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Nomad: From Islam to America: A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

NomadWith the publication of her first memoir, Infidel (2007), Ayaan Hirsi Ali spent the better part of a year seeing her debut on the New York Times bestseller list. Born in Somalia, at times neglected, abandoned, or abused by her parents, the strictly-raised Muslim child that Hirsi Ali was escapes an arranged marriage in Canada by seeking asylum in Holland where she eventually becomes a Dutch Parliament official. [You can’t make this stuff up!] She helps make a film, Submission, about the subjugation of Muslim women which gets the director Theo Van Gogh murdered, fends off her own endless death threats, is denounced for lying about her refugee status and has her Dutch citizenship threatened, and finally arrives in the U.S. where the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research was waiting with a job which Hirsi Ali holds today.

To a western readership with a penchant for faraway schadenfreude stories, especially of the seemingly truthful variety, Infidel proved a near perfect title for a post-9/11 America in the midst of a war on terror. The story was riveting, the writing crisp and effective, fundamentalist Islam was dutifully denounced, and readers couldn’t wait to find out more about such an unflinchingly controversial figure.

In May, Hirsi Ali debuted the next installment about her remarkable life. Where Infidel was first a well-told story –  a Herculean survival tale, no less! – Nomad ultimately disintegrates into a repetitive sociopolitical treatise that mars the power of Hirsi Ali’s continually jaw-dropping experiences and adventures.

“The message of Nomad is clear,” Hirsi Ali states in her introduction, “and can be stated at the outset: The West urgently needs to compete with the jihadis, the proponents of a holy war, for the hearts and minds of its own Muslim immigrant populations. It needs to provide education directed at breaking the spell of the infallible Prophet, to protect women from the oppressive dictates of the Quaran, and to promote alternative sources of spirituality.”

Nomad is strongest when Hirsi Ali presents her self-described “reckoning of my own roots” – from her nomadic physical journey from Somalia through various other African nations, to the Netherlands, and eventually settling in the U.S., as well as her personal and intellectual transformation from the limitations of a tribal mindset to that of an international citizen with irrefutable privileges and rights.

While some of her story will be familiar to readers of Infidel, Hirsi Ali goes deeper into her own history in Nomad. She uses her own assimilated transformation as proof positive that the freedoms and democracy promised in the West are the only answer to combating the terrors of fundamentalist Islam, especially as it demeans, subjugates, and destroys women around the world. While Islam’s origins and largest strongholds are based in the Third World, Hirsi Ali points out again and again that Muslim fundamentalism has created self-isolating immigrant communities here in the West. In a post-9/11 world, we have reason to be afraid.

Hirsi Ali’s arguments are eerily convincing, even as her condemnations are shockingly sweeping, seemingly over-reactionary. Her blanket condemnation of Islam is frightening; yet as if to second-guess her readers, she repeatedly warns that liberal westerners who insist on a blended multicultural tolerance inevitably do more harm to the Muslim immigrant who then has no need to assimilate to western democracy. That self-imposed boundary, Hirsi Ali argues with many haunting examples from her own family as well as media headlines, will allow the immigrant to eschew the larger community in the name of senseless, often destructive holy rules.

I don’t know enough about Islam to argue with any true knowledge …. but I also don’t know any militant Muslims personally. The Muslims I know aren’t women-beating, genital-mutilating, misogynistic murderers. They aren’t all American, either. I’m not unaware of the death and destruction that has permeated history in the name of religion – a tragic pattern that certainly seems to have no end! From the research I’ve done on the plight of women, however, religion is not necessarily our greatest enemy.

I admit I am highly disturbed by this read which ultimately proves to be a call to arms for free, strong, western women to save their unwanted, silenced, abused, tortured sisters on the other side of the world (and closer to home). Her final “Letter to My Unborn Daughter” is a heartbreaking promise that she will never have to endure what Hirsi Ali has survived, that she will “live, laugh, love, and give back with a broad grin.” But I cannot seem to get my head around the all-compassing condemnations of Islam, of Muslims. As erudite and brilliant as Hirsi Ali’s arguments are, I feel betrayed in some way to read them. I so welcome any and all opinions out there. Please do chime in.

Tidbit: A friend sent me this link after reading this post … it’s too good not to share. Jon Stewart fans will rejoice, I’m sure [I don’t watch TV much, so am not up on his certain brand of humor – hey, I’ve always got a book in hand instead! – but this one just made me a fan for sure!]. Click here for “Wish You Weren’t Here,” or go to directly. HOLY MOLY!

Readers: Adult

Published: 2010



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