Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Nomad, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Nomad: From Islam to America: A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations
A while back, I read Ayaan Hirsi Ali's book, Infidel. I thought it was a very good look at Islam from someone who had left the religion, and who was attempting to influence Muslims to quit supporting the radicalization and violence within it. So, I was excited to see Ali's new book.

This one takes a more personal slant, right from the start. Ali talks about her relationship with her father, which had always been strained since she ran away from an arranged marriage, and left her clan and family's traditions behind. When her father died, it caused her to examine her past, especially in respect to her family, and how they were affected by their Somali heritage and by Islam.

It's a pretty harsh view of a very dysfunctional group of people. Whether merely because of their adherence to a strict version of Islam, or because of their clan's history and traditions, or perhaps even just personalities, the harsh discipline, bipolar emotional motivation, and backstabbing and infighting in the family left all of her generation permanently emotionally scarred. This is painful reading.

Ali fled to Holland, where she worked hard to escape refugee status, and eventually became a member of the Dutch parliament. She subsequently moved to the United States, where she took a job with the American Enterprise Institute, writing papers and speaking out on women's issues, especially with respect to Islam's treatment of women.

She describes in great detail the many ways women are abused and repressed in Muslim cultures, including genital mutilation, child marriage, and honor killings. A woman in these cultures is totally subservient and controlled by the men in her family, and anything that she may do, or even may be suspected of doing can merit the harshest punishment without any hope for intervention by the "secular" (in countries where Sharia law is in effect, the secular and religious authorities are one and the same) government.

Men in these cultures may have (and often do) have multiple wives. Women under sharia law may be divorced by their husbands without any recourse, are subjected to marital rape, and can be stoned to death for even the hint of infidelity. They can own no property, generally are kept from any education other than religious instruction in segregated madrassas, and must only leave the house with their husband's permission, veiled to one extent or the other, and must be accompanied by a male relative.

Ali is perplexed by the Western culture's indifference to the plight of these women. She finds it hard to believe that Western feminists, who worked hard to end racial injustice, and sexual injustice, dismiss these women's situations by saying that we must respect other cultures' values.

Ali says, "...All human beings are created equal, but all cultures and religions are not. A culture that celebrates femininity and considers women to be the masters of their own lives is better than a culture that mutilates girls' genitals and confines them behind walls and veils or flogs and stones them for falling in love. A culture that protects women's rights by law is better than a culture in which a man can lawfully have four wives at once and women are denied alimony and half their inheritance. A culture that appoints women to its supreme court is better than a culture that declares that the testimony of a woman is half that of a man..."

Ali does have some constructive ideas in the latter portion of her book about how to help stem the tide of radicalization of Islam and mute the call to jihad. Although she's an atheist herself, she believes that Catholic and Christian churches can do a lot to work with refugees in the West to help them accept and embrace Western ideas about justice and liberty, and to reject violence and oppression.

As I said, this is a tough book to read. Ali pulls no punches talking about her journey from Islam to America.

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