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 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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
on February 8, 2008
This first-hand narrative, read by the author, describes her early childhood in Somalia, her ritualistic genital mutilation, her treatment as a lesser being than males, her arranged marriage and finally her escape to freedom. Ayn Kirsi Ali became a member of Dutch parliament, but after she participated in making a film documentary critical of Islam's treatment of women, a Fatwah was issued calling for her death. The producer of the movie, a Dutch national, was murdered in the street by a muslim fanatic.
This book sets forth in passionate detail Kirsi Ali's journey. It is fascinating, and once I got through the first disc, read in Ali's unusual but pleasant accent, I was thoroughly hooked.
on April 25, 2007
Societies must be judged on the human rights it guarantees to its citizens. The subjugation of even one person by law - or conveniently skirting laws that have been written - to any form of slavery is the acceptance of institutionalized hatred.
This is a chilling autobiography by Ayaan Hirsi Ali which concerns the sickening human rights violations of women and the systematic trampling of basic freedoms through the Qur'an. She pounds away at the enslavement of women and the intolerance to other religions/cultures.
In history, appeasement has proven to be a failure time and time again. Without each person having the individual freedom of the mind, body and soul, there will need to be heroes like Hirsi Ali to remind the world where the political priorities must re-focused each day.
on August 22, 2007
Ayaan does what few people can.
She speaks from within. Having lived and suffered the inhumane treatment Muslim women are subject to, Ayaan describes her struggle to liberate herself from a religion that in her view enslaves women physically, but also subjects men to a mental cage from which is almost impossible to escape.
Very honest account of her life in radically different cultures: Somalia, Ethiopia, the Saudi Kingdom and the West.
Her description of the irrational and erroneous perceptions of peoples so pervasive in different cultures is particularly illuminating.