I just finished reading Nomad by Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
I don’t do a ton of book reviews on this site, but I’m compelled to do it for this one. This is an incredible book that gets to the heart of the problem with radical Islam. It’s not just about terrorism; it’s about the boundaries it sets on all people and especially the limitations it places on women.
I’m usually not a person who highlights passages in books — hell, I make fun of people who highlight everything in sight — but I somehow did it all over the place in this case. According to my Kindle, I made 72 separate highlights.
Here’s just a small sampling of passages that stood out:
As I learned Dutch, I began to formulate an almost impossibly ambitious goal: I would study political science to find out why this society, although it appeared to me as godless, worked when every society I had lived in, no matter how Muslim it claimed to be, was rotten with corruption, violence, and self-centered guile.
The Christianity of love and tolerance remains one of the West’s most powerful antidotes to the Islam of hate and intolerance. Ex-Muslims find Jesus Christ to be a more attractive and humane figure than Muhammad, the founder of Islam.
Then my mother turned the conversation back to what I was doing to invest in my hereafter. “Do you pray and fast, and read the Quran, my daughter?”
It took me so long to think of a good answer that she asked if I was still there. I decided to tell her the truth. “Ma, I don’t pray or fast, and I read the Quran occasionally. What I find in the Quran does not appeal to me.”
As soon as I said the words I regretted it. Predictably, she flew into a rage. “Infidel!” she cried. “You have abandoned God and all that is good, and you have abandoned your mother. You are lost!”
Then she hung up on me.
There’s so much more I wish I could share with you, particularly, a chapter which functions as a letter to her deceased Muslim grandmother explaining why she has left the faith. She writes “I have lived with the infidels for almost two decades. I have come to learn, appreciate, and adopt their way of life.” The entire chapter breaks down the problems with the religion Hirsi Ali grew up in and how much better things are in a country where you’re free to believe in whatever you want.
Nicholas Kristof at the New York Times disagrees about the focus of her criticism:
She is at her best when she is telling her powerful story. And she is at her worst when she is using her experience to excoriate a variegated faith that has more than one billion adherents. Her analysis seems accurate in its descriptions of Somalis, Saudis, Yemenis and Afghans, but not in her discussion, say, of Indonesian Muslims — who are more numerous than those other four nationalities put together.
She’s speaking to her experience, and in her life, faith has been anything but a blessing. If some cultures have learned to to adopt a more benign form of Islam, more power to them. But as you’ve all heard before, moderate religion lends a cover to more extreme versions. The happy ending — if you could call it that — occurred when Hirsi Ali shed her faith completely.
The part of the book that may be most controversial is Hirsi Ali’s idea for a remedy to radical Islam. She suggests that Christians ought to try converting Muslims to their faith.
Her rationale is that Muslims want a “redemptive God” and they already believe in a “higher power.” Might as well give them a less harmful version of it in the form of Jesus.
So long as we atheists and classical liberals have no effective programs of our own to defeat the spread of radical Islam, we should work with enlightened Christians who are willing to devise some. We should bury the hatchet, rearrange our priorities, and fight together against a much more dangerous common enemy.
Given the choice, I would be far rather live in a Christian than a Muslim country.
It’s a tough sell, and she spends pages trying to explain her case — admitting that there are plenty of problems with Christianity, too. She even suggests that her fellow New Atheists won’t take too kindly to the idea. I would agree. I think any attempt at converting extremists of one faith to another faith would lead to more violence, not less. But it’s not like I’m full of ideas that could actually work to lessen the threat of Islam.
So maybe she’s naïve. But she’s one of the few people who grew up in that culture in its worst form, left it, and lived to tell about it. She knows what she’s talking about. Her experiences may be unique but no doubt the stories she tells are indicative of what so many Somalian Muslims (and ex-Muslims) have gone through.
It’s really an amazing story. Despite all the depressing and horrific parts — there’s a lot about female genital mutilation — it’s extremely uplifting when you consider that Hirsi Ali broke free and she might be able to persuade others to do the same.