This is a book about survival against all odds. On nearly every page of the book a story is told that makes you wonder, “How is this woman still alive?” The book is the incredible autobiography of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somalian woman who escaped her family, clan, culture, and religion in search of freedom.
Let me say at the top that I highly recommend this book for several reasons. First, it provides a view of clan culture in East Africa that for me at least was new, informative, and enlightening. Second, it helps you understand the ways in which Islam works itself out in different cultures, the political ideology the religion demands, and the manner in which the theological system and traditions that have built up over centuries regard people, girls and women in particular, and life itself.
Third, the book is simply compelling. It’s different, relates familial or religious practices that are astounding for their disparagement of human life and individual value, and provides a social analysis at once winsome and courageous. Fourth, the author Ali was always smart but is by now a well-educated woman who can write. I’d even say gifted as a writer. I was hooked in the first few pages. Fifth, Ali is a political scientist by education and profession so her political and cultural analysis is as good as any you’ll find dealing with the topics she addresses.
Ali made her escape from Germany by taking a train to Holland where she found a kind people and a welfare state especially prepared to receive and nurture a scared but strong Somali woman who wanted nothing but to be independent, to live freely. She made this bold run for freedom at 22 years of age after her father had arranged a marriage for her with a Somali man living in Canada, a man she did not choose. Her father had put her on a jet to Canada but she bailed during her layover in Germany.
The book relates with amazing memory formative events from her childhood spent in Somalia, Saudi Arabia, and Kenya. She describes her religious odyssey, one that eventually saw her reject Islam and embrace atheism. (Ali at least in this book is not an “angry atheist” and she does not attack Christianity. She simply no longer believes in God or an afterlife.) She speaks knowledgeably and movingly about female genital mutilation—which she endured, the sexual paranoia of her religion and culture, and her later experiences with love and sexual maturity. And she shares her feelings and concerns for family members who, though often hateful and abusive, she still loves.
Eventually, through what can only be described as a process of pluck and passion she becomes an elected Member of Parliament in the Netherlands, makes a controversial short film (Submission, Part 1) with a Dutch producer about the plight of women under Islam, loses her Dutch citizenship only to have it restored, and finally immigrates to America.
In the meantime, the Dutch producer is brutally killed on a Holland sidewalk by an Islamist murderer who leaves a note pinioned to the dead man’s chest with a knife, a note to Ali. She then becomes the focus of Islamist assassins and now requires constant security likely for the remainder of her life. As a result of all this she becomes a personality lauded worldwide for her beliefs and actions in support of freeing women and girls from religious suppression.
Ali is especially articulate and passionate about multiculturalism, which she believes allows cultures to perpetuate evil in the name of moral relativism. She believes most European countries have made a huge mistake in adopting a multiculturalist attitude toward immigrants, which she contends delays their assimilation and adoption of the new language and new values in their new homeland. This, she says, perpetuates poverty, isolation, ignorance, and suppression of creativity and independence in women, thus denying the economy productivity it and the immigrant group could enjoy.
As I said, I highly recommend this book because it is well written and because I believe Ali offers so many sagacious lessons. The West would do well to listen and to learn.
People need interaction, certainly for emotional wellbeing but also for achievement. Sure, there are great works of art or literature that are the products of one genius. But even they didn’t spring forth fully formed and fully able to produce. They had to learn, to be nurtured, to grow and to grow up. Someone, more often, some many, invested in them.
God created us for communion with him. Then he created others for our companionship and community. First Adam, then Eve, then the family, and then the human race.
Cultures vary. There’s the individualistic West and the communal or collective East, and there’s strengths and weaknesses to both. But even in the West’s frontier-forged independence we still needed each other then and now. Even our legends, Daniel Boone, Kit Carson, had sidekicks. Even our heroes like Teddy Roosevelt didn’t charge up San Juan Hill alone. Nor did the Greatest Generation, with more than it’s share of heroes, win WWII one at a time.
Scripture says, “For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord” (Romans 14:7-8). We belong to the Lord and are positioned as regents in his creation.
So despite Simon and Garfunkel’s pithy phrase, “I am a rock, I am an island,” we’re really not. Even their final poignant lyric doesn’t fit human beings and human experience: “And a rock feels no pain; And an island never cries.” We’re neither rocks nor islands. We do feel pain and we do cry.
So going it alone in some kind of macho misperception is an enormous mistake. People only go it alone when greed, pride, hurt, or arrogance overcome them.
One can be lonely in a crowd, I know. This is a by-product of modernity. People live amongst millions in relative angst and alienation. It’s a sad life because it is not a “normal” life.
If one is a Christian he or she need never be alone. Indeed Christians are not and cannot be alone for the Holy Spirit of God indwells us (1 Corinthians 3:16). Yet many believers seem to act as if they are alone. This too is a sad life.
