Autobiographies often suffer from late-life authorship--a time when the fires are damped and the events foreshortened by time. This one--by a woman still in her thirties--is an exception to nearly every rule of the genre. Not least for its electrifying readability: it consumed every free moment of the two days it took to finish it. Putting it down was simply not an option.
This book will grab your imagination like no other, transplant you into a world you have probably never known, and introduce you to the intimate world of a muslim family swept by circumstance all over Africa, Arabia, and Europe. The complex interaction of tribes, clans, cultures, extended families and nations (and their consequences) isn't dryly analyzed, it is woven into a personal drama with the momentum of a locomotive. The love of family rides perilously over the jarring railbed of refugee life, of ancient and modern Islamic conflicts, all of it recounted with real compassion in beautifully clear English. This multilingual immigrant needs no ghostwriter.
Unlike the collection of editorial essays which comprised "The Caged Virgin", "Infidel" is a consistently focused narrative of a spectacularly eventful life launched almost inadvertantly into an unparalleled adventure in moral courage. But there's far more here than a clash-of-cultures story well told. There is no targeted rush toward a predestined liberation. The revelatory discovery of western freedoms comes late in the book and gathers like a slow-motion sunrise. Only in the final chapters does she defect from Muslim culture, graduate from the University of Leiden, become a Dutch legislator, a target of Islamic terrorists, and an incendiary revolutionary for Muslim womens' rights.
More than simply discovering western libertarian values, she shows a deep and critical understanding of their history, how they've shaped the modern world, and shows their prognosis for dealing with the festering problem of Europe's Islamic subculture. Her extraordinary life seems more an ongoing work in progress than a settled iconographic career. She has recently moved to America--the adopted home of another famously eloquent and consequential revolutionary: Tom Paine.
on August 20, 2007
This is a fantastic description of life in Islam. Ayaan Hirsi Ali explains in very honestly what she has had to deal with in her life. As an ex muslim myself, she is a brave example for the rest of us women struggling with the threats and violence of Islam. This is a must read book for those who do not have the time or patience to study Islam and Islamic culture. It should be mandatory reading for High School Students in the west. Anyone who has to risk their lives to tell the truth is revolutionary. These days the truth is a revoluntionary act and Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a pioneer and my hero.
on March 17, 2007
Every now and then, something truly remarkable is written. This book falls into that category. I have read very few books which hit me as hard as this book did.
This is a remarkable woman. She has crossed an impassable divide, and has been able to reach the other side--after considerable suffering, work, and tears. Her journey has not yet ended. I would imagine much more awaits her. She seems to be fated to say what many do not wish to hear.
How well does anyone in the west understand Islam, and all the things it does to people? Do we really understand female genital mutilation, beaten women, arranged marriages, the compuslive need to hide the feminine, and the complete loss of individual freedom? Americans still don't have a clue. This book makes a very real effort to explain a few things. It is painful, but important reading.
One can read the various books on Islam--with great value. This book makes it personal, and painful. It is time the west came to its senses, and faced reality. It is not "one world," all cultures are not equal in value, and the individual matters much more than the collective living in darkness.
On a more mundane level, the book is well-written, gripping, heart wrenching, powerful, painful, touching, and impossible to put down. Read it, and you, too, will feel its remarkable value--and message.
I wish this wonderful woman well . She has done so very much to open our eyes.
on March 5, 2007
"Infidel" by Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a must-read book by a heroine of world historical importance.
Years from now, maybe even centuries from now, her depth and integrity, and the depth and integrity of others like her, will still be having a positive impact on the world.
Please don't misunderstand this book. "Infidel" is NOT a right-wing tract or a left-wing tract; it is not a feminist pamphlet or an apologia for the West. "Infidel" is NOT an attack on Muslims.
"Infidel" is a beautifully written work of art. If you were living on another planet, where there were no Muslims, no Westerners, no 9-11, you would still want to read this book for its profound human depth and its literary value.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali takes the particular -- her own extraordinary life lived in Africa, Saudia Arabia, Europe and North America, lived as a hyper- devout Muslim and lived as a new atheist -- and, with the clarity of an electron microscope, depicting every detail, she creates a work of universal resonance.
Have you ever been afraid to defy convention? Have you ever suffered to learn that your family's and people's traditions were not as benign as you had been taught to believe? Have you ever witnessed injustice and not known what to do? Have you ever wanted to be a hero or a heroine?
If so, then you will see yourself in this book, even given its exotic details.
Its exotic details include a heartbreaking scene that describes how madrassah -- Koran school -- pupils brutalized a girl they dubbed "kintirleey," that is, a girl whose private female anatomy had not yet been mutilated, as per Muslim-African custom.
