Centered around the rural areas of Pakistan, "Children of Dust" is a memoir that chronicles a boy's coming of age in a fundamentalist milieu, and offers a detailed account of the ways in which people internalize and submit to Islamic extremism and social alienation. It sets forth a harrowing narrative of abuse and violence, an intimate portrait of life at the lower levels of Pakistani society, an exploration of love in a place where both romance and women are reviled, a discussion on the rise of religious fanaticism, and an intellectual reflection on the mental totalitarianism of global Wahhabism. After settling in the US, where he entered college and began evaluating his past with a critical eye, Ali and his family returned to Pakistan in 1999. He found the cities of his youth dominated by the ideology of the Taliban, filled with members of al-Qaeda, and his extended family caught up in a fight for survival. He became the target of an al-Qaeda plot to abduct and hold him ransom for being a purported CIA agent. He eventually had to escape under military escort.
One of the fundamental questions animating the book is how the author reconciled himself with the violence he experienced without becoming consumed by it. This question opens the door to searing reflections on the possibilities of reform in Islam by an individual who, as a human rights lawyer and activist, has now been intimately involved in such efforts for a decade.