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Somali-born author addresses diversity in the 21st century

By Pieta Woolley

By Ayaan Hirsi Ali
(Knopf Canada) $32

To Islamic extremists, provocateur Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s memoirs invite rage and promote death threats. To diversity-loving Canadians, this volume will undoubtedly invoke hand wringing.

Nomad is the Somali-born Hirsi Ali’s second memoir in three years. It’s a skilful genre for her. She keeps her readers riveted with personal stories, which include surviving genital mutilation and other violence at the hands of her tribal Islamic family. She lashes at Islam — and blasts the West’s unquestioning dedication to multiculturalism.

Hirsi Ali’s point is this: the core values of Islam with regard to sex, money and violence are fundamentally at odds with the core values of modern Europe and North America. Not just radical Islam or fundamentalist Islam. The Muslim religion, atheist Hirsi Ali argues, is the problem.

Islam’s existence depends on subjugating women, holding wealth communally and silencing dissent through violence, she argues. And westerners won’t face it. Concerned about cultural sensitivity, western leaders hesitate to criticize practices such as honour killings and mutilation. Plus, western countries are vulnerable to jihadist attacks because most Muslim immigrants won’t leave those values behind and integrate, she states.

In Nomad, Hirsi Ali took on a huge project. Ultimately, her weighty argument depends too much on personal anecdote, and she doesn’t offer enough balance to help her readers fully process her arguments. Also, given that she’s an atheist, it’s difficult to take seriously her prescriptions for how Muslims can modify their values but still keep their faith.

Hirsi Ali turned 40 last month. As a former member of the Dutch parliament and current fellow at the conservative think-tank American Enterprise Institute, she’s bound to extend her influence. Despite her book’s over-ambition, it’s a useful read for anyone grappling with diversity in the 21st century.

Pieta Woolley is a freelance writer in Vancouver.

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