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Author Tells of Love, Struggle in 'My Accidental Jihad'

Author Krista Bremer's book 'My Accidental Jihad, A Love Story,' tells of her struggle to bridge Muslim and Western cultures.
Author Krista Bremer's book 'My Accidental Jihad, A Love Story,' tells of her struggle to bridge Muslim and Western cultures.

The title of her book is My Accidental Jihad. She is Krista Bremer, she’s an author and the subtitle of this is “A Love Story”. She spoke with NOW! host David Byrd.

BYRD: Krista this book speaks of your relationship with your husband Ismail, who is from Libya. You both are living in the United States, you have two children but your book reveals a vulnerability in you. Explain the title to my listeners a little bit because “Jihad” has such a negative connotation but this does not come across as some kind of military conflict. This is very much a love story.

BREMER: That’s right. I know for many Americans that word, comes along with many images and recollections of horrific acts of violence. I also know that in Arabic the word jihad simply means struggle and through my Muslim husband I’ve learned that the prophet Mohamed talked that the greatest struggle or jihad in our lives is the one that takes place in our hearts. It’s the struggle to overcome our egos. To get over our selfishness and our intolerance and to just try to pry our hearts open a little wider, every single day for the sake of our families and our communities and really for humanity in general. And I could not think of a better word to describe how I experienced marriage because it seems to me that marriage is the place where I confront these darker aspects of myself on a daily basis. And it’s where I try day after day to just overcome my ego a little more for the sake of the relationship.

BYRD: It’s interesting; you speak of your struggle to overcome your ego. You started out at the very beginning of this book, very much as a, I guess you could call it, a self-made woman. You were working for Planned Parenthood, you were a surfer in California and you met Ismail while jogging I believe in North Carolina?

BREMER: Yeah that’s right; I grew up in Southern California in the 70s. I was vaguely influenced by feminism, which I discovered in college. And I was an avid surfer and an aspiring journalist and I had a certain idea of the trajectory my life would take and then I met this older Muslim man who was from Libya and he was raised in a fishing village by two illiterate parents as one of eight children in very poor circumstances. So I wrote this book as a story about a bicultural relationship and it seems to me that every single relationship is bicultural because whether we marry someone from the other side of the world as I’ve done or we marry someone from our very own hometown, we arrive into marriage with very different notions of home and family and love and what those should look like. And need to navigate those differences. And we also arrive at a place where the mate that we’ve chosen seems impossibly foreign and I’m interested in those moments and how we handle them and how we navigate them. So for me this book is about what intimacy entails and what enduring love looks lie and what it requires as well as what it offers us in return.

BYRD: Now the segment of your book where you make your first visit to Libya is very telling. You talk about your husband telling the patriarch of the family that you hate it there and how that kind of throws a chill over everything, or the haggling in the marketplace and how that’s so different for you. What did this reveal to you about yourself and about what it really means to love somebody else.

BREMER: Well my trip to Libya was quite a shock. Before that trip I had already taken quite a few trips and I imagine myself to be a seasoned traveler because I had been to India, Mexico, and Europe and Hawaii and yet nothing could have prepared me for what it was like to arrive in Qaddafi’s Libya. It was a place that practically defies description but I can tell you that the oppression was so tangible as soon as I stepped off the plane. It was a weight that descended upon my shoulders just never lifted until the plane lifted off to take me away from that place and I left that place with such a sense of relief, to be free from that oppression. So there was that aspect of Libya and at the same time there was an entirely different aspect of Libya that I found in the home of my relatives and that was a place that was joyful and kind and openhearted and welcoming. And it really amazed me to see my Libyan relatives maintain such connectedness and such joy in their homes in spite of how brutal the system that they lived under. When I think of that visit now, I really think of relentless intimacy. It was this place where I was nearly always in physical contact with my relatives in these crowded homes. And during all my previous journeys I had hostels or hotels that I could retreat to just to have a bit of buffer from a foreign culture. But there was really no escape from this relentless intimacy and hospitality and it was both maddening and at times it truly felt like a form of torture when all I wanted was to be alone and it was also transformative because it made me think about my American individualism and how it both serves me and undermines me.

BYRD: Your marriage or your relationship with Ismail has been during a couple of very turbulent periods between the United States and the Muslim world with the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the other being the Arab Spring. How have those two events affected your relationship and how has your relationship changed now that Khadafi is gone.

BREMER: Well those are interesting questions. I would say that September 11th was a significant turning point for us, especially in terms of my awareness of how Muslims are perceived in this country. I really don’t recall before that day of being aware of any misconceptions about Muslims or any Islamophobia in general. And after that point I became increasingly aware of the ways people were perceiving my husband and the ways they made generalizations about the Muslim world which was confusing to me because you know there cannot be a Muslim world without saying there’s a Christian world and a Jewish world and a Buddhist world. So I really became increasingly aware of the sweeping generalizations that include my children.

BYRD: You have two children, how do you and your husband negotiate child rearing? And, follow up to that, how is your family adjusting to your marriage and your parenting style.

BREMER: Well we have two kids. We have a 13 year old daughter and an 8 year old son. Child rearing is incredibly challenging and it taxes any relationship and ours is no different but I think our approach from the beginning has been to try to offer our kids the very best from our backgrounds and to give them the freedom to find the place where they feel the most at home. Particularly with my daughter right now at 13, it’s a balancing act moving into a realm where our cultural differences are really quite striking. What I see with her is that her background gives her a certain cultural fluency which I hope is really going to serve her in the future. So what I mean by that is that she’s learned to surf. Last summer I took her out on a surf board for the first time and she’s perfectly at ease at the beach in a bathing suit and doing activities that require intense physical exertion and she enjoys the freedom of that. At the same time she can enter a Muslim gathering where the women can cover their heads for the prayer and feel perfectly at ease in that environment too. So if she can continue on that path, and if she can move between those world without feeling a contradiction or conflict then I’ll be happy for her.

BYRD: And your mom and dad how are they in this circle? I haven’t gotten to that point of the book yet, how are your siblings or your parents interfacing this.

BREMER: I describe in the book that when I first met my husband I went through a period of intense inner conflict because on one hand I met a man who made me feel more at ease than anyone I’ve ever known. And on the other hand he was older and darker and poorer and more foreign than the husband I imagined for myself. So I alternated between a sort of terror at the turn my life was taking and I think it’s probably fair to say although they have not expressed that to me, that they felt some form of that because they had some ideas of the kind of husband their daughter would have and they were shocked to receive a son in law they did not expect to receive. But over the years, I think they’ve come to deeply appreciate the ways I’ve thrived in this relationship. And so as the years go on, I think their appreciation for Ismail has only grown.

BYRD: I was struck by the tenderness between the two of you in this book, even in the midst the times where you guys are angry with each other, when you’re fighting like when he was haggling with the dwarf in Libya or when he says to his family that you hate it in their country. You know your story is a love story as the subtitle says, but it’s not Snow White and happily ever after; but the question I have is would you trade it for your vision of what you thought your life was going to be or would you not trade it at all?

BREMER: I think that the way our lives unfold it would be difficult for me to trade any aspect of my life because each turn has been inextricably linked to some other gift that I have received so I absolutely would not trade it for anything.

BYRD: That is author Krista Bremer. She is the author of My Accidental Jihad: A love story.