‘NOMAD: FROM ISLAM TO AMERICA. A PERSONAL JOURNEY THROUGH THE CLASH OF CIVILIZATION” Hirsi Ali, Ayaan (2010) Simon & Schuster, UK.
I was reluctant to read this book initially when it was passed to me. I was reading other books and did not wish to be interrupted. My friend purchased this book at “Times”, a local book shop. He said he was surprised it was not banned, despite the Islamic phobia and war drum beating in the media. Malaysia still has press freedom, and the target readers for the book are presumably non-Muslims.
Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris wrote their reviews in the book cover, and these names do sound the bell. I think these authors are all atheists, including the authoress, whereas I am an apatheist. (A neologism meaning spiritual atheist, and who don’t bother what other people believe or don’t). Whatever labels we may attach to our belief system, it depends on our understanding of the word, “religion” (re, meaning repeated, or start afresh; ligare, meaning set of doctrines that bind the believer, or contemplation). In other words, atheists can also be tied to their own doctrine or philosophies, and they have their own faith too. Let us assume we are capable to start afresh, and the author is metaphorically dead (Barthes), we proceed to discuss the text in the dynamics of our own living in a Muslim world, where Malay politicians are constantly beating racial octanes and yet the others be reminded that their religion is one of peace and compassion (the root meaning of his word means passion or grief with the others; how do one listen while Baca aloud!).
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is lucky enough to escape from Somalia, but uncertain whether she is a new prisoner in her adopted country, for she lives in constant fear of being killed by her own people/faith, and she has body guards all the time. She may have overcome the obstacles of family integration in “money, sex and violence”, but this triple suppression is present in all societies, in more or lesser extent and in varying contents.Her first few chapters are her own auto-biography (her nomadic lives and flight from Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Holland, and finally America), and her relationships with her father (an intellectual “radical opposition” returned to old faith), mother and siblings. There is no doubt she is a woman of great courage and wisdom to choose her own marital partner (she is sent by her father to marry a stranger in Canada, and she escapes on her passage) and life. Her book also aspires to rescue the suppressed women in her native land and elsewhere. I am uncertain whether the woman folks elsewhere will agree with her narration about the sexual and domestic violence, and the genital excision, for Somalia is perhaps more tribal. Indeed many of our privileged people here are obsessed with sex, money and power and religious and gender supremacies are just pretexts. Even Hilary Clinton and western liberal feminists cannot share her sentiments openly. Her book is an open invitation for western government and NGOs to help, but her suggestions are not easy to follow without creating further chaos.
Let us explore some of her “remedies”. She advises reverse evangelization. This may be possible in western countries in secular schools or NGOs, whereas in our world, it will be chaos. The Muslims can convert the other into their faith but it will be apostasy (punishable by death) for them to embrace another religion. The heads will be missing not just cheeks and tongue. Even Germaine Greer, Australian feminists, is diplomatic enough to comment it is “tricky” on cultural issues. Any evolution or revolution has to work within, not outside. They fight and kill each other due to differences of interpretation, despite holding the same Holy book. May be western countries can educate their children in secular schools and NGOs. Education alone is not a sure fortress against extremism. The free welfare and social services require more creative thinking and invitation of religious leaders, foreign instead of home grown, require caution. Regarding self radicalization, American and western countries are not without blame, in the de-stabilization of regimes in the Middle East and other Muslim World. Neoliberalism has its merit, and, it’s idiocy to praise diversity without insight of its danger. They often insert their noses into wrong rabbit holes. Mindsets are resistant to change, when the conditioning begins early and the rituals are re-enforced in daily prayers. This applies to other religion too. To change the other without changing our old habits of thought are equally ineffective. If we persist in looking at differences or tolerate what cannot be tolerated, there will be more clash of civilization. We need to have more shared similarities, shared destiny and wealth, and they are easier said than done. So what will you do? Some may choose to migrate to another land and to find the same scenario. The Muslims world occupies a quarter of the world population and their numbers multiply at a faster rate. Critics often point out that Nazism erupted because the church and liberals tolerated all this quietly and passively before the onslaught. Yet today the Americans and western countries are tolerating the budding of militarism in the East because they have imaginary allies and enemies. The division of humanity into polar opposite camps, with political and military hegemony, are not without danger.