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on January 27, 2007
It is difficult nowadays to get an objective, nuanced opinion on Islam, neither flattering nor biased against it. If I were to recommend a way to try and achieve this, I would suggest reading several good books on the matter, including this one among them.

This is a wonderful autobiography. I knew that Ayaan Hirsi Ali was a controversial thinker, but I was afraid that her life would be boring. However, the author manages to narrate her own life and circumstances in such a way that I could not put it down, and read it in less than two week's time. I highly recommend it.

Other books that I would recommend reading (as Khaled M. Abou El Fadl -scholar trained in both Islamic and Western law- says, non-muslims "first and foremost [are to] learn and understand, because nothing helps the puritans' cause as much as Western ignorance, prejudice and hate") would be the following:

ASSESSMENTS OF ISLAM:

1) The best, impartial, wise: "Islam. History, present, future" by Hans Küng (written in German, already available in Spanish, English translation coming in 2007).

2) Harsh but well argued: "Muslims in the West: Redefining the Separation of Church & State" by Sami Awad Aldeeb Abu-Sahlieh.

3) Moderate Islam at its best: "The Great Theft : Wrestling Islam from the Extremists" by Khaled M. Abou El Fadl

HISTORY:

1) General: "The Venture of Islam", by Marshall G. S. Hodgson (nowadays a classic included in any bibliography on Islam).

2) Turks: "The Turks in World History" by Carter Vaughn Findley.

3) Political theory: "God's Rule : Government and Islam" by Patricia Crone.

4) Jihad: "Understanding Jihad" by David Cook (it also seems interesting although I have not read it yet: "Jihad in Islamic History: Doctrines and Practice" by Michael Bonner).
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on September 15, 2008
This was one of the books selected from my book club. The first 100 pages were a struggle for me to keep reading, just didn't hold my interest. Then after about 150 I was hooked! For us in America, just getting past all of the names! She warns you in the beginning that names are important to her. Once I realized I would not need all of the names and started just listening to the story it was an amazing story. I must confess I was among those who are clueless! Be sure to watch the video on U-tube, and the interviews with her. She is a truly amazing lady!
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on July 15, 2007
Ms. Kirsi Ali presents a startling and graphic account of the fanaticism of radical Islam. Western populations would be well advised to be aware of the plight of women, the barbaric justification of homicide, and the ultimate goal of imposing Islamic law upon the targeted nations of jihad. It is a stunning and horrifying eye-opener.
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HALL OF FAMEon February 8, 2007
Ayaan Hirst Ali is the Somali born human rights activist who came to the world's attention when the murderer of Theo van Gogh left a message accusing her of defiling Islam. She at the time was living in Holland where she had sought refuge after not taking the flight to Canada to an arranged marriage she did not want. In Holland she worked hard, graduated from Leiden University, tried to help Islamic women who were being persecuted by their husbands. She also became a parliamentarian. As the death threats to her mounted , she who as a young person had supported the fatwa on Salman Rushdie , she understood that she must move to safer territory. She now makes her home in the United States where she is a member of a conservative think- tank 'The American Enterprise Institute'.

Ali is fundamentally a human rights activist who believes in Enlightentment values. While she is deeply concerned about Islam's failure to provide women with basic human freedoms- she is concerned about all of mankind having freedom of speech and expression, the right to be educated, the ability to choose one's own path in life.

Her own courageous example in which she chose to go outside an oppressive framework and stand alone is perhaps too difficult and extreme for most to follow. But clearly her passionate conviction, her clarity of expression do speak to the very real need to provide each and every human being on earth basic freedoms and the opportunity to create their own life in dignity.
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on February 7, 2007
This is an extremely important work as it reflects the growing emergence of enlightened women's sensibilities in the world of Islam. It is a clearly written accounting illustrating the kind of intellectual and emotional journey many Muslim women around the world are experiencing as they gain education and freedom of thought. Ali's story will likely be carefully, and eagerly, considered by Muslim women and those of us who want to understand Islam better, from a woman's point of view. Ali's journey is also important for all of us, Muslim or not, women or not. Why? I'm an evolutionary biologist who writes about social conflict and war and the effect that silencing women in matters of war has had on the human history of war ("Women, Power, and the Biology of Peace" by Judith L. Hand (not Latta)). The global empowerment of women and their participation at planning sessions and negotiating tables--women from all sides of our many conflicts--is the necessary, critical catalyst for creating a better, less violent future. By so clearly presenting her own journey, Ali shines a light that clarifies an arguably necessary reformation that must occur within Islam if that better, less violent future, is to be created for the benefit of us all.
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on February 22, 2007
[...] This is a riveting, deeply moving auobiography of a woman, reared in an oppressive Muslim society, who fled to the West and gradually came to embrace western values. When she coproduced a film depicting the abuse and oppression of Muslim women, she received death threats, and her coproducer was murdered. She has given us a wakeup call. We will all need to have her courage to overcome this totalitarian ideology that threatens the values we hold dear.
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on March 28, 2008
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is undoubtedly a very controversial figure. Her position as a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a neoconservative think tank, often results in some on the left dismissing or not taking seriously her criticisms of Islam and the way women are treated in Islamic societies. However, to dismiss her or her real-life accounts would be a huge mistake and there is something to be learned in her memoir "Infidel" no matter where you fall on the political spectrum. At the same time, when reading this book, one should be aware that she gets more support from people who are anti-Islam than she does from Muslims or even Muslim women.

