I only endured five months of captivity in Kabul and, to this day, no one has ever understood what that was like.
Breitbart reporters Jordan Schachtel, Raheem Kassam, and Dr. Sebastian Gorka have charged that Bowe Bergdahl may be a secret spy as well as a true believer convert to Islam. They may be right. He might just turn out to be a real-life Nicholas Brody, the former star of Homeland. Bowe allegedly just walked off his base. Was he deserting his post? Was he somehow crazed by war?
Now, Bergdahl's father Robert sports a long, unkempt, flowing beard which suggests that he may also be a convert to Islam. Apparently, Bowe is having difficulty speaking English and so, rather curiously, at a press conference with President Obama, his father addressed his newly liberated son in Arabic, as well as in Pushto or Dari, the languages native to Afghanistan. In a previous video Bergdahl Senior made, he respectfully addressed "those who have cared for our son, as a prisoner and as a guest."
Perhaps conversion and pro-Islamist public statements were part of the negotiation, part of the propaganda payoff that the Taliban demanded.
When an infidel is in captivity in a Muslim country, they convert in order to save their life, in order to please their captors, or because they are lost or unstable to begin with and find that Islam offers the kind of rigid discipline and communal support that often leads to greater (more regimented) stability and social approval.
In 2001 after 9/11, British journalist Yvonne Ridley was captured by the Taliban on September 28th and held for ten days. She had entered Afghanistan illegally clad in a burqa but was discovered and viewed as a spy. The British High Commissioner to Pakistan negotiated for her release with the Taliban Ambassador, Mullah Abdul Saleem Zaeef, in Islamabad. She promised her Taliban captors that after her release she would read the Koran. And when she did—she found it to be a document of "liberation for women" and she converted. Instantly famous, Ridley continued to receive attention for her conversion and for her strong anti-Zionism and defense of Muslim causes around the world, especially in Palestine.
However, Ridley is not an accurate recorder of facts. When I debated her on Al-Hurrah, she tried to intimidate me with a formulaic rant about how the "blood of our Muslim brothers flowing in the streets of Palestine," etc. She was all decked out a la Lawrence of Arabia, with vaguely male, not female, Muslim attire. (Well, she is British). Said I: The gravest problem is that of Muslim-on-Muslim violence, but she ranted on.
As the author of An American Bride in Kabul, which recounts my five months in captivity in a harem—a captivity which began as a romance with a very westernized Afghan man whom I married—I have been accused of a) only being held captive for five weeks; b) being an utter, non-feminist fool for ever having anything to do with the man who once held me hostage, even if it was for "love." I have rejected such criticism. I am an American and a Jew, and when my former Afghan husband arrived here after having fled the Soviet invasion, I opened my door to him and his family for ethical and humane reasons—well, out of curiosity too. I was no longer in any danger, he had no objective power over me.
And yet: In my years of subsequent work with Muslims, both dissidents and feminists, perhaps, just perhaps, I am still captive to my kinship with the wild, wild East; still under its uncanny and forceful spell; still carrying out my Afghan husband's mission to modernize and elevate his people.
A case in point in terms of "lost" souls being attracted to Islam: There is Margaret Marcus, aka Maryam Jameelah, a mentally unstable Jewish-American who converted to extreme Islam. Jameelah left America in the 1960s to became a chief propagandist (in English) for radical Islam in Pakistan. Mawdudi was her mentor and protector. Jameelah wore a face mask. As Margaret, she had done serious time in a psychiatric asylum, and as Jameelah it also became clear that she was a difficult, "crazy," and impossible woman. Like Ridley, she was also an anti-Zionist. Deborah Baker has written a very fascinating biography of this unusual woman.
In any event, the book to read about The Taliban is Mark Silinsky's The Taliban: Afghanistan's Most Lethal Insurgents. Just published in 2014, it is the best, clearest, most factual, and least biased of the books I have read so far. It is also the most frightening, detailing their reign of "totalitarian" terror, included massacres, mini-genocides, a maliciousness beyond measure, very creatively sadistic tortures, and private "houses of horror." Silinsky writes:
Beyond their malice, the Taliban were totalitarian. Bin Laden and the Arabs and other international fighters fused the Islamism of Qutb and Azzam with the Deobandi philosophy of the Afghan elites. All human activity was to be channeled towards replicating the time of their Prophet. In this spirit, music, dancing, kite flying, and chess playing were all banned.
According to Silinsky, a military man and an academic, one exceptionally brutal war lord torturer "escaped the Taliban's advance towards Kabul in 1998 and fled to London where he worked delivering pizza."
Beware all Londoners who deliver pizza.
I will write more about Silinsky's fine work in another article.
Phyllis Chesler, an emerita professor of psychology and women's studies and the author of fifteen books, is a Shillman-Ginsburg fellow at the Middle East Forum.