Heeding the Times from Harry Antonides' Desk

Nomad ­ By Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 2010, 277 pp.,

August, 2010 

Grandmother, I no longer believe in the old ways…. I love you, and I love some of my memories of Somalia, though not all.  But I will not serve the bloodline or Allah any longer. (92)


This is an incredible, often heartbreaking story  of a noble and  courageous woman who escaped the misery and abuse suffered by millions of women in the Muslim world.  

Ayaan Hirsi Ali previously published The Caged Virgin: an Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam, and Infidel. In Nomad she answers a question she is often asked: “ Is your experience typical and representative of life under Islam?” She answers: 

 It is not only about my own life as a wanderer in the West; it is also about the lives of many immigrants to the West, the philosophical and very real difficulties of people, especially women, who live in a tightly closed traditional Muslim culture within a broadly open culture. It is about how Islamic ideals clash with Western ideals.  It is about the clash of civilizations that I and millions of others have lived and continue to live.(XIII) 

Escape from Bondage

Born in  Somalia in 1969,  she was destined, similar to her grandmother and mother, to marry someone selected by her father. When she was 22 old, her father arranged her marriage to a distant relative who was a stranger to her. In “a kind of instinctive desperation” she decided to defy her father and fled to Holland where she applied for and received refugee status.   

In Holland  she was overwhelmed with the kindness and  freedom she had never experienced before. She quickly learned the language, studied political science at the University of Leiden and worked as an interpreter for the Dutch social services.  In 2003 she became a member of the Dutch  Parliament where she specialized in immigration  policies.

Ali became an outspoken critic of radical Islam and of Muslim immigrants who refuse to integrate and to respect the culture of their home countries.  In 2004 she cooperated with Theo van Gogh  in producing the  film Submission about the oppression of Muslim women. 

On November 2, 2004 Dutch-born Muslim  Mohammed Bouyeri murdered van Gogh. He pinned a letter on van Gogh’s body in which he warned Ali that she too would be killed.  (At his trial Bouyeri was unrepentant and said: “I was motivated by the law that commands me to cut off the head of anyone who insults Allah and his prophet.”) 

In 2006 the Dutch minister of immigration told  Ali that she would be stripped of her Dutch citizenship, although that threat was shortly withdrawn.  She resigned  from Parliament, and moved to the U.S. , where she joined the Washington-based  American Enterprise Institute. 

In 2007 she published her memoir Infidel, which heightened her public image. She continues to live with an ironic contradiction. Though she is a tireless advocate of women’s freedom, she herself is severely restricted in her freedom of movement because of death threats against her, forcing her to live with 24 –hour a day bodyguards. 

Nomad is devoted to a discussion of her family members; her move from Holland to America in 2006 amidst political turmoil including the fall of the Dutch government; the three most difficult areas confronting Muslim immigrants (sex, money, violence); and opening the Muslim mind by a “campaign of enlightenment.” 

A Clash of Cultures

Ali writes about the contrast between radical Islam and the West where individual freedom and democracy are taken for granted. She describes in detail how she saw and experienced the destructive impact of Islam on family relationships – and therefore on the entire society. She is heartbroken by the violence and dysfunction in the Somali culture that wreaked havoc with her siblings and other family members. That dysfunction followed them as some tried  to start a new life in the West. 

In contemplating  what she calls ”the ruins of her family”  she concludes that  the old ways of Somali culture  is broken, and ”the new ways  involve only violence and disorder. As a tribe we are fragmented; as clans, scattered; as families, dysfunctional.” (83) 

The largest section of Nomad is devoted to her agonizing struggle to overcome her fears and sense of guilt and loss when she renounced her Muslim faith that brought shame to her family. Via telephone she kept in touch with her mother and father, though listening to their warnings and  pleadings to return to Allah left her feeling empty and alone. Her father died in a London hospital where she visited him a few times when he was near death. 

In the chapter on the closing of the  Muslim mind Ali reports that in all her schooling  about Islam, the students  were forbidden to ask any questions. They were taught that the Koran was handed down directly from God, and therefore is immutable and has to be obeyed to the letter. Even questioning any part of the Koran would bring on the wrath of Allah. Such fear-instilled obedience has proven to be a powerful incentive for the creation of a unified, worldwide Islamic religion. 

However, Muslim believers must wonder: If Islam is such a perfect religion, how is it possible that nearly all Muslim countries are beset by poverty, squalor and cultural backwardness. How to explain that? The reason cannot be inside the Muslim world itself; for its religion is perfect. So the cause of the Muslim backwardness must lie with outside enemies, the infidels. Chief among them are the Great and the Small Satans. 

