At the Margins tells the story of living and working in the Afghan program in Pakistan for three years in the early 1990s followed by a year in Niger in West Africa. The title comes from the fact that South and Central Asia and West Africa represent relative extremes in the geographical reach of Islam. Afghanistan should need no introduction. Niger may seem an odd pairing with Afghanistan, but the assignments were of a piece: large-scale commodities and infrastructure assistance for impoverished, overwhelmingly Muslim countries in the throes of man-made and natural disasters.
The Sahel, of which Niger mostly consists, has become a battleground of late. In the last decade of the twentieth century it was largely immune to the bacillus of Islamism. But the spread was inexorable and the familiar issues of corruption, rapid population growth, inequality, and diminished opportunities have combined with religious zealotry to spark violent eruptions against the existing order. It would be immodest to claim that in 1995 we saw it coming, but the ingredients were already there. We should not be surprised at the spread.