Who didn’t hear about Ayaan Hirsi Ali? The story of a Somali girl fleeing a forced arranged marriage turned into a Dutch refugee and then becoming a right-wing politician marrying conservative views on the economy, foreign policy, crime and immigration to liberal attitude on drugs, abortion and homosexuality. She even got associated with Theo Van Gogh, who was later killed by a Muslim Dutch, to produce a movie, “Submission”, where she perpetuated the colonialist cliché of Muslim women as submissive creatures.
I have heard of Ayaan Hirsi Ali from the media and watched her give talks about some political issues but I never read any of her books. Recently, I finished reading her book “Nomad”.
Hirsi Ali started her book “Nomad” with these words: “All my life I have been a nomad…Every place I have settled in, I have been forced to fell…” Behind, these simple and innocent words, I felt all along the book a sense of victimization stretched to the extreme. Is Hirsi Ali a victim of her clan, of her religion, of her upbringing, of some jealous politicians, of her community? Or is she a voice of enlightening launched in a dark ocean of religious intolerance, ignorance, tribalism and chauvinistic traditions? Her book didn’t allow me to answer these questions. But one thing the book allowed me to answer is that Ali thoughts can be very confusing and polarized.
In a climate already charged with islamophobia and suspicion of the other, this book offers the “perfect” ammunitions to readers who do not know anything about Somalia, the tribal life, the African traditions and let alone Islam. Many times, Hirsi Ali gave me the impression that her family and specially the abuses she endured in her childhood and later as a teenager are genuine representation of all Muslims countries. She jumps from her personal, usually terrible experiences, to draw dangerous conclusions about Islam and Muslims in general. Her personal story becomes the norm. It becomes the Story to tell to everyone.
As a Muslim woman from approximately the same generation as Hirsi Ali and growing up in a Muslim country, I didn’t relate to her fate. Indeed, I didn’t go to a quranic school, I wasn’t beaten by my mom and my father didn’t have two wives. Would my personal experience give me the right to say that all Muslims had a “normal life” like me?
Her special circumstances made her to become a “hater”. Not only, she hated everything that reminded her of her previous life but also she mistakenly came to conclude that Islam is the key factor responsible of all her misery and the terrible fate of all Muslims.
For instance, Hirsi Ali attributed her personal lack of personal budgeting skills to the “financial illiteracy” of most immigrants and their ignorance on how to spend their money once established in their new countries!
Nevertheless, her trouble with religion and with Islam in general doesn’t prevent her to sit down and “conspire” with a catholic priest, a man of religion, on how to save the world from the evil Islam. Why does she need another religion to “fight” her own religion? Does her action imply that there is a “civilized” religion and an “obscure” religion?
I was very surprised all along the book by the absence of the voice of young Hirsi Ali. During her years inSomaliaor later inSaudi Arabia, Hirsi Ali seems to be a consenting victim. She follows her family and doesn’t voice any opinion. At least, we don’t hear it loud enough in the book. That situation remains the same until Hirsi Ali’s feet step the European soil and then all of a sudden, she seems to have caught the freedom bug.
A voice of criticism and dissent doesn’t come out of the blue. There is a path to it. There is a continuation. Even if it is timid at the beginning, one can still feel its burgeoning flowers. We can’t simply get it just by smelling the odour of tulips or with the sight of parliaments. Why we didn’t hear Ali confront her parents or at least her father, the most rationale one in Hirsi Ali’s description of her family, to explain her opposition to her “forced marriage”? Why we didn’t hear the teenager Hirsi Ali takes her fate with two hands and show some signs of revolt? Is it that only fear?
It is ironic to read in the book that Hirsi Ali admitted that the American Muslims are more educated and thus represent a “tougher” target for her, than their European counterparts usually less educated, living in ghettos and thus fitting the ugly profile she is trying to make of them. On the other side, the American audience seems to disappoint Hirsi Ali with their super naivety, contrary to the Europeans who have better understanding of the Muslim tradition and thus can control them better.
But in her crusade to shine the truth about the danger of Islam and its indoctrinated followers, Hirsi Ali forgets to make peace with herself and with her roots. She travels from one place to another to look for freedom but she seems to forget that she first needs to free herself from the hate and the bitterness in her heart.