This scene is written in the most simple of language. You could read it with the television on in the background. And yet it falls on your heart with the weight of lead.
What makes Ayaan Hirsi Ali a voice of world historical importance is partly her great art, exhibited here; it is also her shining courage. Simply, in an age where truth is penalized, banned, distorted, Ayaan Ali Hirsi simply speaks the truth.
Hirsi Ali refuses to participate in nonsense. I want to type a word other than "nonsense" -- B.S.
Hirsi Ali resists lies. That insistence on truth has made her life hard. She and her colleague, Theo van Gogh, made the film "Submission," about the fate of women in Islam. A Muslim assassin killed van Gogh on a public street, shooting him, stabbing him, slitting his throat, and, with a knife blade, affixing a note to his chest; the note threatened Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The words you read in "Infidel" have a high price. Hirsi Ali lives in constant danger for telling the truth.
This book is so good and so important, that one knows that Ayaan Hirsi Ali's great courage is worth any price.
on February 13, 2007
If you value liberty, you will weep as you witness this brave woman's story.
Like Lawrence Wright's The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, the viewpoint of this book will appeal across political lines. It's impossible to ascribe political tendencies of 'liberal' or 'conservative' to the author. How can that be, you might wonder, if the author is a researcher at the American Enterprise Institute? Do your daughter a favor and read Ayaan Hirsi Ali's story to find out. The author would seem to be as welcome on Oprah's show as Glen Beck's: Her story trancends political differences and will remind the reader of what it means to value humanity.
When you read this book, note that she refused to compromise while a politician and spoke her mind to the Dutch people, even when her views conflicted with her party. This is a woman who stands for what is right, and that will make her popular with those that value reason and unpopular with those that accept dogma, whether it be religious or political.
She writes "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 who is lashing out." No one who reads this book could possibly think such a thing. I'm amazed with the evenhandedness she is able to exert in this memoir.
If, like my wife, you wonder "where are my feminists" in the face of islamic extremism, you will find a new hero.
on October 20, 2007
In her own words you hear the author, Ayann Hirsi (Magan) Ali relate to you her life story with the passion and emotion that can only come from having lived it. It is a brutally honest portrayal of life as a woman raise in a Muslim society. What impressed me the most was how totally different and isolated her life was growing up in Somalia and Kenya from my western way of life. Clitoral excision; covering your body from head-to-toe lest you inflame male desires; submitting to the males in you family in all matters, including arranged marriages; all part of the daily life of an Islamic woman. Add to that beatings from her mother whenever she dared to question their ways and you have a compelling look into the life of one of the most oppressed groups of people on the planet.
I suspect if you were to ask Ayaan, she would say she had no choice but to seek asylum as a refugee in Holland, but everyday Muslim women around the world accept their lot to live this kind of life. Her bravery is inspiring, and I am grateful that she chose to share her story so that westerners like me can better understand a Muslim's way of life and the differences that separate their beliefs from Christian beliefs. Yet, I also take heart to know that we share many of the same values, concerns, and desires. She is someone I could easily befriend.
on June 18, 2007
I have seen Ayaan Hirsi-Ali interviewed and knew who she was when I got this book, which was riveting from the moment I started to read it. Her life story (to date) is an amazing road of transformation and realization. This woman has determination, intelligence, and courage beyond anyone I have ever met. As a woman born and raised in America and having opportunities available to me from the beginning, I am humbled tremendously by the incredible accomplishments of Hirsi-Ali. Born in Somalia, one of the poorest nations on earth, and having lived in Kenya, Saudi Arabia and Ethiopia under strict Muslim faith, she managed to educate herself beyond the restrictions of the religion, escape the prison of such a male dominated culture and realize the hypocrisy of the world in which she existed. Against all odds, she survived female genitle mutilation at the age of six, learned to speak several languages, and ultimately disgraced her family by refusing to marry someone she barely knew by seeking asylum in Holland. Amid death threats, she further educated herself and ultimately became a member of the Parliament in Holland with a focus on women's rights and wrote a film about the submission of women in Islam which resulted in the horrific murder of it's director, Theo Van Gogh. The assasins composed a letter to Hirsi-Ali and stabbed it into VanGogh's chest. Her courage to share with us the tragic and horrifying events of her life, including severe beatings, a fractured skull, and her ultimate denouncement of Islam, demonstrates her determination to call to reality the backwards ideology of Islam, specifically the fundamental aspects, which threatens the Western World. She is grateful for all that she saw in the modern world, from friendly police men to social workers and democratic governmental agencies. She was fascinated by bus schedules that ran on time, garbage collection, and all the things we in the West take for granted, including welfare. As Hirsi-Ali was amazed by hot and cold running showers, I am in awe of Hirsi-Ali and wish more educated women of Islam could find such strength and courage to stop the ignorance and violence and hatred that is ingrained in the children in the name of Allah. Unfortunately, education and poverty is at the core of fundamental Islam and it is unlikely to change in those regions where Islam is the law, corruption abundant and women are enslaved. Her insight is invaluable, her honesty is applauded and her curiosity, which brought her to where she is today, is refreshing. Tragically, those values cost her a family who have disowned her and see her as an Infidel, but ironically, her choice to accept and embrace freedom has made her someone they should be very proud of because she is truly a woman of great honor, admiration and success.
on February 8, 2007
Every now and then a book comes along to give my personal paradigms a good shake up. "Infidel" is one such title.
