relativism’s real world danger

I am finishing up Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s book Nomad.

I encourage everyone to read it. Ms. Ali speaks from personal experience and with passion about the shortfalls and dangers of Islam as it is increasingly practiced worldwide.

Two passages from the book have hit particularly hard for me.

The first was in chapter 9, called simply “America.” Throughout the book Ms. Ali gives an outsider’s insight into the wonderful strange contradictory place that our country is.

For example on page 220 she adds a parenthetical that says: “Americans, if they don’t know about something, will often just say so, with great innocence and frankness, which still surprises me. As a Somali, I was brought up to feel ashamed if I didn’t know something and to try to hide it.”

But in chapter 9 she distills the essence of us. I especially enjoyed this part on pages 117 to 118 from her visit to a gold rush ghost town in Nevada:

A nineteenth-century stove caught my attention because it was far superior to the charcoal braziers we’d used in our homes in Mogadishu and Nairobi and which are still in use in many African homes today. Even the rustic furniture in this old and abandoned home was better-designed and sturdier than ours. The townspeople of Calico had walked about two miles to fetch their water, as many Africans have to do; they washed their garments (uncannily similar to many still worn in Africa) by hand. Their woven floor mats, bowls, and placemats transported me back to Mogadishu, Addis Ababa, and Nairobi. Grandma used to spend hours weaving such mats.

The ghost town vividly illustrated the difference between my grandmother’s traditions, which insist on keeping things as they are, and American traditions, which continuously innovate. The American mind seeks new, better, and more efficient means of cooking, washing, and finding fuel, the most basic and universal activities of human life. In my grandmother’s tradition, people get stuck, almost imprisoned, by the cycle of finding food, preparing it, and eating it. I can’t think of anything useful a Somali man or woman ever invented to make that cycle easier.

Even this long-abandoned ghost town in the no-man’s-land between Nevada and California contained relatively more luxury than my mother’s house did. Moving from that town back to L.A., I saw how incredibly fast the early settlers in America had moved forward, how swift their progress had been.

the second passage that struck me was in Part IV of the book regarding Remedies. In Chapter 14, “Opening the Muslim Mind” we find these stirring words on page 212-213 that must be remembered if we have any hope of survival as a society:

The idea that immigrants need to maintain group cohesion promotes the perception of them as victim groups requiring special accommodation, an industry of special facilities and assistance. If people should conform to their ancestral culture, it therefore follows that they should also be helped to maintain it, with their own schools, their own government-subsidized community groups, and even their own system of legal arbitration. This is the kind of romantic primitivism that the Australian anthropologist Roger Sandall calls “designer tribalism.” Non-Western cultures are automatically assumed to live in harmony with animals and plants according to the deeper dictates of humanity and to practice an elemental spirituality.

Here is something that I learned the hard way, but which a lot of well-meaning people in the West have a hard time accepting: All human beings are equal, but all cultures and religions are not. A culture that celebrates femininity and considers women to be masters of their own lives is better than a culture that mutilates girls’ genitals and confines them behind walls and veils or flogs or stones them for falling in love. A culture that protects women’s rights by law is better than a culture in which a man can lawfully have four wives at once and women are denied alimony and half their inheritance. A culture that appoints women to its supreme court is better than a culture that declares that the testimony of a woman is worth half that of a man. It is part of Muslim culture to oppress women and part of all tribal cultures to institutionalize patronage, nepotism, and corruption. The culture of the Western Enlightenment is better.

In the real world, equal respect for all cultures doesn’t translate into a rich mosaic of colorful and proud peoples interacting peacefully while maintaining a delightful diversity of food and craftwork. It translates into closed pockets of oppression, ignorance, and abuse.

emphasis in original

powerful stuff. does even reading it make you uncomfortable? why?

anyway, this is another tour de force from a brilliant and brave woman who is utterly unafraid to call it like she sees it. Please get it and read it.


as you probably know, Ayaan Hirsi Ali has become an atheist since leaving Islam. That is why I find her last chapter of Nomad intriguing. It is called “Seeking God but Finding Allah.” In it on page 246-247 she says:

Just as European governments and other civil society groups underestimated the intentions of the radical expansionist agents of Islam, the churches, both Catholic and Protestant, neglected to offer the new Muslim immigrants the spiritual guidance they sought. To be sure, many Christian volunteer aid workers offered immigrant communities neutral and pragmatic advice along with social assistance. Islamic charity is conditional on your beliefs; these Christians were ecumenical to the point of making no attempt to convert those they sought to help. Ecumenism for most Christians is a measure of progress, allowing a choice of faiths and forms of worship while establishing peaceful relations between them. Islam is quite different. It was started by a warrior who conquered faster than he could think through a theology or political theory. Islam since his death has been plagued by a crisis of authority, leaving an everlasting vacuum of power that, throughout the history of Islam, has been filled by men who seize power by force. The concepts of jihad, martyrdom, and a life that begins only after death are never challenged. The Christian leaders now wasting precious time and resources on a futile exercise of interfaith dialogue with the self-appointed leaders of Islam should redirect their efforts to converting as many Muslims as possible to Christianity, introducing them to a God who rejects Holy War and who has sent his son to die for all sinners out of love for mankind.

Perhaps if volunteers had more actively preached to these early immigrants and actively sought to convert them to Christianity, the tragedy of the unassimilable Muslim might have been avoided. Converts to Christianity would have recognized the radicals with they arrived and resisted the siren song of jihad.”

emphasis added

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