WAS THE PROPHET MUHAMMAD a pervert and a tyrant? Does Islam promote terrorism and enslave women? Does Islam oblige its followers to wage jihad on Westerners whose roots lie in the secular Enlightenment? Should Muslims consider converting to Christianity? For the Somali-born writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the answer to all these questions is a resounding “Yes!” Hirsi Ali, who renounced Islam in her 30s, speaks from experience of bigotry and intolerance among her former co-religionists: she was genitally mutilated as a child in Somalia, briefly radicalised by a preacher of jihad in Kenya, nearly forced into a marriage, threatened with death in the Netherlands by the Muslim assassin of her collaborator, the filmmaker Theo van Gogh, and is still hounded by murderous fanatics in her new home, America. In her latest book, Nomad: From Islam to America (pubished this year by Free Press), she reminds her readers of the West’s tradition of intellectual revolt against clerical tyranny and warns of the insidious, intransigent enemies in their midst. “The Muslim mind today seems to be in the grip of jihad,” she writes.
She is not hopeful that Americans will heed her warning. Her initial job interviews in the United States were discouraging: the Brookings Institution, she writes, worried that she might offend Arab Muslims. (The conservative American Enterprise Institute, however, immediately appointed her as a fellow.) On college campuses, Muslim students accuse her of wanting to “trash” Islam, while Western feminists, convinced that white men are “the ultimate and only oppressors,” lack the “courage or clarity of vision” to help her knock down the mental “hovels” of the East. Pointing to Major Nidal Malik Hasan’s murderous rampage in Texas, last November, she deplores the “conspiracy to ignore the religious motivation for these killings” in America.
Muslims today, Hirsi Ali believes, must be forced to choose between the darkness of Islam and the light of the modern secular West. In her new book, which bears the additional subtitle A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations, she takes an uncompromising line with her own relatives, who remain faithful to their benighted religion. The book opens with an account of her visit to her father’s deathbed, in Whitechapel, in London’s East End, in 2008. Her father, a highly respected political opponent of Somalia’s Soviet-backed military dictator, became more religious during exile and old age. Father and daughter hadn’t spoken since 2004, when Hirsi Ali and van Gogh made the film Submission, about the oppression of Muslim women, and she learned that he was fatally ill only a few weeks before his death. She didn’t want to visit him at his home, since it was in “a mostly immigrant area and overwhelmingly Muslim,” and had to be escorted by policemen to his hospital. In a brief but moving scene, she describes her father longing, but physically unable, to communicate with her.