I’ve just finished reading “Infidel” by Ayaan Hirsi Ali (2007, Free Press, Simon and Schuster). It’s the story of her indoctrination into the clan structure and stern Islam of her native Somalia, her emerging sense of self as a child living in Saudi Arabia and Kenya that included the normal beatings endured by children, espsecially girls, forced marriages of pubescent girls to older men, the institutionalized violent oppression of women, and the growing force of Islamic fundamentalism. In a remarkable sequence of events she learned to assert her self apart from family and clan, escape to Holland, became a Dutch citizen, served in parliament and endured the murderous hatred of those who remained in the life she had left behind.
Obviously there is more, and if you have not read it I encourage you to do so. Don’t let the introduction by Christopher Hitchens get in the way. In the end Ali comes to the place where she can no longer believe in the Allah of her youth, and therefore she cannot believe in God by any other name. That just feeds Hitchens’ delight. Another nail in God’s coffin.
The Allah and Islam she grew up with deserves to be nailed in a coffin. But lest we become arrogant, so does the God of extreme Christian fundamentalism, and, by the occasional news report, I suspect the same is true for the extreme fundamentalist gods of all other religions. Ali’s is a strong voice warning against being naive about the danger to liberal democracies of religious fundamentalism, and especially in this moment in history of the Islamic zealots who are so locked in their little worlds of bigotry and hatred that they cannot see beyond the next bomb. But again, words of caution. Her warnings can too easily become energizers for our own ignorance and prejudice leading us to demonize Islam and all Muslims. Moreover, we Christians are not immune. We have our own extremists, perhaps not as violent in action but certainly as violent in words. And they are not beyond acting out now and then blowing up buildings, murdering abortion doctors, nurturing white supremacy and the like.
Perhaps it is this very tension, felt but hard to articulate, that has generated such a resurgence in apprection for Niebuhr’s Christian Realism. It is difficult for Christians to be politically astute and yet persevere in following where Christ has led. It’s hard to remember that he came to save the world and not just you and me (with my doubts about you). And it breaks my heart that one who tried so hard to find a God who would love her, rejecting the cruel god she knew, could find nothing at all.