Nomad (Free Press, 2010) is the latest volume of Ayaan Hirsi Ali's brave, beautiful, and bizarre memoir, that traces her journey from a brutal African childhood to greater freedom and activism, first in the Netherlands, and now in the U.S., where she has started a foundation to help Muslim women in the West. Reading it or her previous books, The Caged Virgin and Infidel, we see why she must hire round-the-clock security guards to protect her from Islamic radicals.
Hirsi Ali's memoir is brave in her uncompromising opposition to the religion she once practiced. It is beautiful in her often-poetic lyricism in English, one of five languages she speaks fluently. It is bizarre in portraying the author -- now an atheist who worked in abortion clinics -- dining with a Roman Catholic priest near the Vatican and urging him to launch a campaign to convert European Muslims to a loving God instead of Allah, who commands honor-killing of women and holy war against infidels.
She describes excruciating childhood violence by her father, brother, mother and grandmother. The teacher at her madrasa lifts an obstinate child into a hammock suspended high above a concrete floor and hands out sticks for the children to beat him while they chant the Quran.
Hirsi Ali takes issue with Western liberals who presume that all cultures are equal and who fail to appreciate how far Enlightenment values brought Western culture out of its own Dark Ages.
She has no patience for law enforcers, reporters or feminists who feared offending Muslims and sought other explanations last year after a psychiatrist and army major opened fire at Fort Hood, Texas, killing 13, or when a businessman beheaded his wife in Buffalo, New York. These acts, Hirsi Ali argues, were entirely consistent with the murderers' brand of Islam.
While the Muslim Brotherhood tirelessly recruits immigrants to jihad, Western leaders, including Christians, have not reached out to draw Muslims into their secular and religious communities, as if assuming "the buffet of material pleasure and individual freedoms" will entice them to leave tribalism and embrace modernity. "Interfaith dialogue," Hirsi Ali writes, will not "magically bring Islam into the fold of Western civilization." She concludes that "the West needs the Christian churches to get active again in propagating their faith."
Is this wishful thinking? Many American evangelical churches have adopted a far right political agenda that makes them unsympathetic to immigrants. A Christian crusade to convert Muslims in America, where the Supreme Court protects guns in every home, might unleash holy war in the heartland.
In her concluding section, "Remedies," Hirsi Ali accuses western governments of practicing "racism of low expectations." She insists that Muslims can "evolve," that their minds "can be opened." Her confidence comes from her own risky and inspiring journey.
Anne Grant reviews books and writes online and elsewhere about legal abuse in family courts that endanger children already traumatized by domestic abuse.