a ‘Nomad’ standing firm: ayaan hirsi ali

Best-selling author Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s electrifying latest work Nomad confronts one of the defining challenges for modernity in the West: how to assimilate; if possible, the traditions and religious beliefs of peoples from Muslim cultures to Western countries like Britain, Australia and the United States while upholding in the culture the right of individuals to free speech, belief and gender equality.

As it stands, Hirsi Ali argues convincingly that Islam’s fundamental tenets – without major reform –  will continue only to ‘clash’ with what she sees as the West’s defining attributes.

Hirsi Ali’s Nomad details as in her previous memoir Infidel her lifetime shift through four Islamic societies: Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia, and its contrasts with The Netherlands, to which she escaped, and the US.  Hirsi Ali has experienced society operating under Islamic precepts in its many cultural guises. In particular, her early life of domestic servitude, of genital mutilation, enduring abuse and forced marriage illuminates much of Islamic society’s troubling regard to the status of women.

A political activist in the US, Hirsi Ali’s Nomad goes further, addressing key challenges for the future of Islam in Western countries; how and why its influence; through the spreading of Sharia law systems and other cultural traditions should be cause for alarm.

In any proceeding governed by Sharia law, a woman’s testimony is worth only half that of a man’s.

Under the sections of Sharia law civil code governing marriage and child custody, a marriage contract is between the woman’s father (or other male guardian) and her husband…

If a woman does obtain a divorce and later remarries, she loses custody of her children, even if the father is abusive.

Yet, despite obvious pressures to submit within any close-knit religious community, most especially on often less-educated women, Britain already incorporates Sharia law if both parties ‘consent’. In the last two years, survey results reveal at least 3000 women have been forced into marriage within the United States alone, while ‘honor killings’ remain hidden within general crime statistics. In 2008, crisis centers in Germany reported 3443 forced marriages, over 80% of these occurring within Muslim households, with a third of the victims pressured by death threats.

Many Australian commentators, through intentions of ‘tolerance’, dismiss these dangers as exaggerated cultural fears within a multicultural society, attempting to straddle a clash of two clearly unequal systems. However Hirsi Ali maintains such group culturism actually translates to inequality and violence to individuals, in these particular cases, to individual women. While 16 African countries have progressed to banning female genital mutilation as abuse, Australian medical organizations are even going to the extreme length of finding a middle ground between abusers and victims, conceding to perform ‘surgeries’ that attempt to appease parents seeking genital mutilation on their children.

In such a cloud of cultural relativism, it is refreshing that Hirsi Ali’s Nomad, through her close experience, maintains a clear-eyed clash, calling on western feminists to help champion Enlightenment values. Incorporating Sharia in the West is not the granting of cultural freedoms to immigrants, but the taking away of existing rights for these same new Australians, new Britons, new Americans, citizens accorded the legal equality most truly free citizens take for granted. For Hirsi Ali, it remains a prejudiced outlook not to expect from people of all cultures the modern and equal standing of all individuals under the law and their protection from culturally sanctioned abuse ♦

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Nomad: From Islam to America: A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations is available in bookstores and online from Free Press.