As an avid reader and traveler, I enjoy finding books that will not only entertain but educate me. Most books I read are not always the most pleasant topic matter and give a rather intense look at the world. I try to read a lot on women’s rights and current events around the world, and occasionally throw in a poetic piece of fiction for fun.
Last night I completed reading “A House in the Sky“, a harrowing account of Canadian journalist Amanda Lindhout’s 460 days held hostage by Islamic fundamentalists in Somalia. Co-authored by The New York Times Magazine’s Sara Corbett, A House in the Sky is one of the most intense books I’ve read in years. A book that by the end, left me in tears.
Beautifully written in reflective, poetic prose the book starts off slowly with Amanda’s story of how she was raised by a dysfunctional, poor family outside of Calgary and how she used her money as a waitress to support her wanderlust and see the world. To be honest, there were many times over the course of the first 100 pages of Amanda’s back story that made me want to put the book away and stop reading. Oftentimes I find personal narratives a bit narcissistic and vain such was the case with reading the best-selling books “Eat, Pray, Love” and “Wild“. Yet something in Amanda’s story kept me reading it, wanting to get to the story of her abduction and subsequent 15 months in captivity by Somalian jihadists.
The transformation of Amanda over the period of her captivity was startling and with each page she exposes her deepest most personal being. Although she began as a young, unexperienced and naive young woman, through months of physical and emotional abuse and torture by her captors she somehow flourishes and perseveres. Her bravery, her courage and her humility are just as incredible as her story.
What horrified me the most about Amanda’s story is how her captors’ fundamentalist views of Islam justify everything they do to her. Fearing for her life, Amanda converts to Islam hoping it would offer her some kind of protection and connection with her young captors. Instead, her captors use their fundamentalist interpretation of the Koran to harm her and justify it.
When she was repetitively raped and tried to get them to stop, their actions were deemed permissible (in their interpretation of the Koran) by Chapter 23, verses 1 through 6 of the which states:
Successful indeed are the believers, who are humble in their prayers. And who keep aloof from what is vain. And who are givers of poor-rate. And who guard their private parts, except before their wives or those whom their right hands possess, for surely they are not blamable.
“For those whom their right hands possess” means slaves or people kidnapped. Basically Amanda’s fundamentalist captors believed that these words gave them permission to rape her over and over again for months leaving her bleeding sometimes for weeks.
She was held against her will, almost starved, tortured, raped and emotionally abused for 15 long months by these young men who seemed to rarely have remorse. Their actions of cruelty were deemed permissible.
Although there was also Nigel, a male captor, along with Amanda, his treatment during the ordeal was far better. While Amanda was often called a “bad women” and the cause of all the problems in every single thing, her fellow male captive was treated much better. He wasn’t forced into complete, isolated darkness for months on end, forced to sleep only on one side and kicked in the ribs if he accidentally fell asleep on his back. He wasn’t sexually abused, isolated or tortured. Instead, he had a furnished room with sunlight, books to read and companionship with his captors at times. Yet throughout their horrifying ordeal, Amanda was always the strong one who fought for her survival against all odds.
After 460 days in captivity, Amanda and Nigel were shockingly released after their families coughed up $600,000 for their ransom. Amanda returned to Canada after being hospitalized for dehydration and trauma. One would think that this was where the story ends but it does not. Instead, Amanda stunned us all by founding the Global Enrichment Foundation to support development, aid and education initiatives in Somalia and Kenya, and more importantly, she forgives her captors. How she can not let the anger, humiliation, and emotional pain eat her away and instead feel compassion and forgiveness for her captors is amazing.
As the world becomes a scarier and more dangerous place, sadly Amanda’s story is not uncommon. Journalists and humanitarian aid workers are kidnapped and killed around the world. Like Amanda, I believe strongly in the power of education in our fight against terror and fundamentalism. War and violence are not the answer. Education and creating more opportunities for a better life will bring about hope for change. I think about what is going on in Nigeria and Pakistan, where Islamic terrorists are killing children and targeting girls to try to stop them from going to school. These men know that the power of a book is much stronger than the power of a gun. But we can’t let them win.
Want to learn more? Here are some fabulous resources: