I would like to recommend two books by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Infidel (about her rejection of Islam and flight to Holland to avoid an arranged marriage) and Nomad (about her move to the U.S., under threat of death from the Muslim community). These two books are biographical as they recount her experience of the oppression of women in her native Muslim culture and the identity crisis she experienced as she moved to the West and began to verbalize and write re the tyranny of Islam, especially with regard to women.
Ali was born in Somaliland in 1969. Her father was a political dissident and while he was jailed because of his political activism her grandmother seized the opportunity to defy Ali’s father wishes and have Ali “circumcised” when she was age 5. She portrays this brutal practice as only a reflection of the brutal tyranny of the Muslim faith as a whole, a religion which desperately seeks to cling to traditional, tribal culture even as modernity closes in on them. (I think she recognizes that Islam in the West is often less tyrannical but she argues that the tyranny is inherent in the faith itself, Western version or Middle-eastern version.)
I would like to share a few excerpts from Nomad: “All my life I have been a nomad. I have wandered, rootless. Every place I have settle in, I have been forced to flee; every certainty I have been taught, I have cast aside….Every change of country threw me unprepared into whole new languages and sharply different habits of mind. Each time, I made a child’s fornlorn, often vain attempts to adapt.” She described her dilemma when she was in the West as “teetering between the clear ideals of the Enlightenmend…and my submission to the equally clear dictates of Allah that I feared to disobey.” She described the temption to cave-in, to surrender to her cultural introjections, noting, “I suffered many moments of weakness when I too entertained the idea of giving up my needs and sacrificing my personal happiness for the peace of mind of my parents, siblings, and clan.” And she summarized the problems of Islam as deriving from the belief that, “Muhammed is considered infallible…and all (the Koran’s) commands must be obeyed without question. This makes Muslim’s vulnerable to indoctrination in a way that followers of other faiths are not.”
I deeply admire the courage Ali has had to step forth, at the risk of her own life. to pursue self-expression and self-dignity. It takes nerves of steel to observe personally how deadly indoctrination is and dare to question the basic assumptions of one’s culture. We can attempt a journey of this sort much more easily than she can as we usually…though not always…can do so without the threat of harm. Our only risk is a lot of anxiety, perhaps a tad of depression, and guilt from no longer subscribing to the tribal god/s.
A couple of footnotes here: a) She rejected the arranged marriage by fleeing to Holland and there she began to get a Western education. She even became a member of the Dutch Parliament for a few years before death threats forced her to resign and flee the country. 2) Though Ali is a flaming liberal with regard to her native country, when she moved to the U.S. she quickly obtained employment at the American Enterprise Institute, a very conservative think-tank. She noted in Nomad…I think…that she had some ambivalence about this decision but decided to take what was the best offer that she had.