Reviews of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s new book

By | June 6, 2010

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a writer and a former MEP fro...

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From The Economist:

For anyone who has ever felt a tinge of rose-tinted nostalgia for the traditional, Ayaan Hirsi Ali provides a bracing, and on the whole healthy, cold shower. Having experienced traditional society from the inside—in the form of a Muslim Somali family headed by a well-known politician who practised polygamy and left a deeply troubled and dysfunctional progeny—she has no time for sentimentality. As the world’s most famous ex-Muslim (who became a politician in the Netherlands, then a public intellectual in America), she tells people who have grown up in countries shaped by the Enlightenment and the scientific revolution that they don’t know how lucky they are.

(Mentions some of the shortcomings of the book later on)

From Pankaj Mishra:

“Nomad” is unlikely to earn Hirsi Ali many Muslim admirers. Neither will her recent support for the proposed French ban on face veils and the Swiss referendum outlawing minarets. In denouncing Islam unreservedly, she has claimed a precedent in Voltaire—though the eighteenth-century scourge of the Catholic Church might have been perplexed by her proposal that Muslims embrace the “Christianity of love and tolerance.” In another respect, however, the invocation of Voltaire is more apt than Hirsi Ali seems to realize. Voltaire despised the faith and identity of Europe’s religious minority: the Jews, who, he declared, “are, all of them, born with raging fanaticism in their hearts,” who had “surpassed all nations in impertinent fables, in bad conduct and in barbarism,” and who “deserve to be punished.” Voltaire’s denunciations remind us that the Enlightenment was a much more complex and multifaceted phenomenon than the dawn of reason and freedom that Hirsi Ali evokes. Many followed Voltaire in viewing the Jews as backward, an Oriental abscess in the heart of Europe. Hirsi Ali, recording her horror of ghettoized Muslim life in Whitechapel, seems unaware of the similarly contemptuous accounts of Jewish refugees who made the East End of London their home after fleeing the pogrom.

Here is NigeriansTalk’s Saratu’s commentary on the review.

The Kristof weighs in here:

To those of us who have lived and traveled widely in Africa and Asia, descriptions of Islam often seem true but incomplete. The repression of women, the persecution complexes, the lack of democracy, the volatility, the anti-Semitism, the difficulties modernizing, the disproportionate role in terrorism — those are all real. But if those were the only faces of Islam, it wouldn’t be one of the fastest-growing religions in the world today. There is also the warm hospitality toward guests, including Christians and Jews; charity for the poor; the aesthetic beauty of Koranic Arabic; the sense of democratic unity as rich and poor pray shoulder to shoulder in the mosque. Glib summaries don’t work any better for Islam than they do for Christianity or Judaism.


It’s true that public discussion in some Muslim countries has taken on a strident tone, full of over-the-top exaggerations about the West. Educated Muslims should speak out more against such rhetoric.

In the same way, here in the West, we should try to have a conversation about Islam and its genuine problems — while speaking out against over-the-top exaggerations about the East. This memoir, while engaging and insightful in many places, exemplifies precisely the kind of rhetoric that is overheated and overstated.

Need a little more introduction to Ms Ayaan Hirsi Ali? See this. (Actually, you should check it out.)

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  • Lerroy70

    “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he doesn't become a monster”
    Without undermining the intellectual capabilities and the personal achievements of Ms Hirsi Ali, she often comes accross as self-overestimating and excessively self-benefitting. Since she stepped out of the islamic faith, she seems extremely obsessed with projecting islam in a negative light. For a self-proclaimed islam expert, I would appreciate a discuss that projects a more rational, objective and more balanced projection. She is celebrated in the West because of her anti-islam crusade. I reside in the Netherlands and I know that she avoids public debates and discussions with people of authority and experts on Islam who do not share her views of islam. My attention was drawn to Ms Hirshi Ali in the early nineties when she was a young member of the PVDA (The Workers Party in the Netherlands). As a young politician, she was out-spoken, well articulated and determined. She later cross-carpet to the VVD (Liberal party). Following political scandals surrounding her acquisition of the Dutch citizenship, she had to quit her seat in the parliament. Since a few years she has been working for the extremely consevative American institution: The American Enterprise Institute. For a self-proclaimed liberal individual, her taking up a job position with this institution, suggests a great degree of contradiction to me, knowing the goals and objectives of this institute.
    For the good order, I am not religious and could care less on religious issues, it's just that I sort of had higher expectations of Ms Hirshi Ali towards the minority communities in the Netherlands. With her intelligence, personality and achievements, she could go a long way as a role model to young immigrants who are not interested in religon. This I miss in her list of achievements, hence the term: “excessively self-benefitting”