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Book review: 'Nomad' by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

The author's powerful and provocative views on Islam may bolster those who share her views and alienate others wary of such intolerance.

June 07, 2010|By Bob Drogin, Los Angeles Times

As an intellectual, a feminist, an ex-Muslim and a political activist, Ayaan Hirsi Ali has lived a life worthy of a book.

Born in Somalia, raised in Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Kenya, Hirsi Ali fled to the Netherlands at age 21 rather than submit to a forced marriage. She denounced Islam after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and was deemed a traitor by her family. She soon was elected to the Dutch parliament, vowing to fight for Muslim women in Europe.

Her screenplay for Theo van Gogh's film "Submission," about the abuse and oppression of Muslim women, led to death threats. After Van Gogh was murdered by a Muslim extremist in 2004, she went into seclusion and then moved to America. She wrote a bestselling memoir ("Infidel"), joined a conservative think tank in Washington and collected awards for her courage and compassion.

Ali's new book, "Nomad," dulls her star somewhat. Touted as a coming-to-America emotional journey, it mostly reads as an anti-Islamic screed. Her former faith, she writes, is "not just ugly but monstrous." Not just the Al Qaeda variety. All Islam.

Intolerance in the defense of freedom is a hard sell, and "Nomad" is a tough jeremiad to read. Other books may examine why Muslim suicide bombers mostly kill other Muslims, or the history of the Sunni-Shia split, or how the fire-and-brimstone Islam of Saudi Arabia differs from that in Indonesia, the world's largest Islamic nation. But you'll find none of that here.

Fired with the zeal of a convert, Hirsi Ali insists Islam and the West are locked in "a clash of civilizations," the rallying cry of the Fox News Channel's vox populi. The "dysfunctional Muslim family constitutes a real threat to the very fabric of Western life," she warns. The "Muslim mind," she declares, is "in the grip of jihad." Textbooks "gloss over the fundamentally unjust rules of Islam" and falsely "present it as a peaceful religion." How does she know? Osama bin Laden says so.

"After 9/11," Hirsi Ali writes, "I found it impossible to ignore his claims that the murderous destruction of innocent (if infidel) lives is consistent with the Quran. I looked in the Quran, and I found it to be so."

This is scary stuff since one in four people on the planet is said to be Muslim, including 3 million or so in the United States. Luckily, it doesn't appear to be true, or at least any more relevant than Old Testament edicts on stoning idolaters. Hirsi Ali is far more persuasive in her denunciations of the tent-like Muslim veil as a form of "mental slavery," polygamy as "everything a happy family is not," and female genital mutilation as obscene. Islam, she concludes, is "full of misogyny."

Hirsi Ali devotes the first third of the book to lambasting her truly horrid family: a tyrant for a father, a mother who wallowed in misery, a brother who regularly tied her up and beat her, and various siblings and relatives who went mad, tormented one another or died young. The pain is palpable.

After fleeing to Holland in 1992, she found success — until it suddenly turned sour. Her Dutch citizenship came under fire (for lying to gain political asylum), and she was evicted from her condo after neighbors convinced a judge that her security detail was invasive and that the death threats against her posed a danger to them.

So in 2006 she moved to America — and found it big: "To my amazement, it could take five or six hours simply to fly from one city to another." She describes "erratic American weather," the plot of the musical "Jersey Boys," how to deal blackjack, and lyrics from "South Pacific" and "West Side Story." Such filler fills these pages.

Then Hirsi Ali finds Islam's "dysfunctional culture" in the American heartland. "I believe it would be a grave mistake to be complacent about Islam in America," she warns. One reason: Women worship in mosques, something they rarely do in Saudi Arabia, so the imams must be radical. "If you see women flocking to the mosque to pray, perhaps you should be suspicious," she cautions. Europeans ignored such danger signs, she adds, and now Muslims there "are almost a fifth column."

Given her avowed atheism, Hirsi Ali's solution comes as a surprise.

"The Christian leaders now wasting precious time and resources on a futile exercise of interfaith dialogue with the self-appointed leaders of Islam should redirect their efforts to converting as many Muslims as possible to Christianity," she advises.

Americans who claim that 9/11 taught them everything they need to know about Islam, as a bumper sticker proclaims, may enjoy this book. Others, I suspect, not so much.

bob.drogin@latimes.com

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