Sunday, October 10, 2010

Ayaan Hirsi Ali's "Nomad"

This is yet another great book by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. She bares her soul telling her life in order to help explicate the tragedy of our time: the mad "clash of cultures" between Islam and the West.

I wasn't happy with the initial chapters of this book, the section entitled 'Problem Family'. They were less of a narrative than her earlier book Infidel which I found mesmerizing. My interest in this book picked up with the later parts of the book. Part two, 'Nomad Again', had me enthralled as I was with her earlier book. But it was part three, 'Sex Money Violence' which fully engaged me because she was wrestling with this clash between Islam and the West. Part four, 'Remedies', was the very best of the book. Here she explores what it will take to get past this deadly phase in humanity's history.

Here is a taste of he diagnosis and prescription:
Culture is accumulated human experience, an anatomy of obstacles and techniques for overcoming them. Traditional culture breaks down once the first contact with modernity is made. For next comes the radio, the TV, and the washing machine; then a rush of neon lights, cell phones, and new roads, all of which usurp the stories of the grandmothers and the elders, stories that used to hold communities together.

When my grandmother left the nomadic life of her clan and moved to the city, the history book that was inside her, the archive of poetry and folk knowledge, the museum of skills, was rendereed in one stroke almost irrelevant to her life as well as ours.

As she learned, modernity is not a controlled zone that you can visit and then leave, then return and ask for forgiveness. Modernity is a permanent state that replaces your former outlook. You can try to fight it, but it is irresistible. It sucks in your young.

It is painful to transition from a premodern society to the contemporary world. But although assimilation can be postponed, it must happen one day. Postponing it only creates difficulty, for those who have failed to make the transition cannot continue to live a purely traditional life. That old world is lost.
The West is full of academic departments, commentators, intellectuals who write about diversity and respect for minority cultures. They have an entrenched interest -- endowed university chairs, subsidized publications -- so minorities who are stuck somewhere between their original way of life and civilization are literally a source of income for these commentators and prophets of diversity. Unfortunately, celebrating and preserving the traditional cultures cannot recreate the dreamworld of the traditional utlopia; all that happnes is that the minorities are kept outside of the boundaries of civilization even longer, the recipients of condescension and false compassion.

When I speak of assimilation, I mean assimilation into civilization. Aboriginals, Afghanis, Somalis, Arabs, Native Americans -- all these non-Western groups have to make the transition to modernity.
This rings true to me. I see it on a smaller scale in my own familty over the last three generations in the move from farm to city. And it is a never-ending expulsion from "paradise" since each new generation is on a trip into the future and have to give up some of the ways of the older generation as the new technologies, new cultural integration and geographical intergration require new ways of thinking and acting. Children rebel against the values of their parents because life itself is changing.

This book is full of an outside observer's insights:
America is a country with its own foundation myth, that of a new and virtuous republic, built in a virgin land by brave and hardy pioneers. This found myth is told and retold in countless ways and through all available media, but for me the American wedding is the most powerful version. It is all there: the optimistic faith in the success of a new partnership; the lofty, Christian ideals and vows; and the patriotism that finds it way into every American family ritual. Most striking of all is the way so many American weddings epitomize the ideal of the unity of diverse peoples.


I admit I came to America full of African as well as European prejudices. One of those prejudices was that Americans were hypocrites when they lauded family values, particularly monogamy. In my first three years in America scarcely a month passed without some major public figure being exposed for cheating on his wife. The divorce rate seemed to bear out my suspicion that high-flown talk of family values in America was just that: talk.

But the United States is not a utopia, and Americans do not aspire to be perfect. They aspire, above all to be happy. And that means that if things don't work out with a new venture, whether it is marriage or a silver-mining town, Americans are much quicker than people from traditional societies to call it a day and move on, with as few hard feelings as possible.
Hirsi Ali is bitter about how the West foolishly believes that tolerance will "win over" the hard line fanatics of the Muslim jihad. In fact, she worries that deep in Islam is a violence and intolerance and warrior ethic that is irreconcilable with the West:
Probably half the mosques in America have received Saudi money, and many (perhaps most) teachers and preachers of Islam have been supported by Saudi charities such as the Muslim World League. Through the Islamic Society of North America, Muslim student associations, the Islamic Circle of North America, and the Saudi sponsored World Muslim League, the Saudis have financed summer camps for children, institutes for training imams, the distribution of Islamic literature, mosque building, lectures, and dawa work throughout the United States. According to a survey of the Muslim lobby Council on American-Islamic Relations, 33 percent of the mosques in America do not permit women on their governing boards and 66 percent seclude women behind a wall, where they can listen to the sermon through loudspeakers but cannot see the imam speaking. That last fighre has actually risen since 1994, when it was "only" 54 percent.


