My feelings towards this book changed several times as I was reading it, and I've waited several days to write a review, so as to let my thoughts on tMy feelings towards this book changed several times as I was reading it, and I've waited several days to write a review, so as to let my thoughts on the book solidify. After a lot of reflection, I stand by my initial reaction. The few intelligent discussion points this book brings up were ultimately consumed and overshadowed by angry tirades and blatantly illogical arguments. I couldn't escape the feeling that this book was written with the specific intention of stirring the pot, making people angry, and creating a bestseller. It quite unsettles me that this book was front and center the last few times I walked into the bookstore, and that there are so many reviews here on Goodreads commending the author for being "courageous" and "inspiring".
I consider myself fairly well informed when it comes to politics, religion, and current events. However, there are millions of people out there a lot smarter than me who could argue my thoughts a lot better, and I wouldn't call myself qualified enough to argue the specifics in regards to Islam. However, in regards to the book, Hirsi Ali contradicts herself quite a bit within its pages. She talks of a difference between Christianity and Islam as being the former's progression away from a literal interpretation of their holy book, while Islam, she states, continues to do the opposite. How, then, can she single out specific lines and verses within the Quran when she has just said the only difference between doctrines is the method of interpretation?
This sort of cherry picking facts is present throughout the book. She picks specific verses she wishes to criticize and ignores others. This is hardly unusual, given the argumentative nature of the book. What frustrated me, however, was the overbearing tone in which the book was written. Hirsi Ali condescends to the dissenting reader, appealing only to a very specific demographic (a fact she herself acknowledges). She calls out Western Liberals for branding any critic of the religion as an "Islamaphobe", which is, in some cases, a fair statement. Critical thinking should not be shut down, simply because we don't wish to offend people, and the media and government often go overboard with political correctness. The problem lies in the fact that, so often, ignorant and racist individuals shout with the loudest voices, overpowering those able to make rational and informed arguments. Hirsi Ali seems like a reasonably intelligent woman, and I would not be so critical if the tone and method of her argument did not, ultimately, provide fuel to the fires of ignorant and hatred. She claims to seek rational and reasonable discourse, yet the angry tirades she continually goes on will only serve to invigorate uninformed individuals who think they know what they are talking about.
Hirsi Ali states at the beginning of the book that she won't subdivide Islam. This pretty much defeats her argument from the start. When speaking about a religion that is some fourteen hundred years old, arguably the world's single most diverse faith, how can you not subdivide? It is ignorant and uninformed to make such sweeping generalizations. When discussing the problems in Islamic doctrine, one simply CANNOT compare western Muslim communities in the oppressive Saudi regime, or radicalized groups such as ISIS or Boko Haram. Again, this is an example of Hirsi Ali contradicting herself, as she specifically draws attention to the fact that Islam is decentralized, with many different sects and groups, unlike an organization such as the Catholic church.
I think that Hirsi Ali believes such sweeping generalizations justified because of her personal experiences. I have not read her autobiographies (though I think I will in the future), but her tale is undoubtedly sad and, yes, many young Muslim girls are not afforded the opportunity to escape. Unfortunately, this leads to her book being incredibly tinted by her own anger, to the detriment of her rational arguments. She simply cannot seem to separate her own experiences from her argument, and thus she does not come across as the informed individual she purports to be.
Hirsi Ali claims this book is attempting to insight discussion within the Muslim community itself. I don't really see how she can reasonably hope to accomplish this goal. In terms of addressing western liberals, she hits her target audience. But given that she herself states that change can only come from within the community, how can crafting a western bestseller achieve this change? Everything about the book's surface appearance, from the title and author photo to it's inflammatory tone, seeks to make it a bestseller (I'm sure she's making a nice profit off of her crusade for change). Yet I can hardly see it being widely read in the middle east, where she argues change is needed, and where most of her anecdotal evidence comes from. Pissing off western lefties (such as myself) is a noble goal, but it's hardly going to get people in Pakistan and Iraq having serious discussions.
As I've said, she does have some good points. Talks about the problems with literal interpretation of the Quran, the prevalence of Sharia law in the middle east, the appeal of radical groups and the use of the religion as a political tool. These are all very serious issues, and I found myself agreeing with some of what she had to say on the subjects. If she had focused on these arguments rather than contradictory ones, as well as scaled back her personal rhetoric and been a bit more subtle with her cherry picking, the book might have been a success.
Directly comparing herself to Johnathan Swift in "A Modest Proposal" was, for me, the final nail in her coffin, as her writing continually falls short of Swift's informed intellect and wit. Hubris betrays her, as her self confidence is ultimately empty. I think this is the root of most of my problems with the book. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is not as smart, nor revolutionary, as she thinks. Moreover, she is a disillusioned woman with a few good points, overshadowed by a condescending and, at times, whiny tone, complete with sweeping generalizations and contradictory arguments....more