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Bookmarks Issue: 
48-Sept-Oct-2010
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From Islam to America: A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations

A-NomadBorn in Mogadishu, Somalia, Hirsi Ali immigrated to the Netherlands in 1992 and now lives in the United States. Her memoir Infidel (4 of 5 Stars Selection May/June 2007) appeared in Dutch in 2006 and in English in 2007.

The Topic: In Infidel, Hirsi Ali describes how she fled an arranged marriage for the Netherlands, where she eventually became a member of that nation’s House of Representatives and vowed to fight on behalf of Europe’s Muslim women. She also explains how she rejected Islam for atheism. Nomad continues the story of Hirsi Ali’s life and expands the critique of the religion of her birth. Hirsi Ali claims that Islam is an inherently violent and misogynistic religion that creates dangerously dysfunctional families. She also doubts the ability of Islamic immigrants to integrate into Western society without exchanging central tenets of their religion for the values of Christianity and the European Enlightenment.
Free Press. 277 pages. $27. ISBN: 978-1439157312

Daily Beast 4 of 5 Stars
"If I had my way, and the resources to pull off the idea, I would commission translations of the book into Arabic, Urdu, Somali, Farsi, Turkish, Pashto, Kurdish, Bengali, and Bahasa, and air-drop thousands of copies into the Muslim lands (and arrondissements) where these languages are spoken. And with any luck, these books would find their way into the hands of some of the immiserated women who live there." Tunku Varadarajan

Times (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"It is, in parts--especially early on--a brilliant book. But it may again not go down terribly well with the jihadis. Nor, indeed, with the politically correct white left, who irritate Ali perhaps more even than the most bigoted imams." Rod Liddle

Los Angeles Times 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Touted as a coming-to-America emotional journey, it mostly reads as an anti-Islamic screed. ... Not just the Al Qaeda variety. All Islam. Intolerance in the defense of freedom is a hard sell, and Nomad is a tough jeremiad to read." Bob Drogin

New York Times 2.5 of 5 Stars
"She is at her best when she is telling her powerful story. And she is at her worst when she is using her experience to excoriate a variegated faith that has more than one billion adherents. ... This memoir, while engaging and insightful in many places, exemplifies precisely the kind of rhetoric that is overheated and overstated." Nicholas D. Kristof

San Francisco Chronicle 2 of 5 Stars
"Hirsi Ali was raised in a world of absolutes, and has yet to realize that the very enlightenment and modernity she idealizes in the West are defined, at their best, by a lack of absolutes. The more she comes to accept the stand-alone value of her nomadic observations and experiences, the more we can learn from her." Susanne Pari

Telegraph (UK) 2 of 5 Stars
"Hirsi Ali does not seem to grasp that religious faith, including Islam, gives meaning to many people’s lives. ... Her contradictory stances lead her writing to seem like one desperate plea after another." Mona Siddiqui

Critical Summary

While a few critics embraced Hirsi Ali for her intellectual integrity and bravery, most found her indictment of Islam too hard to swallow. Several reviewers argued that it is nearly impossible to generalize about a religion with more than one billion adherents. Others wrote that Hirsi Ali seems both oblivious to situations where Islam has brought peace and meaning into people’s lives and naive about American culture, nomadic as she has been. But even the strongest critics of the book found something to admire in Hirsi Ali’s personal story of survival and self-transformation. That said, if you haven’t read her first memoir, start there--it’s by far the better book.