Stories of strife and self-identity around the beltway just north of the Equator, from Africa to Indonesia, where Christianity and Islam have shared an uneasy 1,500-year history.
Journalist and poet Griswold (Wideawake Field, 2007) traveled to Nigeria, Sudan and Somalia, on the African latitude, and Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, on the Asian, to get at the root of the deep-seated conflicts between adherents of Islam and Christianity. She helpfully begins with geography, history and demographics lessons for each country, patiently explaining the Tenth Parallel’s delineation in Sudan between the arid Arab north and the tribal, intermittently Christian swampy south, both vying for land, oil and water possession and manipulated by autocratic governments. Nigeria, a major petroleum producer and enormously corrupt, is fairly evenly split between Christians and Muslims, who regard each other as “objects of competition and obstacles of survival,” mostly in terms of economic resources. British and American evangelicals have been building a following in Africa since the 19th century, and Griswold examines the legacy of various missionaries, many of whom still enjoy vital offshoots. In their modern manifestations, both Islam and Christianity have “reawakened” in the forms of “ecstatic experience”—Islam as fundamentalism, Christianity as evangelicalism and Pentecostalism, both casting backward for their authenticity and power, and both contentious. Though home to the world’s largest Muslim population, Indonesia has a vocal Christian minority, as does its neighbor Malaysia, while the Philippines is predominately Catholic. Griswold keenly investigates how the global clash of religions especially takes its toll on women and children. She visits religious leaders on both sides and debates finer points of their arguments.
An important ongoing venture in the West’s attempts to understand the conflicts of this region.