In high school, I had a nemesis. We were both dorky honors-type students, in the same dorky clubs and on the same dorky teams, and usually competing for the same dorky awards. My nemesis had a few advantages, namely being a much better writer (publishing a number of short stories starting at sixteen) and smoking way more weed (placing him several notches above me in my hippie town’s weed-based social hierarchy).
Despite all that, we were friends, and sometimes more than friends. After high school we lost touch, though I kept up with his achievements through the tabs-keeping miracle that is Google (understanding full well that this makes me a petty, envious person): a successful college career followed by law school honors, and then litigation work for a prominent firm. Then suddenly, his name started popping up in some surprisingly conservative places – David Horowitz’s FrontPage, Fox News, the Washington Times. I didn’t understand how my flamingly liberal sometime-nemesis could have changed into such a right-wing nutjob.
And now I have my answer. He's publishing a memoir in February, detailing the year he converted to Islam. And he didn’t convert to just any Islam – he chose the Wahhabist branch, one of the most rigid and radical interpretations of Islam, and one whose followers are frequently linked to acts of terrorism. Since then, he’s apparently had a change of heart, left the faith and become a full-time counterterrorism consultant (though one whose input is solicited exclusively by right-wing media).
I’m both intrigued and appalled. I wonder how the guy I knew could go to such extremes. And I wonder about the veracity of his account: it’s almost too good a story that a liberal secular Jew was “seduced” by extremist Islam, then saw the light and became an anti-Islamic hard-liner. It seems so calculated, this cashing in on his college experimentation with Islam. There’s a whiff of douche-baggery about the whole thing. And yet, the intrigue – do I read it? What will he say about his pre-conversion life, the life I knew and was a (tangential) part of? Is it possible that he has something interesting to say, or will it be an enraging anti-liberal, anti-Islam rant?
As a good librarian-in-training, I suppose the answer is to keep an open mind and read the damn thing. Plus, if he gets really famous from it, I can always say "I knew that guy in high school, and let me tell you..."