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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » (NOMAD)Nomad: From Islam to America: A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations BY Hirsi Ali, Ayaan

(NOMAD)Nomad: From Islam to America: A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations BY Hirsi Ali, Ayaan

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Important and Compelling Book

  • Sep 14, 2011
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The story of Ayaan Hirsi Ali has become very well known and a prominent thread in the fabric of modern clash of cultures: a young Somali woman, sent by her father to Canada to get married to a man that she had barely known decides to run away from her family and settle in Holland. There she becomes immersed in the progressive European culture, adopts to the new lifestyle, and becomes a very vocal critic of Islam and the tribalism in which she had been brought up. She is critical in the most scathing way of Islam and the Dutch immigration policies that are not designed to help immigrants uplift themselves from their former habits and lifestyles. This frankness and openness makes here an extremely controversial figure, and earns her many detractors and admirers. She even manages to become a member of the Dutch parliament, but falls out of grace even within her own party due to petty political intrigue. She decides to leave Europe for good, and today she works at the American Enterprise Institute, a prominent Washington D.C. think tank.

The reason that many of these highlights from her biography are so familiar is due in large part to her previous book, Infidel, in which she has talked about them in a great detail. This new book, Nomad, takes off more or less where the previous one ended. Ms. Ali is a very forceful and frank writer, who doesn't shy away from discussing some very intimate and private matters. Big part of the rationale for this approach has to do with the message that she is trying to get across: the ideological and religious attitudes and practices have a very strong, and sometimes violent, impact on the most intimate of our attributes - on our freedom to move, our freedom to think and voice our opinions, and even on the integrity of our own bodies.

A large portion of the first part of this book deals with a rapprochement of sorts that Ms. Ali was able to achieve with the members of her own family since her previous book had come out. Most of her family is still angry with her and views her decision to leave Islam in the most negative terms imaginable, but at least they are able to communicate with each other now, however strained and tentative that communication may be. Ms. Ali talks at length about the life that several of her close family members have lead, and tries to discern the toxic impact of their culture on their, invariably unfavorable, life outcomes. Ms. Ali mixes no words when it comes to assigning blame for such state of affairs: Islam, in its "pure" undiluted form is a big obstacle that stands in the way of leading happier lives and finding individual fulfillment. It is hard to argue with what Ms. Ali alleges, especially if it is backed by her own and her family's experiences. Nonetheless, I came away from reading this part of the book having a lot of sympathy for Ms. Ali's family, and the kinds of struggles and problems that they encountered. All of them have come of age in a tribal, nomadic, pre-modern society and many of the options and opportunities that we hold for granted were simply unavailable to them. Their struggles to maintain some semblance of cultural and personal identity had been challenged almost beyond the breaking point by the civil war that had completely devastated Somalia. Ms. Ali and her family were forced into exile, and they lived in four different countries over the span of their lives. These sorts of conditions make it hard to adapt to the new lifestyles, even under the best of circumstances. In the end, though, I understand why Ms. Ali has included these personal stories of family members' struggles. She was trying to get across the larger point that a particular worldview and ideology do affect real people in very personally devastating manner. It is hard not to appreciate this message.

The middle part of the book deals with three main issues at the root of all inter-civilizational conflicts: sex, money and violence. Ms. Ali argues that most of her troubles with the culture that she grew up in and her difficulties when assimilating into the West can be traced to the way that the traditional tribal Islamic society deals with these three perennial concerns. She posits that her own experiences are not unique, and drawing on many years of dealing with refugees, migrants and asylum seekers in Holland she sees a lot of parallels between her own and many other Muslim cultures. However, the greatest brunt of her criticism is reserved for the secular European officials and intellectuals who are unwilling to pressure these immigrants to conform to their new country's values out of misguided respect for different "cultures." She sees the ideology of multiculturalism as the biggest obstacle in bringing these cultures up to date with modernity, and she feels that the greatest victims in all of this are the women in traditional Islamic societies.

The last part of the book focuses on what Ms. Ali sees are the solutions to many of the problems that she had recounted. She is a big believer in the traditions of the secular European enlightenment, but she also believes that many Christian churches have the ability, the moral authority and the means to help many Muslims make a more smooth transition to the modern world. She is honest and pragmatic in this regard, as she doesn't think it's plausible that people who have been orienting their whole lives along the religious lines can be expected to abandon this mental framework in one fell swoop. She believes that Christianity offers a much more humane and enlightened view of God than does Islam.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a truly remarkable woman and someone who ought to command a lot of respect and admiration for the outspoken stand that she has been assuming for many years. Most of her views and perspectives are deeply rooted in her own life experiences - experiences that have made her live in six different countries and three continents thus far. As such it is unlikely that there will be many people who will completely embrace everything that she stands for, but it is important that all of us listen to what she has to say. Without sounding overly dramatic, it is very likely that the future of the global peace and prosperity depends at least in part on the issues that she talks about and the insights that she offers. Our ability to take these matters seriously and act on them in an appropriate and humane way will continue to have an enormous impact for a foreseeable future.

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