This book excels in providing a personal description and perspective on growing up in Somalia. Her descriptions of her family and clan relationships as well as her discussion of school and significant events in her life, such as the forced circumcision of herself as well as her brother and sister can be difficult to read, but are important to understand that these types of relationships and events are common in far too many places. It is also interesting from the perspective of learning about the different countries in which she lived and how things differed from a cultural and religious perspective.

The book is split into two sections: the first one covers her time as a willing participant in her family. This is her early life, as she moved from Somalia to Saudi Arabia to Ethiopia to Kenya and so forth. She provides an interesting and personal look at her family's life in each of those countries and the problems they faced in each of them. In addition to the horrible account of her and her siblings forced circumcision, she also covers her first marriage/non-marriage and her forced marriage to a Somalian man who lived in Canada and her trip to Germany to await clearance to proceed on to Canada. It was there that she decided to take control of her own life and that is where this section ends.

In the second section, she discusses her initial reaction and adjusting attitude to living in the west. She talks about why she felt she had to lie to try to get asylum in the Netherlands as she was trying to avoid being found by her husband and their clan. Her husband and clan do eventually catch up with her, but after they state the reasons why she should go with her husband, she is still allowed to say no, but this does sever her ties with her clan, and ultimately her father as well as he replies to her note asking for forgiveness and understanding with a very hurtful reply in which he cuts off communications with her and tells her to "Go to Hell!"

In this section, she is increasingly drawn towards learning about western society, yet fears that it may be compromising her own faith. She struggles with both her family and her friends, especially her sister whose tragic story does at least serve to reunite Ayaan with her father. Ayaan makes a return trip to Kenya under difficult circumstances, but decides it is her last. She starts to make real decisions in her life, including to pursue a political science degree against the advice of others and to become a citizen of the Netherlands. After 9/11 the conflicts between her upbringing and experiences in the west result in her leaving Islam behind and becoming an atheist.

The second section also covers her emergence as a public figure. At first, working at a think tank for the labor party, and then speaking on television she enraged part of the Muslim community and found it necessary to come for a while to the United States. She then found herself recruited by the Liberal party to return to the Netherlands and to be one of their candidates and ultimately be elected. Her outspoken criticisms of Islam resulted in her being targeted by radicals, and her making of a short film "Submission: Part One" would result in the murder of its director Theo van Gogh. The other key part in this section involves her near loss of Dutch citizenship, which was initially revoked, and then restored. Although, she was already looking to come to the United States at the time, the loss of her citizenship in the Netherlands could have caused her a great deal of difficulty in coming to America, and also could have put her life at risk.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali's story is a very interesting one, and this book is definitely one which is worth reading. Many of the events are horrible, but they need to be discussed as it is important to know that these types of events still take place regularly outside the West, or in the case of honor killings even in the west. While you may or may not agree with her position on Islam, it is certainly isn't a subject which should be taboo or which people should be afraid to discuss.
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HALL OF FAMEon June 20, 2008
It's rare to find autobiography as absorbing as this. Not only because of the author's unusual path from the desert of Somalia to the USA via the Netherlands, but also on account of the absorbing writing style. Clear and descriptive, the narrative of her eventful life had a profound impact on this reader. Born and raised in Somalia, Ayaan spent part of her youth in neighboring countries like Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Kenya, recounting what it was like to live there through the eyes of a child.

She gives a lively account of the history of Somalia under the dictatorship of Siad Barre, explaining the clan system and comparing the relaxed Muslim practice in that country with the rigidy of Saudi Arabia and the hypocrisy and racism that go along with it. The short experience of Ethiopia and later the long stay in Kenya, both predominantly Christian countries, were different again and she really captivates with her descriptions of places and people. One of her most salient memories is the obsessive anti-Semitism in Saudi Arabia. Where her family lived in the city of Riyadh, Jews were blamed for everything.