Friendship, relationships, companionship, a good marriage, fellowship, these are powerful enabling concepts. They are gifts of God. Seek such things. Nurture them. They make life livable, enjoyable, and fruitful.
I don’t want to be a rock. I don’t want to be an island. I don’t even want to be the Lone Ranger. I want us, not just me.
There are 2.77 times more people in the world today than when I was born in 1952. Almost 3X as many—7.3 billion in 2012—as when I added one more to the total. To me this is mind-boggling.
The U.S. population in 1952 stood at approximately 157.55 million. Today US population stands at 313.1 million, just 2 million shy of 2X as many people as when I was born.
The U.S. population tripled during the 20th Century. This is a growth rate of 1.3%. The average growth rate among countries of the world is 1.17%, though as an average it doesn’t say much because there are countries as high as Liberia at 4.5%, meaning its population more than doubles every 20 years. Or there are countries as low as the Cook Islands at -2.23%.
Along with Africa some of the fastest growing countries of the world are in the Middle East and North Africa, Arab, Persian, and Turkish Muslim-majority countries. Israel stands at 1.66% population growth rate. The U.S. is getting older month by month while the Middle East is getting younger.
Europe is actually declining in population rate of growth, even with immigration. This stresses European countries’ economies. In the U.S. people are living longer with fewer youth coming into the workforce.
Some 80% of ours and of world population live in urban areas and some 80% live near coastlines. We are a city people by the sea.
Demographics is more interesting than it first appears. There’s much more in the statistics. For example, in the U.S. 45% of youth under 5 years are children of minorities. The U.S. continues to “brown.” In the Middle East there’s more than 100 million under the age of 16 years. That’s one-third the population of the U.S.
Population is a fancy word for people. There are 7.3 billion of us in the world and counting, each one made in the image of God. Each one is just as temporally and eternally significant as I am.
People one and all are not simply animate life forms. With numbers like 7.3 billion, which no one can really understand, it’s easy to forget that. Each one matters. That’s what makes demographics all the more mind-boggling.
Immigration remains a volatile issue in the United States, particularly in this presidential election year. It's an issue that doesn't really come and go, just grows quiet for a time only to come rushing back when a politician makes a comment or something happens on the border.
What should Christians think about immigration? Are there ways we can contribute to the discussion and, hopefully, resolution of the issue? I believe there are. In particular, we could help both political parties by simply reminding them that the "immigration issue" is really about people. Here are a few of my thoughts to stimulate your thoughts:
The immigration issue is not irresolvable. But it won't be resolved without honest, principled debate and a will to work toward the American Dream for both citizens and would-be citizens.
History is not destiny, though much of the world believes it so. Past may be prologue but it's not predestination. The future, in particular one’s individual and personal future, need not be dictated by the past. Human beings can change.
Yet millions do not believe this; not really. Some are falsely misled by fear, superstition, or animism. They think “the fates” or some other force beyond us arbitrarily play with our lives and only the “lucky” make good.
Some are locked in family, clan, tribe, or culture influences they’ve inherited environmentally and to which they succumb mentally. Their learned attitudes and behaviors absorbed from their environment form mental cages from which they do not have the faith, reason, education, or inclination to break free.
Some are oppressed by religion or religious systems that demand obedience, subservience, and blind loyalty yet offer nothing but poverty of the soul and hopelessness in return. This is false religion based upon works and ritual that are never enough and leave adherents victims rather than victors.
But human beings are created in the image of God. They are vested with the capacity to reason, to think about tomorrow, to wish for something better, to learn, and to grow. They are vested with the ability to change, if not in their own strength than through the positive benefits of education, community, and the spiritual renewal of true faith.
The Scripture says human beings are born in sin. We are, at bottom, sinners even as babes who’ve not yet willfully sinned. But God does not leave us there. He offers first, love, then forgiveness, and finally hope in this life and the life to come. Through Jesus Christ and the indwelling and enabling work of the Holy Spirit God changes us. In Christ we go from sinner to sinful-but-forgiven and redeemed saint (Ephesians 4:22-24; Colossians 3:1-17). In God’s embrace we remain a saint even when we do not act saintly.
The Bible says, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). For the Christian, the believer, the follower of Jesus, all things are become new. History is not destiny.
Your father was an alcoholic? You need not be. You were beaten or molested as a child? God can give you the ability to forgive and he can give you healing and peace.
You have an “anger management problem” as it’s called today? So? It may not be easy. It will not be easy. But God can give you victory over this emotional and spiritual behavior.
You’re the worst sinner that’s ever lived? Paul considered himself the same thing, yet God changed Saul the Christian killer to Paul the Apostle.
History may be influential. History may be powerful. Nature and Nurture may both be out of kilter in your past. But history is not destiny.
It’s never too late to become what we should and could become. It’s never too late to change. Our history is simply that, history. It’s past. Destiny awaits our choices.