When one of Katherine Zoepf’s classmates was killed in the Twin Towers on 9/11, her own certainties about life vanished in the rubble. What had compelled 19 young Arabic men to plot murder on the other side of the world? What was it like to live in a strict Muslim society? Her new book, Excellent Daughters: The Secret Lives of Women Who Are Transforming the Arab World, is the story of her journey to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and other Middle Eastern countries, where she gained rare access to the lives and dreams of young women.
Talking from her home in New York’s East Village, she explains why, since the Arab Spring, female genital mutilation is on the rise in Egypt again; how growing up with a mother who was a Jehovah’s Witness enabled her to better comprehend Muslim fundamentalism; and why more understanding between the Islamic world and the West is essential.