaved. He had expected an open, accepting religion, only to hear sheikhs arguing that Muslims who leave the religion should be killed, that it is acceptable to kill civilians for jihad and that good Muslims should work to replace democratic governments with Shariah law.
The hate chased Gartenstein-Ross from Islam, but only after it sucked him into believing that unacceptable actions were holy.
The book's message is not that Americans should distrust all Muslims. "The message is the exact opposite of that," he told me over the phone. Gartenstein-Ross understands that America needs to enlist moderate Muslims to fight the extremists. More important, in the course of his journey he saw the many benign stripes of Islam as he befriended good people whose faith made them stronger, better human beings.
He believes Americans need a more fact-based understanding of Islam, which requires the media to do a better job of reporting what Muslims think and say -- instead of papering over radical rhetoric. Once when a local reporter visited Al Haramain to write a piece on Ramadan, a co-worker refused to shake her hand, launched a defense of sorts of Algerian terrorists and lambasted a French policy that prohibited schoolgirls from wearing the hijab in class. The comments never made the story. Gartenstein-Ross writes, "And so, as I often did, the reporter chose not to acknowledge that a real clash of values existed here."