Drawing on copious interviews and verbatim excerpts from the subjects’ social media, Åsne Seierstad offers us an over-the-shoulder look at a Somali family in Norway being torn apart by the religious fanaticism of the family’s two teenage daughters. Two Sisters is a harrowing read, as it lays bare the most barbaric aspects of humanity, taking us into the ISIS camps in Syria where young children are brutalized and made to participate in beheadings, stonings and crucifixions all in the name of pleasing God.
Ayan and Leila migrated with their family from Somalia to Norway in 2000. Initially, they acclimated well to their new surroundings. They adopted local customs and clothing, generally shone academically and took to social media with the expertise and enthusiasm of their native-born peers. Gradually, though, they embraced fundamentalist goals and values, calling for a caliphate in Syria and the imposition of sharia, demanding special accommodations from the school system, preaching death for nonbelievers, applauding the killing of Norwegian soldiers in Afghanistan and smugly asserting they were spiritually infallible. They encountered no significant pushback from the state.
To help finance their flight from Norway, Ayan, by then 19, ran up huge credit card bills and signed up for numerous phone services and then sold the phones. They fooled their parents, who didn’t know anything was amiss until they disappeared. Attempting to bring his daughters back, the father spent all he could borrow on trips to Syria and was nearly killed more than once. The heartbroken mother retreated to Somalia for a period with the two younger sons. Disgusted by his sisters’ cruel indifference, the oldest brother announced he had become an atheist.
This is a cautionary tale of what can happen when a society moves from simply tolerating antisocial religious beliefs to actually incubating and enabling them.