Byline: MICHAEL BURLEIGH
NOMAD: A PERSONAL JOURNEY THROUGH THE CLASH OF CIVILISATIONS by Ayaan Hirsi Ali (Simon & Schuster, [pounds sterling]12.99) THE SOMALI activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali is one of a number of critics of Islam who live under perpetual police protection because Islamists threatened to kill her. When you meet her, there are indeed large men hovering in the background.
Her previous book, Infidel, chronicled her flight from an arranged marriage and the oppressions of Islam to a new life in the Netherlands. She went from being a cleaner, via a political science degree, to becoming an MP, all in a remarkably short time; from the Middle Ages to modernity would be another way of putting it. Much of that book's fascination derived from the glaring contrasts between sunny Kenya (her family's place of exile) and the grey, generous and orderly Netherlands where she conned her way in, posing as a refugee from wartorn Somalia.
This deceit was dredged up by a more senior party colleague, the former prison governor and immigration minister "Iron" Rita Verdonk, who sought to expatriate her. This episode, and the subsequent cravenness of Amsterdam neighbours who resented the conspicuous security Ms Ali warranted in the wake of the killing of Theo van Gogh, led to Ali's relocation to the US and a post at a prominent think tank.
Nomad deals with these more recent episodes in her remarkable life, though it should be said that her descriptions of life in the US are flatter than those of her initial encounters with the Netherlands, unless one enjoys reading about airports, for which we already have Mr de Botton.
Something of the epic directness (or rudeness) of the Dutch has rubbed off on Ms Ali, since she herself says that Somalis are more prone to indirection. She provides a no-holds barred account of her own deracinated and dysfunctional family, and life among Somali "refugees" in general. Her late father Abeh, an opponent of Siad Barre, tricked his way into Britain, to take advantage of its welfare payments, her elder brother went mad after failing to live up to the "little prince" expectations rife in Muslim families, and a young female cousin has contracted Aids. …