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Ayaan Hirsi Ali

In her new book, Nomad, Hirsi Ali tells of escaping to America and says the Muslim world needs a revolution in how it treats women and modernity. Tunku Varadarajan salutes her necessary and powerful words.

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On a recent visit to Washington, I hopped into a cab at Union Station. Those who have used such transport in D.C. will be aware that the chances of landing an African cabbie are 9 in 10, and this African cohort is predominantly Eritrean, Ethiopian, or Somali. My driver on this occasion was Somali, and after a few pleasantries—How long have you lived in America? Do you still have family in Mogadishu? How old are your children?—I asked the man a less banal question: “What do you think of Ayaan Hirsi Ali… you know, the Somali lady?” He swiveled his head to fix me with his gaze, and then turned it back to the road. “Very bad person,” he said, after a strained pause. “We think she is a bitch. We hate her.”

“The Muslim mind needs to be opened. Above all, the uncritical Muslim attitude toward the Quran urgently needs to change, for it is a direct threat to world peace.”

We did not exchange another word for the rest of the brief ride to the Willard Hotel.

I had cause to recall this ugly episode when I read this week—in just one sitting, it is so brilliant—Hirsi Ali’s new book, Nomad: From Islam to America. (It is subtitled, with a very un-PC tip of the hat to Samuel Huntington, “A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations.”) If I had my way, and the resources to pull off the idea, I would commission translations of the book into Arabic, Urdu, Somali, Farsi, Turkish, Pashto, Kurdish, Bengali, and Bahasa, and air-drop thousands of copies into the Muslim lands (and arrondissements) where these languages are spoken. And with any luck, these books would find their way into the hands of some of the immiserated women who live there.

Book Cover - Varadarajan Ali

 Nomad: From Islam to America, A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations. By Ayaan Hirsi Ali. 277 pages. Free Press. $27.

Women, as the historian Bernard Lewis once told me (probably echoing a desert proverb), “are half the population, and mothers of the other half.” Educated mothers, he said, make a great difference to a society, and the Muslim world’s great drawback is that its women are benighted. Hirsi Ali’s mother was one such woman. Uneducated—and as unenlightened as it was possible to be, on earth, in the 1970s—she hit Hirsi Ali when she first got her period, a sickening blow that was part of an ongoing pattern of violence and misogyny that holds sway not merely in every Somali family, but, in the author’s contention, in almost every Muslim family in the world.

After all, she writes, male domination and female subjugation are Quranically prescribed, and who is Man to challenge the immutable Word of God—especially when God’s arrangements ensure perpetual male domination? This punitive patriarchy is not confined to Muslims in their own lands; it thrives, she points out, in the West, in the lands to which Muslims immigrate, but whose “degenerate” and “sinful” societies they abhor. In a blistering passage, written with the forthright elegance that characterizes the book, Hirsi Ali asserts that “the subjection of women within Islam is the biggest obstacle to the integration and progress of Muslim communities in the West. It is a subjection committed by the closest kin in the most intimate place, the home, and it is sanctioned by the greatest figure in the imagination of Muslims: Allah himself.” It is easy to see why Hirsi Ali has bodyguards, and round-the-clock protection. She would be dead if she did not.

These are powerful, polemical words with which it is very hard, in our present circumstances, to disagree. There will be many, however, who will shriek loudly in outrage, and not all of the fulminators will be Muslim. My great fear is that people will react only to fragments of this passionate book without having read the humane whole, and this will lead to distortions and imprecations, maybe even to book-burnings and fatwas. I am mighty glad Ayaan Hirsi Ali has police protection. And I am gladder still that she lives in our midst, in America.

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May 29, 2010 - Posted by | Book, Muslim world, Off Topig | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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