Book Review: My Friend the Fanatic

My Friend the Fanatic
Sadanand Dhume

Full disclosure: This was an ARC (Advanced Readers’ Copy) given to me through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers’ program. In exchange, I agreed to give an honest review.

100 Pages a Day:
Part OnePart TwoPart Three

“Mosque is not a good word. It is like mosquito. It is taken from the Mexican language. You know we do not like mosquito. This is deeply propaganda …”
Herry Nurdi to Sadanand Dhume (p. 136)

It’s all too easy to point and laugh while dismissing the ignorance of people.  But we should take care because this sort of ignorance from religious extremists (not just Muslim) is what fuels the fires of intolerance.

Sadanand Dhume’s My Friend the Fanatic, is filled with examples of stubborn ignorance and hypocritical thinking.  It is also filled with examples of how this fuels the move against equal and civil rights in favor of sharia law.  So far, this could be the story of any nation struggling with identity politics.

But Dhume’s book is set in Indonesia and reflects what he encounters in his travels under the auspices of Herry Nurdi, editor of a Islamic fundamentalist magazine and fan of Osama bin Laden.

The extreme differences between secular life and religious ideology are most striking in the first section focusing on events in Java.  A pop star who has popularized a dance move called drilling (something akin to twerking), a Muslim televangelist, and what passes for literati are in stark contrast with those who live in abject poverty living in shacks with dirt floors begging to support their family.

It took over one hundred pages for My Friend the Fanatic to become cohesive.  Not only were the familiar stories of poverty, ignorance and zealotry told but so were the struggle for identity as a nation.  Although Dhume begins with the 2002 bombings in Bali, the story begins earlier in Indonesia’s history, with Indonesia winning independence from the Dutch in 1949.

Simplistically put, Indonesia’s problems can be seen as the growing pains of a young nation searching for identity.  What is it to be Indonesian?  I found My Friend the Fanatic to be an interesting look into these issues from the point of view of an atheist journalist from India seeking answers from Islamic fundamentalists fighting against secular values.

Dhume writes of the stark contrasts in Indonesia and the conflicts in politics and ideology.  His work has made me curious about Indonesia and its history.

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