Apr 28, 08
feminists, atheists, mothers, people interested in international politics, Africa, Islamic criticism
Read in April, 2008
I learned so much from reading this book. Aayan Hirsi Ali has led an astonishing life characterized by cruelty and oppression, and yet throughout her life has somehow preserved a sense of hope, love of mankind, and a deep perception of real justice. I found her premise about the reason for the rise of terrorist groups very compelling. Hirsi Ali argues that because governments based on Islamic Law (Sharia) cannot be criticized (because if Allah requires it, it cannot be questioned), when government fails the people, the people must turn outward rather than questioning their own decisions and systems. In this situation, the natural instinct is to criticize Islam's perceived enemies, i.e., Jews and Western civilizations.
Hirsi Ali has been a champion against the maltreatment of women in Islamic societies, and compels us to look at our own role in not condemning practices such as female genital mutilation, honor killings, and physical and emotional abuse of girls and women. Hirsi Ali believes that Western guilt and political correctness requires that we look the other way in the guise of tolerance. While I find her argument very compelling, I also think that she paints with a very broad brush, blaming human problems on religious beliefs. I tend to agree with her that Islam is fundamentally flawed for many reasons, not the least of which is that it cannot grow and change as the world evolves.
This book is so brave, and I know it puts the author at grave risk to have published it. She takes us from her childhood growing up in Somalia, Saudi Arabia, and Kenya, to her escape from an arranged marriage and asylum in Holland. She eventually becomes a Dutch citizen and a member of parliament. The story is told in a level of intimacy and detail and skill that must be drawn from her history of the oral tradition of her family, as she describes her grandmother passing on the family legends. I found it somehow a personal connection to know that Aayan (that is how I think of her after reading her memoir) is just my age, born just 5 months before me.