Tuesday, October 09, 2007


Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a rare and remarkable woman, someone who has achieved success, and a measure of fame, despite the odds that origin and circumstance stacked against her. Her intimate autobiography, Infidel, explains how she became a determined feminist because of, not despite, her upbringing in a Muslim culture in which women have few rights and little value compared to the males in their world.

Born into a family situation in which her father took several wives, although each maintained a separate household, Ali did not see much of her father for long periods and was raised by her more religiously tolerant grandmother and mother. Even as a girl, she found herself questioning authority and some of the basic tenants of her religion while still striving to do the things that were expected of her. Ali learned exactly what those expectations were. Circumcised as a young girl and educated by radical imams, she soon learned that by so much as uncovering her hair in public she would be solely responsible for whatever reaction she received from any male she encountered. She learned that the Koran was to be taken literally as the direct word of Allah and that it could never be questioned even when it seemed to justify the beating and killing of women by husbands, brothers or fathers who believed them to have disgraced the honor of the family or clan.

She tried very hard to internalize all that she was taught, but Ayaan Hirsi Ali was born with a questioning mind and could never reconcile herself to the fact that she felt much of what she was taught to be unjust. And when she saw an opportunity to escape and make a new life for herself she took it. While in Germany to arrange for the paperwork to join her new husband in Canada, the result of an arranged marriage set up by her father, she took the opportunity to flee to Holland where she sought and received refugee status.

What Ali accomplished in Holland is the most amazing part of her story. She learned the Dutch language so well that she was able to support herself as a translator rather than having to depend on the Dutch welfare system. She went to university and received a degree. She was granted Dutch citizenship. And, most amazing of all, she was elected to the Dutch parliament.

Never afraid to speak her mind despite the danger of doing so, Ali spoke loudly about the plight of Muslim women forced into arranged marriages who suffered beatings and, on occasion, honor killings at the hands of either their new husbands or their own family. When Dutch film director, Theo van Gough, who collaborated with her on a film documentary about the abuse of Muslim women within the confines of their religion was murdered on the street, she was forced into hiding, almost had her Dutch citizenship stripped from her, and eventually moved to the United States for her own safety.

Ali states her beliefs and goals very simply: "...the Quran is an act of man, not of God. We should be free to interpret it; we should be permitted to apply it to the modern era in a different way, instead of performing painful contortions to try to recreate the circumstances of a horrible distant past. My intention (is) to liberate Muslim minds, so that Muslim women - and Muslim men, too - might be freer. Men, too, are forced to obey inhumane laws."

Is this really a crime for which she and others should be killed?

Rated at: 5.0


  1. Glad to see that you enjoyed this one so much Sam! I have it on my TBR list. I am looking forward to it.

  2. Diddo what Amy said. Strangely enough, I've been thinking about this book lately and wondering if I should just wait for the paperback to get my hands on this or not. The fact that I have about four other memoirs sitting on my shelf to be read immediately convinced me I should probably wait.

    I look forward to reading it though, especially since you liked it so much.

  3. This looks good.

    Scary what some people will go to in the name of God, isn't it? Hopefully they're putting words into his mouth.

  4. This was a book club selection for me, and I wasn't too pleased when I heard that month's choice, not being a nonfiction gal. But in the end, I'm glad I read it. She's remarkable and it really made me think.

  5. Amy, if this woman doesn't inspire people to accomplish everything they want to do in life, no one ever will. I can't imagine anyone beating higher odds than she has done. She's tremendously lucky just to be alive today.

  6. J.S., just don't miss this story. Read it when you get around to it, but don't forget it's out there. It's one that I will remember for a long time.

  7. Carrie, it does scare me. I lived in that culture for a few years and found it sad to see people suffer that kind of cruelty in the name of religion.

  8. She is truly a remarkable woman, tiny. She is a rare exception to the culture that produced her...one in a million.