MY FRIEND THE FANATIC is a portrait of the world’s most populous Muslim country, Indonesia, a land once synonymous with tolerance that finds itself in the midst of a profound shift toward radical Islam. This portrait is painted through the travels of a pair of unlikely protagonists. Sadanand Dhume, the author, is a foreign correspondent, an American-educated Indian atheist with a fondness for literary fiction and an interest in economic development. His companion, Herry Nurdi, is a young Islamist who hero worships Osama bin Laden.
Dhume’s quest to understand the ongoing radicalization of Indonesia gives MY FRIEND THE FANATIC the contours of a travelogue. His attachment to the country’s fading culture of pluralism and the inherent tension of his friendship with Herry supply the emotional undertow of a memoir. Both strands come together to answer the same question: how does a society go from broad inclusiveness to shrill intolerance in the space of a generation? By turns disturbing and funny, this is a book for anyone interested in two of the most pressing questions of our time. Is Islam compatible with democracy? And is it compatible with economic development? Is Herry an anomaly or does he represent the country’s future?