"You could see her face because she was Somali. Saudi women had no faces."
"I found it remarkable how many esteemed Muslim thinkers had philosophized at such length about precisely how much female skin could be bared without causing chaos to break out across the landscape."
"People accuse me of having interiorized a feeling of racial inferiority, so that I attack my own culture out of self-hatred, because I want to be white. This is a tiresome argument. Tell me, is freedom then only for white people? Is self-love to adhere to my ancestors’ traditions and mutilate my daughters? To agree to be humiliated and powerless? To watch passively as my countrymen abuse women and slaughter each other in pointless disputes?"
Author: Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Published: Free Press (2007)
My Review: It has been a long time (much too long, in fact) since I’ve read a book that made me feel intellectually uncomfortable. And by that, I mean to pay Ayaan Hirsi Ali an incredible compliment. When authors go out on a limb with a controversial topic and generate a feeling of discomfort, they tend to push their readers (the good ones, anyway) to think more critically and open their minds a bit wider. And, of course, when we think more critically, we grow and progress in new ways.
Not that Ayaan Hirsi Ali will ever find herself in my silly library, but I hope that if she did, she would approve of that message and feel proud for creating important, relevant, controversial social discourse among readers. It is through challenging our own beliefs and asking hard questions about our society that we gain the necessary insight to move forward. To change, to grow, to evolve.
My own discomfort, I think, stems from my own strange religious background and my shift from staunch New-Wave atheism in which no religion is tolerated, to a gentler, more humane (and, yes, probably naive) view of religion as cultural and individual expression that’s to be honored and respected. “To each her own,” you know?
I’ve been reveling in my softer religious viewpoints lately because, let’s be honest, it feels good to validate the worth of other people and their cultures. It feels good to think that others are peaceful and loving and fulfilled in their own ways and that we can all benefit from allowing one another to co-exist and learn from each other’s experience. (Which, as a side note, is in many cases healthy and totally possible.)
But we all know that what’s sugarcoated is a deformed and ignorant version of the truth. And this sugar rush has let me off too easy. “Live and let live” is fine and dandy when you’re privileged and functioning in a community where women aren’t sold as commodities, raped and tortured, murdered by family for the sake of “honor.”
Bold and brave Ayaan Hirsi Ali makes no concessions— no excuses— and it’s here that I must check my privilege. I *do* live in a community where things are (relatively) fine and dandy. For justice to be served, I (and all of you) must leave that place of rainbows, and candy, and comfortable conversation to dig for deeper, harder, more honest truths about the things going on around us.
In an ever more globalized world, issues like emigration/immigration, asylum seeking, population movement, and multicultural communities have presented difficult and important challenges. Our human community must come up with new styles of government; we must think differently about the benefits and consequences of integration vs. “respectful” isolation.
How do we humanely and respectfully regulate a multicultural world? A big, scary, daunting question, but one we must tackle.