Can you be a Muslim and an American patriot? You can if you don't care very much about being a Muslim. If you squint and look away, you can avoid thinking about the very basic clashes between the submissive, collectivist values of Islam and the individualist, libertarian values of the democratic West. In a 2007 poll by the Pew Center 63 percent of U.S. muslims said they saw no conflict between being a devout Muslim and living in a modern society. But 32 percent conceded that, yes, ther is such a conflict, and almost 50 percent of the Muslim Americans questioned in that poll siad they think of themselves as Muslims first, Americans second. Only 28 percent, little more than a quarter, considered themselves Americans first.

Asked whether suicide bombing can be justified as a measure to defend Islam, 26 percent of American Muslims age eighteen to twenty-nine said yes. That is one quarter of the adult American Muslims under the age of thrity, and no matter how you count eh number of Muslims in America (estimates vary from 2 million to 8 million), that is a lot of people.
She points out the roadblocks to getting Muslims to have a "reformation" in their religion. For example:
The fundamentalists' God is all-powerful; he dictated the Quran, and we must live as the Prophet did. This is a stance that is clear. It's the Westernized theologians [in Islam] who are trapped in confusion, because they want to maintain that the Prophet Muhammad was a perfect human being whose example should be followed, that the Quran is perfect scripture, and that all of its key injunctions -- kill the infidels, ambush them, take their property, convert them by force; kill homosexuals and adulterers; condemn Jews; treat women as chattel -- are mysterious errors of translation.
Ali Hirsi points out that the West slowly accepts the terms of the struggle between Islam and the West in the very terms that Islam uses. The battle is lost because the West has no strong, solid position from which to confront Islam:
In recent years the persecution of people in Western societies for their ideas has become a part of our mental landscape. Salman Rushdie has lived under a sentence of death by fatwa for twenty years. Taslima Nasreen, who was brave enough to say that Islam doesn't permit democracy and violates human rights, now lives in hiding, without even an apartment to call her own. Irshad Manji in Canada and Wafa Sultan in the United States, women who have dared to criticize Islam in public, now require protection, as I do, and an intellectual like Ibn Warraq, the author of Quest for the Historical Muhammand and the impressive Why I Am Not a Muslim, must publish under pseudonyms.
She has a long section on "honor killings" and the fact that most Americans are astonished to find out that Muslim born and raised in the US continue this "tradition" of honor killing in America. This ignorance about the doctrinal fanaticism of Islam worries Hirsi Ali. The West has a painfully learned tradition of tolerance, but that only works if your opponent has learned the same lesson (which Catholics and Protestants have learned), but Islam hasn't so it isn't constrained by this tradition. She has despaired of the West rising to the challenge, so she has now turned to the Christian church hoping to rouse them to the challenge:
I want nothing more than that pro-Enlightenment, free-thinking atheists should spontaneously organize themselves to combat the comparable gnawing threat of radical Islam. But the likelihood of such an organization attracting significant support seems remote because the children of the Enlightenment are hopelessly fragmented in their views about how to deal with Islam. Many contemporary Western thinkers have unconsciously imbibed the toxin of appeasement with the ideas of equality and free speech. They give chairs in the most distinguished and best institutions of higher learning to apologists for Islam. There is no unity, no shared view of how to deal with this threat. Indeed, those of us who clearly see the threat are dismissed as alarmists.

That is why I think we must also appeal to other, more traditional sources of ideological strength in Western society. And that must include the Christian churches. There are people in Europe and America who maintain that it is secularism that has made us defenseless against a Muslim onslaught. But it is not only leftists who appease Islam. Afflicted with similar pangs of white guilt, many prominent Christian theologians have also become accomplices of jihad.

When I came to the West what I found truly amazing was the fact that believers, agnostics, and unbelievers could debate with and even ridicule one another without ever resorting to violence. It is this right to free expression that is now under attack. And in time of war, internal feuding in the ranks -- between atheists and agnostics, Christians and Jews, Protestants and Catholics -- serves only to weaken the West. 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.
She ends her book with a "letter to her unborn child" which raises the question of where a forty year old woman is going with her life. From Wikipedia we learn that she is in love, and get the details from the Sunday Times:
“There is a new man in my life: Niall Ferguson, a British historian and TV presenter; the situation is a bit complicated. I am deeply in love and that feels great,” she told a Dutch magazine last week.

“We are both constantly travelling so it is hard to see one another regularly. On the other hand, we do not need to explain the situation to each other. I cannot say what will happen with us. There is still a divorce procedure going on and there are children involved.” She clams up now when quizzed about her romance, which has created a certain frisson in Britain because of Ferguson’s high profile and marriage to a former newspaper executive.

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