Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Book Review: Nomad: From Islam to America

Reading Aayan Hirsi Ali is always a challenging, thought-provoking experience. And that is exactly the reaction she is hopes to arouse in her readers. Nomad: From Islam to America, A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations is the sequel to her memoir Infidel and it follows Ali's transition from member of the Dutch Parliament to fellow in an American think-tank in Washington DC.

If you aren't familiar with Ali, check out my review of Infidel which will give you the background information on her life This book has also stirred a lot of controversy, so much so in fact that she lives with the protection of private body-guards because of her criticism of many aspects of Islam.

Nomad is divided into four parts.

The first part (A Problem Family) recounts the stress and tragedies that beset the author and her family members as they were forced to transition away from the tribal Islamic culture of Somalia to modern day Saudi Arabia and then to Western Europe.

Ali's thesis is that there are three main barriers to the integration of people like herself and her family into the modern democratic societies of the West: Islam's treatment of women; the difficulty many immigrants from Muslim countries have dealing with money (which she attributes to the Islamic view of credit and debt and the lack of education of Muslim women about financial matters); and the "socialization of the Islamic mind" which she believes makes Muslims more vulnerable to indoctrination.

The second part of the book, subtitled Nomad Again, relates her move to the United States and her thoughts on that experience and Islam in America.

The third section (Sex, Money and Violence) expands and repeats the points she made in the first section.

And the final section, entitled Remedies, offers her ideas of how these issues may best be addressed. She urges the Western democracies to uphold the ideals of the Enlightenment and not be reluctant to insist upon their superiority in the name of cultural relativism and religious tolerance:
Here is something I have learned the hard way, but which a lot of well-meaning people in the West have a hard time accepting: All human beings are equal, but all cultures and religions are not....The culture of the Western Enlightenment is better. In the real world, equal respect for all cultures doesn't translate into a rich mosaic of colorful and proud peoples interacting peacefully while maintaing a delightful diversity of food and craftwork. It translates into closed pockets of oppression, ignorance and abuse.
(Italics in the original.)
When I finished Ali's first book, Infidel, I wrote in my review that it seemed to me that "for all of her rejection of Islam and professed atheism, Ali still seems God-haunted." Ali continues to say she is an atheist, but she also seems to have a very positive view of Christianity although she says she will not convert. One of her often-repeated ideas is that Islam needs a reformation similar to the Christian Reformation of the sixteenth century in Europe.

For example, one of the repeated themes of Nomad is the failure of the European democracies to assimilate Islamic immigrants into the general community of citizens, as illustrated by the passage I quoted above. In one incident she recounts, she met with a Dutch Roman Catholic priest in Rome and begged him to get the church to go into the immigrant Muslim communities in Europe and teach them "a more modern way of life and more modern beliefs" and "compete with Islam outside Europe and vigorously assimilate Muslims within it."

Is God working on her heart or does she just believe that Christianity can be a useful tool in the assimilation process and wants to see it supported and put to use rather than discarded? She would definitely say the latter is true, and I'd like to think that there is some hope for the former.

Nomad is a disturbing book. (The chapter about the honor killings of two young Muslim women by their father in a Dallas suburb literally gave me nightmares, especially since I remember reading the news stories in our local paper about them.) It challenges many of our assumptions and accuses those of us in the West of abandoning the good things about our civilization to our peril.

The criticism of Ali is that she experienced an extreme form of Islam in her girlhood and that the conclusions she draws from it are not a fair representation of that religion. It certainly was extreme, but it was her experience. I have nothing to compare it with, but I am impressed with her intelligence, logic, and her life's story to date. We must take her message seriously.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You said...
The criticism of Ali is that she experienced an extreme form of Islam in her girlhood and that the conclusions she draws from it are not a fair representation of that religion....

That may be somewhat true, but certainly not fully. As a God fearing man myself (no particular religion) and living amongst Muslims, I can clearly say HER experience is not on its own, and "if" the western world would allow it, it would be the consensus amongst 85% of all Muslims in the western world. Note I said IF. I think she is right on the money, especially after listening to her interview by Jon Faine on ABC radio this morning. Many may speak out against her in this political darn correct world we have created today, but that does not mean she is wrong. She has more heart and guts than any man to do what she is doing. Goodonya Ali...well done.