Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Book Review: Infidel, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali


The book Infidel, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, tells of her experiences before she comes to the United States. She writes about the submissive role of women in the Islamic world, and the book is a real eye-opener. The literal meaning of the word Islam is submission. I've never heard of this before, so I thought I'd look it up. And sure enough, it's true. Islamic women are taught "to become quiet inside, so that you never raise your eyes, not even inside your mind."


As a little girl in Somalia, Ayaan recites for her grandmother. "I managed to count my forefathers back for 300 years - the part that is crucially important. Osman Mahamud is the name of my father's subclan, and thus my own. It is where I belong, who I am."

When Ayaan is two, her father, Abeh, is taken away. After escaping from prison, he moves the family to Saudi Arabia. Ayaan is shocked at how women are treated. “Saudi women had no faces,” she said. "The only way you could tell which way they were looking was by the direction their shoes pointed."


When the family moves to Kenya, Ayaan's father enrolls the children in an English-language school. And reading become important to them. Ayaan's brother brings books home for her sister and her to read, something she couldn't have done for herself. "All these books, even the trashy ones, carried with them ideas - races were equal, women were equal to men - and concepts of freedom, struggle and adventure that were new to me."

At the age of 20, Abeh chooses a husband for Ayaan, someone he's never met, but considered a good match: a cousin living in Canada. The men sign the necessary papers, and Ayaan is expected to follow him to Canada. But something clicks, I think, when she arrives at the airport in Frankfurt, to stay with his relatives. She sees a clean country. "The landscape looked like geometry class or physics, where everything was in straight lines."

This starts Part II of her story, “My Freedom.”

I believe Ayaan is a gifted and courageous woman. She escapes to Holland, while waiting for a passport in Germany, and lives in a refugee center. Her earlier English language exposure is a blessing. She's able to communicate with non-Muslins and assimilate into Dutch society. Ayaan begins learning Dutch, and a year later, passes her entrance exam for vocational school. When she gets the opportunity to attend University, she jumps at it. Ayaan majors in political science, and become involved with Dutch politics.



Ten years after leaving the Islamic world, Ayaan is asked to explain Islam to a documentary filmmaker. She compares it to a caged bird: "At first, when you open the door, the caged bird stays inside: it is frightened. It has internalized its imprisonment. It takes time for the bird to escape, even after someone has opened the doors to its cage.”


artwork by Siegfried Woldhek

8 comments:

Irf said...

Hirsi Ali reminds me of Margaret Marcus, a Jewish woman from New York who converted to Islam and who then wrote lots of books demonising Judaism which have been distributed across the Islamic world.

http://newmatilda.com/2007/07/25/unreliable-narrator

Rose Works Jewelry said...

Wow - that sounds like an incredible book!

Brigid said...

That sounds really interesting! I just finished reading The Kite Runner, and this sounds like a cool follow-up. I'll add it to my wish list.

Also, in response to your comment on my entry, I sure did go to college in California. I was at Scripps College in Claremont, which halfway between Pasadena and San Bernardino. Santa Barbara and San Francisco are beautiful! I miss CA sometimes.

BeadedTail said...

This book sounds very interesting! I will certainly add it to my list of must reads!

Tulip's Talking said...

Happy Thanksgiving to a very special and sweet woman.

Love ya x0

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PurrPrints said...

This book sounds really interesting--I'll have to look for it the next itme I'm in the bookstore--thanks for the idea!

Anonymous said...

Greetings all, I also read the book and found that I was left wondering if what she said was true or not. I am not a person who has studied Islam but some of this didn't add up. She doesn't cite any sources and easily mixes culture with religion (blaming the latter for everything bad).

I found a Muslim's reponse here: http://loga-abdullah.blogspot.com/2008/11/defending-our-diin-ayaan-hirsi-ali.html

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