I have admired Ayaan Hirsi Ali for some time - ever since I saw the first reports of her in Dutch politics and the shocking images of her subsequent film on the abuse of Muslim women. I admired her in her role as activist against the wrongs of radical Islam. (After all, Christianity has had its own ideological purge.) But my admiration was even more for the woman herself.
As a white, middle-class female I am neither sociologist nor political animal, so why read this book, let alone comment on it? Because I believe it has a powerful message for Western women besides a political one. Certainly, the plight of Muslim women and the implications of burgeoning Islam concern me greatly. I cannot turn a blind eye, even in the isolation of New Zealand where I live. We have seen vandalism here against the mosques and been saddened by it. We have bristled at the intractability of a visiting Imam when he was interviewed on national television on the abuse of Muslim women. (As far as he was concerned, it didn't exist, and the Qu'ran did not sanction abuse.) But this book does more than enlighten me on such issues: it shakes me out of the complacency of my own, relatively safe world. And it leaves me with questions I had never thought of asking before.
Gary Zukav (The Dancing Wu Li Masters) says, "According to quantum mechanics, there is no such thing as objectivity. We cannot eliminate ourselves from the picture." So in what way do we put ourselves in this particular picture?
What can Western women do? Should we clean up our own backyard,first? After all, women in Christian countries are no strangers to abuse. Maybe if women's thinking internationally gets to "critical mass" on these issues, something will change radically. (I interpret part of Ali's message as saying this.) I admit I'm still looking for answers.
All I can say to other women who consider reading this book is: do! Ayaan Hirsi Ali shows that inner power is not dependent on outer circumstances. The book is worth reading for that alone.
on April 10, 2007
I'd give it five stars but I feel like that should be reserved for the greatest book I'll ever read (whatever that might be). This book surprised me: I'm an older man and I didn't think that this story from a young African woman would interest me that much. But it was easy to read, always interesting, and pulled me through it in just a couple of evenings. I read it to try to get more understanding of Muslim ways. I not only got that out of it but also got as interested in this woman's story as if it had been an action novel. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a super writer who can not only tell a story but also inject humor, slang, and enough human interest so that I felt like I'd gotten to know a new friend.
on March 26, 2007
I first encountered Ayaan Hirsi Ali on the Tavis Smiley Show. I was intrigued by her poise and her discussion on Islam, gender politics, and human rights. After watching the show, I decided to get her book for a deeper analysis of her position.
This is a taut and honest autobiographical portrait. It's poetic, sincere, and at times gritty. As a progressive Christian who was raised raised in the States in a Protestant home, I felt deep connections with Hirsi Ali's story. Her story is a story of struggle and the social consequences of political, gender, and racial oppression.
In my opinion, her book is mainly about challenging the birthright of gender categories and instituting reform in Islam. According to Hirsi Ali, fundamentalist Islam, as it is practiced in many countries, contradicts Universal Human Rights because some of its practices are oppressive to women, children, and prohibits the expression of free speech, independent thought, and ultimately the livelihood of those who live in such societies.
This is not the forum in which to debate whether she is right or wrong. However, I believe she presents an extremely strong case through her multiple accounts of war, the experience of immigrant Muslim women in Europe and through her own story of growing up in Somalia, Kenya, and Saudi Arabia.
I commend her and her story. It's poignant and it provides a forum for discussion on religio-political societies versus secularized societies. Aside from her story, this book also investigates how fundamentalism (in any form) limits societies' infrastructures and commercial development as well as social equality. She claims that theocratic societies, in which the oppression of women is high and is mandated by religious dogma, are "behind" other societies in terms of civic life, civil rights, and industrialization. Societies in which equality and freedom of expression are granted (more or less) tend to have more civil rights for citizens and also have more stable economies and a greater distribution of wealth among its citizens.
For adventurous instructors, I recommend this book for courses related to Women's Studies, African and African American Studies, autobiographical narratives, globalization, and contemporary political science.
One last comment... Regardless of your beliefs, try withholding judgment before reading her story. Her argument is for human rights and social equality through progressive social reform not radical apostasy.