Lindsay Lohan, Winston Churchill, and the long history of flirting with Islam

Lindsay Lohan, the American actress, is said to be “exploring” Islam. Speculation was first stirred by a photograph of the celebrity carrying a copy of the Koran while completing a stint of community service. This week, in an interview with the Sun, Lohan told the British tabloid that she was indeed reading Islam’s holy book.

“I’m a very spiritual person and I’m really open to learning,” she said. “America has portrayed holding a Koran in such a different way to what it actually is. We all believe in something and at the end of the day it all ties to a god or a spiritual adviser.”

She wasn’t converting to a new religion, just learning more. “Lindsay has always been very spiritual and is open to exploring all religions and beliefs. She is simply educating herself on other people’s beliefs,” a Lohan representative told Page Six. Some bloggers suggest it’s little more than a play for attention; some conservatives, meanwhile, expressed deeper outrage.

Whatever her convictions, Lohan may or may not know that she’s walking in a long tradition.

These days, of course, the idea of foreigners turning to Islam evokes grim thoughts. Numerous Western converts joined the ranks of violent extremist groups, from the Taliban to the Islamic State. In the eyes of many politicians and pundits, Islam — and, by extension, Muslims — poses a radical and ideological threat.

This was not the case in an earlier era, long before the rise of global jihadist organizations. In the 19th century and into the 20th century, myriad European elites displayed a fascination with the religion, languages, and customs of Muslims they encountered in the fraying domains of the Ottoman empire and lands further east.

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