A sub-theme of the book is the increased radicalization of Muslims, partly because of the failures and the suffering brought about by Barre and the chaos of the civil war that unseated him. She noted this radicalization taking place amongst Somalis and others in Kenya where she spent most of her adolescence. This radical strain was brought to Africa by Arabs and Iranians, both Sunni and Shia, also reflecting the failure of secular ideologies and bad government in the dictatorships of the Islamic world.

There are sympathetic but honest portrayals of her family and friends: her mother who showed healthy signs of independence early in life but eventually lost hope and became embittered, her loving and tolerant but mostly absent father, her brother who stayed in Kenya and her sister who, when she couldn't cope in Holland, died tragically after returning to Kenya.

Far from stirring up feelings against Islam, this book makes one contemplate with empathy the location of each individual's birth, how little free choice there really is in a closed society, the powerful hold of your community's history and culture, the difficulty of resisting brainwashing and how grateful people in free societies ought to be for the blessings that a lot of us take for granted.

Infidel is also about a second journey: A journey of the mind from the strictures of stifling, oppressive faith to the liberation of enlightenment and the embrace of Western values like individual freedom, freedom of speech and the rule of law. The fact that the individual mattered and had a right to life, to choice and freedom, was a joyful discovery.

This theme interweaves with the history she so deftly chronicles: the collapse of Somalia, the slow decline in Kenya, Dutch politics in the face of dysfunctional multiculturalism that however well intended, harms individuals in the immigrant communities and society as a whole. More information of these developments in The Netherlands and Europe as a whole is available in While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within by Bruce Bawer and Menace in Europe: Why the Continent's Crisis Is America's, Too by Claire Berlinski.

It is humbling to read of the author's wonderment and appreciation when she discovered Dutch society where even the police were friendly and helpful and where everything worked. Ayaan clearly loves The Netherlands; her words radiate with gratitude and appreciation of the culture and society. I especially enjoyed the account of her studies at the University of Leiden where she studies the great Western philosophers.

Sometimes harrowing, the story of Infidel includes innocent childhood memories, mutilation, war, deprivation, tragedy, adventure, drastic adaptation and inspiring achievements. It is clear that Ayaan Hirsi Ali is an unusually courageous, empathic and resourceful individual. There are 11 black & white plates of family and other people who played a part in her life. As far as the religious aspect is concerned, I recommend the following informative books by two equally courageous women: Because They Hate: A Survivor of Islamic Terror Warns America by Brigitte Gabriel and Now They Call Me Infidel: Why I Renounced Jihad for America, Israel, and the War on Terror by Nonie Darwish.
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on February 13, 2007
I read it in 3 days. A fascinating page turner.

Ali has lived in Somalia, Kenya, Saudi Arabia, and the Netherlands. You get a first hand account of the respective cultures. Worse yet, you get a feeling of the repression women and girls suffer at the hands of Islam.

She does not flinch from the truth -- despite the legions of fanatics that now want to kill her. You owe it to her to read this book, and you owe it to yourself.

The book leads to true comprehension of the evil we will all have to face. Don't taking the life journey she has so eloquently laid out! Don't pass up the chance for an understanding of a very closed culture with a tour guide that has lived it.

Mark
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on September 14, 2015
This woman has a story -- a good one. It reminds me of the Cold War when people came out of the Soviet bloc with true stories of Gulags and nightmares that begin with a knock on the door late at night.

Like those stories and the ones who told them, this is a woman who is sounding the alarm and then joining the extreme reaction to the real and the imagined. I think she is not aware of the American political system and its right wing. she joined the American Enterprise think tank who offer comfort to that species of white collar Rupert Murdoch wanna-bes who ignore KKK and neo -nazi types who populate their constituency.

Still, the threat from the Madrasas do exist and that they are consistent with an expanding influence among Muslims is real and those of good will should be aware. When a US president holds hands with a Saudi prince and makes sure that all the Bin Ladin clan gets clear of the US (on Sep 11), it is necessary that the populace be informed, That said, the populace should also be aware of the long tradition in our history of xenophobia and racialism which has established Jim Crow, Asian Exclusion laws and even Prohibition that fostered a variety of Brown Shirt vigilante movements always touting evil conspiracies among the target population of foreigners.

And always there were apologists of the white collar types like the American Enterprise Institute.

I give Ms. Ali the benefit of the doubt and believe her to be an advocate of women and of human rights in general, and this book as testimony to what can happen when religion aspires to State power.
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