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Dutch ‘Muslim turned Atheist’ Ayaan Hirsi Ali releases new book in US tomorrow

May 17, 2010

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Dutch ‘Muslim turned Atheist’ Ayaan Hirsi Ali releases her new book Nomad: From Islam to America: A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations in the US tomorrow May 18th. With Nomad, Hirsi Ali – who was named one of the 100 most influential people by Times Magazine in 2005 – picks up where her 2007 bestselling autobiography Infidel left off. The book’s message is directed to humanists, Christians and feminists alike. It calls on these three ‘institutions of Western civilization’ to encourage Muslim immigrants to integrate in Western society by parting with Islamic values.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali was born in Somalia in 1969 and lived with her family in Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Kenya. Throughout her youth she was a dedicated Muslim that sympathized with the Muslim Brotherhood, wore a hijab and agreed with the fatwa against Salman Rushdie over his 1988 novel The Satanic Verses. In 1992 Hirsi Ali sought and obtained political asylum in the Netherlands on grounds of a forced arranged marriage to a distant cousin. After she enrolled in the University of Leiden to study political science, Hirsi Ali gradually adopted Western values and lifestyle. It wasn’t until after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US though that she renounced Islam indefinitely and became an atheist.

From 2003 until 2006 Ayaan Hirsi Ali was a prominent member of the Dutch Parliament representing the VVD, the Dutch Conservative Liberal Party. The abuse, isolation and oppression of Muslim women and girls in the Netherlands were her main agenda topics. Hirsi Ali joined forces with Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh when they made Submission, a film about the abuse of women related to verses in the Koran. In 2004 Theo van Gogh was assassinated by Muslim fundamentalist Mohammed Bouyeri. Pinned to his body with a knife was a letter containing a death threat to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The Dutch secret service then raised the level of security they already provided to Hirsi Ali and temporarily moved her to a secret hiding place in the US.

Upon her return to the Netherlands Hirsi Ali resided in a highly secured apartment in The Hague. In 2006 however a judge ordered her to leave after neighbors had filed a complaint fearing for their safety. Around the same time Dutch documentary program Zembla reported that in 1992 Hirsi Ali had lied about her full name, date of birth and status as a refugee in order to obtain political asylum. Her Dutch passport was annulled by then minister of integration and immigration but later returned to her citing special circumstances.

Following the controversy around her persona, Ayaan Hirsi Ali left the Netherlands for the US in 2007 where she now works for the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington DC. In Nomad: From Islam to America: A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations Hirsi Ali tells the story of her search for a new life in America. A life far away from the death threats made to her by Islamic fundamentalists in Europe.

Perhaps not far enough though. About a year ago Ayaan Hirsi Ali was looking for a Manhattan, NYC pied-a-terre and her broker brought her to see the apartment we rented at the time. As our landlord – who lived in the same building one flight down – found out there was a price on her head, the potential lease agreement died a premature death.

In Nomad, Ayaan Hirsi Ali intertwines her political with her personal story, including the reconciliation with her father on his deathbed after they had been estranged for many years. Hirsi Ali knows what she is talking about when she discusses the clash between radical Islam and Western values. Once an insider she argues that the only way for Muslims to integrate in Western society is to abandon their system of values and replace it with the values of the Western countries they choose to live in.

While she says it is fine ‘to pray, fast and pay a visit to Mekka’, all social and political principals related to Islam, such as legitimizing the killing of non-believers and the oppression and abuse of women and homosexuals must be renounced. Freedom is a great good and is even more appreciated by someone who has lived as a prisoner, says Hirsi Ali.

The Netherlands has not forgotten about Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Leading up to the Dutch release of Nomad she gave many interviews and appeared in several television shows. Respected and admired by some for her determination, eloquence and bravery to speak out, others think she exaggerates, generalizes and lacks any sense of nuance. And even though this can be expected from an activist, it does raise the question whether the manner in which she criticizes the Islam will lead to anything constructive beyond polarization.

That is not to say that Nomad isn’t an interesting and enriching book that is by all means worth reading, especially for those who enjoyed it’s forerunner Infidel. Nomad was released in the Netherlands on March 16 and came in at number 9 of the top 60 best selling books.

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