For as long as I can remember, I have always been a reader. I love to read and I will read just about anything and everything. I am a fast reader and I can tear through a 300 page novel in about 2 days if all circumstances are right. (Plus it helps that the Dragonfly tends to be a lap sleeper so that affords me usually a 2 hour block in the afternoon in which I am sitting in my rocker with the child and a book. It’s lovely!) As I’ve gotten older, I have found my tastes evolving from mindless fiction to non-fiction novels… especially biographies and auto-biographies.
I most recently finished Nomad written by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Ms. Ali was born into a Muslim family in Somalia. She left her family and fled to the Netherlands when her father decided she should marry a cousin living in Canada, who she had never seen. Once in the Netherlands, she learned the language, the culture, worked odd jobs and eventually became a translator and a member of Parliment, before immigrating to the United States. She speaks highly of assimilating cultures and traditions into the majority, rather than allowing ethnic enclaves to exist and to perpetrate centuries old traditions that are not mallable to Western thinking.
This idea that immigrants need to maintain group cohesion promotes the perception of these people as victim groups requiring special treatment. If people should conform to their ancestral culture, it therefore follows that they should also be helped to maintain it, with even their own system of legal arbitration.
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. (pg. 261)
Ms. Ali is an atheist but tolerates the Christian God more so than the Muslim Allah (which is kind of funny because in the end they are both the same God.) She does challenge those who fervently believe in the laws of Islam, especially women, who she believes should be doing more for other Muslim women:
On campus after campus I would stare in despair at these confident young men and women, born in the United States, who had so manifestly benefited from every advantage of Western education yet were determined to ignore the profound differences between a theocratic mind-set and a democratic mind-set… These students seems to lack a basic human empathy for other Muslim women- women who are just like they are but who cannot speak in public or even go to school. If they lived in Saudi Arabia, under Shari’a law, these college girls in their pretty scarves wouldn’t be free to study, to work, to drive, to walk around. In Saudi Arabia girls their age and younger are confined, are forced to marry, and if they have sex outside of marriage they are sentenced to prison and flogged. According to the Quran, their husband is permitted to bear them and decide whether they may work or even leave the house; he may marry other women without seeking their approval and if he chooses to divorce them, they have no right to resist or to keep custody of their children. Doesn’t this matter at all to these clever young Muslim girls in America? (pgs. 133-134)
Perhaps the cause most dear to Ms. Ali’s heart is the rights and dignity of women, especially when is comes to honor killings, female genital mutilation, child marriage and veiling. I do get the impression that she sees Muslim women who choose to wear the veil as still being repressed by the men in their lives, and who knows, maybe they are. But you know what, this all got me thinking. Do you want to know what honor killings, female genital mutilation, child marriage and forced veiling have in common? They are all legal in some countries and in the eyes of devout Muslims, can be interpreted as part of Shari’a law and used to support the subjugation of women. For these same devout Muslims, Shari’a law trumps that of Western laws, including US law. (Please note: it is very hard to find a neutral source discussion Shari’a law and women, so I include two separate links here and here. Both are biased, each in either direction.)
Many times, in discussing my pro-life views with people, they inevitably state one of two things: “If you don’t like abortions, don’t get one” and “If it was that bad for women, it wouldn’t be legal.” This brings me to this conclusion: Just because something is legal, does not mean that it is right. Just because it is legal to grind off your 4 year old’s clitoris, remove her inner labia and part of her outer labia and sew her vagina closed, doesn’t mean that it’s right. Just because it’s legal to marry your daughter off as soon as she begins menstruating (so as best to preserve your family honor) doesn’t mean that it is right. Just because killing your 4 year old because she underwent a gynecological exam after an allegation of molestation is legal doesn’t mean that it is right. (Ms. Ali is very pro-choice but she does comment how she appreciates how the pro-life and pro-choice camps in our country, for the most part, can discuss this difficult topic without resorting to violence.) But the question remains, where are the Western feminists in this fight?
There are many factors as to why Western feminists are not jumping fully into this fight for Women’s Rights. One is the threat of violence that stems from the more fanatical forms of Islam. Another is that Islam is headed by men of color and there is the issue of Western ideals being imposed on men of a minority status. Another is Western countries, in fear of seeming colonial or otherwise oppressive, do not want to force others to assimilate to that particular society’s norms.
For the longest time, I was really against the thought of assimilation. Thinking that if people make the choice and fight (or pay) to come to the US, the least that we can do is let them hold on to their cultural identities. But I do believe that there is a fine line between holding onto family traditions from the old country and completely distancing yourself from those in your “new” country, preferring ethnic enclaves on Western soil, with rules and laws to match. Is there an easy answer? As with the best questions, not really.
Ms. Ali mentions one way to push back is to engage in dialogue and to ask tough questions. She was raised in an environment where question asking was not permitted and met with violence rather than answers. From page 215:
Free Speech is the bedrock of liberty and a free society. And yes, it includes the right to blaspheme and to offend.
and from page 212:
All human beings are equal, but all cultures and religions are not.
Have you read Nomad? What are your thoughts? Is Ms. Ali just trying to bad mouth an otherwise peaceful religion or is she telling the hard truth? The next book I am reading is Pink Ribbon Blues: How Breast Cancer Culture Undermines Women’s Health. Grab it from your local library and join me!