Mikey B.'s Reviews > Infidel

Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
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's review
Sep 03, 2008

it was amazing
bookshelves: favorites, autobiography, islam
Read in May, 2007 , read count: 1

A Remarkable Transition

What a transition this individual has gone through! This autobiography describes the Somalian author's early life in Mogadishu, Saudi Arabia, and Nairobi, Kenya. Most of it is repressive. She was beaten routinely by her grandmother and mother. She had to do household chores while her older brother went out with his friends. She was also genitally excised (clitoris and labia removed) - the sole purpose being to inhibit sexual enjoyment. It is another way to inhibit a woman's self-development and enjoyment.

While a teenager the author participated in Islamic discussion groups about the proper nature of the head-scarf - how much or how little to reveal. It would seem that the more of the self that was removed or hidden the happier were the religious extremists. At one point she was beaten by an imman and needed hospitalization. The only pretense to self-fulfillment would be in the afterlife - or perhaps the only gratification allowed was in devotion to God. Her father was absent much of her life; he was unsuccessful in trying to topple the corrupt regime in Somalia.

Fortunately the author learned to read and in that she found another world. Even in "trashy" novels she observed that a Western woman had a role of her own, could be independent and make decisions. She was shocked and titillated that they were assertive in sexual relations.

She decided to act on that growing assertiveness and rebelled when her father made an arranged marriage to a Somali man who lived in Canada. When taking the plane to join this man, she disembarked in Germany and sought refugee status in Holland. It was there that she entered a new world. Women were free; police behaved civilly and even offered protection.

A door to an entirely new mode of behavior was opened. Some refugees chose to retreat into their ethnic bubble - not Ayaan. She embraced the freedoms of her new country. Her goal then became to wake up the Muslim-Islamic community to its own inner repression - and to alert the Dutch and greater Western community to the "backwardness" found within Islam (it was only after 9/11 that people started listening).

Within Europe there are pockets of Muslim communities where wife-beatings and honour killings are acceptable. Children are sent to Quoranic schools where they are NOT taught positive Western/European values - like the equality of women. Instead they are forced to memorize portions of scripture from the Quoran. Women are taught at a young age to be submissive and to dress conservatively. Young girls may be excised genitally. At a young age they may be coerced into an arranged marriage. If they refuse or pursue their own choices (dating) they may be murdered. If they marry and do not obey their husband, they may be beaten. The number of honour killings in Holland proves this.

Ayaan made a short film with Dutch film-maker Theo van Gogh. It exposed the rigidness of fundamentalist Islam. For this Theo was violently killed by a Muslim religious fanatic. After this, Ayaan had to go in hiding.

Her goal is still to expose the evil and repressiveness of this fundamentalist cult and to get refugees and immigrants to adjust to democracy and the freedoms of Western & European society.
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Comments (showing 1-9 of 9) (9 new)

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message 1: by Hanneke (last edited Dec 20, 2014 04:39PM) (new)

Hanneke Perhaps it should be mentioned that Ayaan Hirshi Ali was a member of Dutch parliament. She resigned when an issue came up about the legality of how she obtained her Dutch citizenship. Apparently, she received that on false grounds. I don't remember the exact details anymore. Just that it was silly burocratic humbug and totally undeserving. It was a big political row at the time. She moved to the States after that.

message 2: by Mikey B. (last edited Dec 20, 2014 05:43PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mikey B. Yes - good points. I remember too as you say
>> it was silly burocratic humbug and totally undeserving

And considering that she was a member of parliament!?

message 3: by Hanneke (last edited Dec 21, 2014 02:04AM) (new)

Hanneke She was a close friend of the Minister of Justice who caused her downfall in the end. People really were embarrassed by the behaviour of the Minister of Justice as they felt that it got too personal. It caused the downfall of the Minister later on. As I said, I do not remember the whole affair that well anymore, but I do remember that there was irritation that Ayaan switched parties from Labour to Conservative and a lot of people really resented that. Including me, in view of her life history, I thought her interests would be in the progressive party politics. She was a celebrity in the Netherlands and even more so after the murder of Theo van Gogh who was a friend of hers.

message 4: by Caroline (last edited Apr 30, 2015 01:13AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Caroline An excellent review! How did I miss this???

What an extraordinary life this woman had led. She must have such a strong and courageous character.

Following a conversation I am having with a friend on flickr, I just read the Wiki entry for a film called Moolaadé. Towards the end of the article a questionnaire done in Somalia was mentioned. I think about 250 people were questioned. One of the questions was about FGM, and why did people think it was done in their country. The overwhelming response (by 70% of people) was "religion", which I thought was interesting. Other reasons - cleanliness, sexual pleasure for men but not for women, a way of preserving virginity until marriage etc were far less common answers.

message 5: by Hanneke (last edited Apr 30, 2015 02:20AM) (new)

Hanneke In fact, religion has nothing to do with it. It is an old pagan custom in that part of Africa. Did you know that also in Egypt 95% of the women get mutilated? Otherwise, they are not considered 'good girls'. If anything makes me raging mad it is female mutilation. You know that Ayaan was circumcised too.

Mikey B. I feel this"old pagan custom" (like other customs) has been merged into religion, whether it is Islam or Christianity.

And the religion (and the religious) in those countries (like Egypt) say virtually nothing against FGM. Their silence is deafening - and horrendous.

message 7: by Lilo (last edited Feb 26, 2017 01:51PM) (new) - added it

Lilo Highly interesting review of what seems to be a highly interesting book!

Religious fundamentalists of any religion have been suppressive and murderous throughout the ages. In present times, fundamentalist Islamists may be the worst.

Heartbreaking what the author has been through.

I already had this book on my (terribly long) TBR list, but upon reading your review, I'll give it a priority marker.

message 8: by Michael (new)

Michael Perkins You might recall she was dis-invited from giving the commencement speech at Brandeis. The text can be found at the link below. As someone who is particularly blessed with three strong, highly accomplished women in his life, I can only agree wholeheartedly with this....


Mikey B. Thanks for this

Its a very sad reflection on the so-called freedom of a democratic society when one is not permitted to criticize a religion.

It should also be pointed out that there is a double-standard in that one is permitted to critique Judeo-Christian religions but not others... (namely Islam)

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