The most enduring hatred is directed at the  Jews because they refused to accept Muhammad as the true Prophet 1400 years ago. Today they have  the audacity to build a thriving Jewish state in territory claimed by Islam. Jew-hatred is deeply imbedded in all Islamic teaching . They serve as scapegoats who are responsible for the troubles and hardship suffered in Islamic countries. Therefore they must be destroyed and the state of Israel wiped off the map. 

After Ali moved to the U.S, she addressed numerous audiences across the country about the threat of radical Islam. Many in her audiences were incredulous when told about the number of child brides, honour killings, and female excision in Islamic countries, and even in the West. She told them that in America there are schools where little girls learn to be subservient, to veil themselves in order to symbolize the suppression of the individual will. Ali mentioned a number of young women by name that had been killed by their father or brothers in the U.S., but their stories had been underreported or explained as “normal” family disputes that had nothing to do with religion. 

Most American audiences reacted with  compassion and horror to such stories. But not at the university campuses where she met well--organized opposition to her speeches by members of the Muslim Student Association. They would attack her credibility and her criticism of the Islam-inspired violence in Muslim countries and even in the U.S, by pointing to crimes committed in the West. They showed no empathy with the suffering of women under harsh Islamic rule. 

Given  her experience, it is not surprising that Ali has no use for multiculturalism and relativism. She  is critical of the  policy in Western countries that  encourages new immigrants to maintain their own culture while not demanding that they accept the laws and responsibilities of their new homeland. This is what has given rise to  separate enclaves of immigrants who remain aliens, and often violent so in the West especially in the UK and France. 

Ali points out that the Dutch government contributes to the alienation of Muslim immigrants by funding, via community leaders usually imams, the setting up of community centres, where the jihadis lecture people on the West’s “crusade” against Islam. She continues: 

In other words, the country paid for its own undermining. As a result Ede was the little Dutch town where CNN cameras, who happened to be filming in an immigrant community on September 11, 2001, showed young Muslim kids cheering for the hijackers who brought down the Twin Towers. (254) 

(But she hastens to add this was only one face of Ede, where Christian volunteers had done excellent work in assisting Muslim refugees to feel welcome – see below.)   

Ali is especially critical of Western feminists who ignore the plight of millions of women and young girls who suffer from the cruel customs of genital mutilation, child marriages, honor killings, domestic violence, and all the other forms of deprivation imposed on women 

Challenging the Churches

In June 2007 she met in Rome with a Dutch priest  to discuss the opportunities and responsibilities of the Christian churches to become more active in meeting the challenge of aggressive Islam. She told him that she was not a Christian and did not want his help in becoming one. But then she said something that should resonate with all Christians: 

…I think the Christian churches should begin dawa [proselytizing] exactly as Islam does. You need to compete, because you can be a powerful tool to reverse Islamization. You should start with Muslim neighbourhoods in Rome.  Europe is sleepwalking  into disaster – cultural, ideological, and political  disaster – because the authorities of the church  have neglected  the immigrant ghettoes . 

The churches should go into Muslim communities , provide services just as the radical Muslims do:  build new Catholic schools , hospitals,  and community centers, just like the ones that were such a civilizing force under colonialism in Africa,.  Don’t just leave this in the hands of governments –take an active role. The churches have the resources, the authority, and the motivation to convert Muslim immigrants to a more  modern way of life and more modern beliefs.  (238) 

Ali records that she mused how the mighty have fallen, “or not fallen exactly, but faded. While Islam is rising across Europe, Christianity appears to be in decline….  Churches are falling empty, converted  into apartments and offices, even nightclubs, or razed , while  mosques  are sprouting  from the ground.” 

In the last chapter, “Seeking God but Finding Allah,” the author speculates that many Muslims are seeking a God who meets the description of the Christian God, but they find Allah. She thinks that Christian leaders are wasting precious time in futile dialogues with self-appointed leaders of Islam. They should redirect their efforts to convert as many Muslims as possible to Christianity, “introducing them to a God who rejects Holy War and who has sent his son to die for all sinners out of love for mankind.” (247) 

Ali has high praise for the Dutch churches that are so engaged and are helping Muslims adjust to their new homeland.  She herself experienced such help from the local churches in Lunteren when she first arrived in Holland. There, as in Ede and other places,  church volunteers offered language classes and many other kinds of assistance, and they  welcomed refugee families into their homes. 

I find it ironic in a pleasant way that Ali, who calls herself an atheist, urges Christians to be bold in living their faith and not evading or fearing to meet Islam head on. Nomad has much to teach us in a very practical way about our responsibility toward Muslims. 

This book will sometimes move you to tears. Above all, you will be moved to a profound respect for the fortitude and honesty of this lady who overcame hardship and obstacles that most of us cannot even imagine in our worst nightmares.

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