The Tenth Parallel

I began hearing about journalist Eliza Griswold’s The Tenth Parallel , which explores Christian-Muslim conflict in Africa and Asia, even before it came out. Yesterday I was reminded of it on Twitter by a posting from the Carnegie Council, which recently hosted an event with Griswold. I am planning to check out the book – have others read it yet?

The New York Times praises it:

“The Tenth Parallel” is a beautifully written book, full of arresting stories woven around a provocative issue — whether fundamentalism leads to violence — which Griswold investigates through individual lives rather than caricatures or abstractions.


Griswold’s journey is made all the more interesting because of her personal motivations. The daughter of a leading liberal Episcopal bishop, she recalls being spooked by the consecration ceremony in which he lay facedown on the floor of the cathedral in Chicago with his legs and arms stretched out in the shape of a cross. As a young girl she saw the Bible “as a book of spells, one whose extravagant metaphors, whose terrible and powerful parables were ways to call God down to earth.” And as a teenager she feared that God would ask her to be a nun. “I spent those years wondering how it was that smart people could believe in God,” she writes.

In 2003 Griswold traveled to Sudan with Billy Graham’s son Franklin, who attempted to convert her by inviting her to pray with him. She could not find a logical reason to decline, since, as a good ecumenical Episcopalian, she had prayed with Sunnis and Sufi Muslims. She returned to Sudan five years later, after its leader was indicted by the International Criminal Court for genocide. The war-torn country’s Christian south is preparing for a 2011 vote on whether to split from the Muslim north, which would break Africa’s largest country in half. Griswold also reports from Somalia at great personal risk, vividly describing in 30 pages the religious violence and ill-informed policies that America has pursued since its failed attempts to corral the murderous Aidid clan (members of which she meets with). More recently, Washington has been trying to weaken the Qaeda-linked Shabab gang and shore up a hapless Islamist government.

Sounds pretty fascinating. If I get a chance to read it I’ll post more, and if you read it please tell me what you think.


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