Ayaan Hirsi Ali's War on Islam

Nomad: From Islam to America (2011)
Free Press 978-14391-7182-0

The best way to get me to read something is to ban it or seek to silence its author. Brandeis University’s (cowardly) decision to rescind an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali for her criticism of Islam led me to downloaded Nomad, her memoir sequel to Infidel (2007).

Ali has major issues with Islam, as would any civilized woman who endured circumcision and genital mutilation as a child, was entombed in a chador, and affianced to an older man she never met.  As a Somali refuge growing up in Kenya and Ethiopia, Ali received just enough education to question and developed just enough courage to flee. Her journey to the West took her first to The Netherlands, where she got a thorough education, got elected to Parliament, wrote a movie script, and endured the horror of seeing director friend Theo van Gogh murdered by Islamists, and herself made the target of a fatwa.  That threat, plus encounters with a Dutch-style political vendetta, led Ali to relocate to the United States, where she employs bodyguards to protect her from the legions of Muslim males who would love to collect their spiritual rewards for killing her. She doesn’t like having bodyguards, but states, “…it’s better than being dead. It’s also better than wearing a headscarf or a veil, which to me represents the mental and physical restrictions that so many Muslim women have to suffer.” (277)

Ali doesn't wish to play nice. “Islam is imbued with violence, and it encourages violence,” says she. (202) It’s also a religion marred by anti-Semitism, and intolerance, rejects Enlightenment values, and “is based on a book, the Quran, that denies women basic human rights….” (133) Ali lets the words of the Quran, the teachings of Muhammad, and the practices of the devout to make her case that Islam is, at its core, misogynist. She describes a worldview that sounds as if was sifted from the sands of antiquity. “According to the Quaran,” she writes, a “husband is permitted to beat [women] and decide whether they may word or leave the house; he may marry other women without seeking their approval, and if he chooses to divorce them, they have no right to resist or to keep custody of their children.” (133) Even more horrifying, if he decides his wife or daughter has disgraced the family name, he can murder her and walk free.

Muslim men immigrating to the West will not walk free if they murder, but she insists that only the blind assert that such “honor killings” don’t happen on Western soil.  Ali sees a veritable clash of civilizations between Islam and the non-Islamic world. She cautions Westerners not to be lulled into thinking that their values convert Muslims living among them–most Muslim immigrants, she asserts, come to the West either to escape refuge camps or for economic opportunity, but they have no respect for Western values and no loyalty to the lands that adopt them. This is true of her own family; despite her success, family members curse her as a whore over the telephone in one breath, and demand she send them money the next.

Ali now works for the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-tank. If you wonder why she’d go such a route, it’s because she reserves some of her harshest criticism for mushy-headed supporters of multiculturalism and for American feminists (the latter of whom she sees as cowardly). “American liberals appear to be more uncomfortable with my condemning of the ill treatment of women under Islam than most conservatives,” she charges. Instead, they “look down at their shoes when faced with questions about cultural differences.” (106) She wonders why liberals valorize the civil rights movement, but spout clichés about “affirming the values of tribal lifestyles” in the name of multiculturalism. Ali calls the “multiculturalist belief that … culture should somehow be preserved, even when its products move to Western societies ... a recipe for social failure.” (213) She is positively contemptuous of American feminists, whose cultural relativism she sees as anathema to the gender equity values they purport to hold.

Don’t preserve Islam, she implores, defeat and dismantle it. This, in her mind, is a matter or urgency. She sees radical Islam as ascendant and cites studies that show 50% of American Muslims identify more strongly with their religion than with the United Sates, and that one of four under the age of 30 justifies suicide bombing against Americans to defend Islam.  It’s time, she argues, to stop excusing Islamic barbarity. She acknowledges there are many decent individual Muslims, but they only become so be repudiating the core teachings of Islam.

Ali’s message is unsettling and raises the hackles of those who endorse ecumenicalism and cultural diversity. Needless to say Muslims view Ali­­–who now identifies as an atheist–as a heretic. Some of Ali’s ‘solutions,’ such as more education, seem hopelessly hackneyed, and a few are just weird–such as imploring the Catholic Church to evangelize Muslim lands. For one who has been a politician, Ali also sometimes seems politically naïve. (Why, she asks, does the West retain ties to nations that harbor anti-Western ideologues? Ummm… oil?) There’s plenty to criticize, including Ali’s flat prose. But we ought to pay very close attention to what she says. I couldn’t help but draw analogies between Ali’s take on the current state of Islam and Europe in the 1920s, when fascism seemed more annoying than threatening.

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