Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Books about women who break from tradition and defy the odds to achieve success always get my attention. Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali has been on my radar ever since she became an international figure a few years ago. Women like Ayaan are braver than I will ever be. She was a smart young girl growing up surrounded by her very old-world, traditional African Muslim family, first in Somalia then Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, and Kenya, asking questions and confronting her elders and those in authority along the way. She was abused, mutilated and 'married' to a man of her father's choosing. It was this husband she was travelling to join when she took a detour to Holland, claimed refugee status, became a citizen, learned the language, earned a masters degree in political science, joined parliament, and dared to expose the absolutely inhumane conditions imposed on millions of Muslim women in the name of religion and culture. She challenged the Dutch to consider that their wide open tolerance could be, in turn, supporting some very intolerant, closed and archaic practices.

She suffered death threats and spent years in hiding and under protection because of her outspoken ideas including the making of the short film Submission (a film exposing the abuse of women condoned in the Quran) she made with Theo van Gogh who was murdered for his participation. She later resigned from parliament and came close to having her citizenship permanently revoked because she had misrepresented herself on her refugee claim all those years ago, a fact which she readily admits to and explains in detail in her book. One can hardly pass judgement on the actions of a scared young woman in the midst of escape, but is there no consideration of her subsequent pursuit and success in learning the language, achieving an education and becoming a contributing member of society? Perhaps not perfectly initiated, but it results in what sounds like model citizenship to me. It was later resolved that the information on her refugee application was in fact accepted as legal.

On a cursory search of the internet, I see that along with the many supporters of her work towards integration of and equality to immigrant women (she is the founder of AHA Foundation, protecting the rights of women in the West from oppression justified by religion and culture), she has a number of detractors as well, as is expected of any outspoken public figure in a liberal democracy. It is this right to stand up and speak out against injustice that she has risked her life for.


The decision to write this book didn't come to me easily. Why would I expose such private memories to the world? I don't want my arguments to be considered sacrosanct because I have had horrible experiences; I haven't. In reality, my life has been marked by enormous good fortune. How many girls born in Digfeer Hospital in Mogadishu in 1969 are even alive today? And how many have a real voice?
I also don't want my reasoning to be dismissed as the bizarre ranting of someone who has been somehow damaged by her experiences and show is lashing out. People often imply that I am angry because I was excised, or because my father married me off. They never fail to add that such things are rare in the modern Muslim world. The fact is that hundreds of millions of women around the world live in forced marriages, and six thousand small girls are excised every day. My excision in no way damaged my mental capacities; and I would like to be judged on the validity of my arguments, not as a victim. pg348

One of today's most admired and controversial political figures, Ayaan Hirsi Ali bursts into international headlines following the murder of Theo van Gogh by an Islamist who threatened that she would be next. She made headlines again when she was stripped of her citizenship and resigned from the Dutch parliament.
Infidel shows the coming of age of this distinguished political superstar and champion of free speech as well as the development of her beliefs, iron will, and extraordinary determination to fight injustice. Raised in a strict Muslim family, Hirsi Ali survived civil war, female mutilation, brutal beatings, adolescence as a devout believer during the rise of the Muslim brotherhood, and life in four troubled, unstable countries ruled largely by despots. She escaped from a forced marriage and sought asylum in the Netherlands, where she earned a college degree in political science, tried to help her tragically depressed sister adjust to the West, and fought for the rights of Muslim women and the reform of Islam as a member of parliament. Under constant threat, demonized by reactionary Islamists and politicians, disowned by her father, and expelled from family and clan, she refused to be silenced. 
Ultimately a celebration of triumph over adversity, Hirsi Ali's story tells how a bright little girl evolves out of dutiful obedience to become an outspoken, pioneering freedom fighter. As Western governments struggle to balance democratic ideals with religious pressures, no other books could be more timely. (back cover)


Daisy said...

This sounds like a moving and inspirational story. She's much braver than I could ever be too.

JoAnn said...

This was fascinating as an audiobook, too. Hearing the author narrate her own story made it seem even more 'immediate'. If you haven't heard her speak, it would be worth clicking over to audible.com and listening to their sample.

Trish said...

Daisy - Yes, a very inspirational story indeed.

JoAnn - I did actually listen to much of it in audiobook form as it was just taking too long for me to get through it in print. My library had the CD so I listen at times when I couldn't sit down and read. She is quite a remarkable woman.

Sam (Tiny Library) said...

What an admirable and brave woman. I'm sure it was an inspirational read, I'll have to look out for it.

Trish said...

I hope you find a copy. It's quite an incredible story.