Tamora Pierce's Reviews > Infidel

Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
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Sep 07, 2009

it was amazing
bookshelves: adult-social-interst, nonfiction
Read in September, 2009

Ayaan Hirsi Ali began life in Somalia, the child of two devout Muslims, one of whom was working to organize a rebellion against the country's leader at the time. Because his work was dangerous, he moved his family to Saudi Arabia when Ayaan was eight. That was the first of three more moves within Africa, and the first of many of Ayaan's separations from her father. Living with a rigid, doctrinaire mother who trusted no one who was not from their own Somali clan, Ayaan saw civil war, endured female circumcision, was part of the rise of the Islamist movement called the Muslim Brotherhood, and saw Somalia and Kenya give way to civil war as her parents separated and her father took a third wife (her mother was his second). Her descriptions of Africa at that time are vivid and terrifying as she talks about the separation of men and women in the home, the kinds of schools she, her brother, and her sister attended, and how women were treated every day.

Then, when her father arranged for her marriage to a Canadian Muslim, Ayaan broke her trip to Canada in Germany and sought asylum in Holland. The western books she had read growing up had inspired in her a desire to see the western world before she married, and to be an equal partner with her husband. In Holland she saw something like that, but she also saw problems with the rising population of Bosnian, Turkish, and Somali refugees. She learned Dutch, perfected her English, worked as a translator, and got her bachelors' and masters' degrees in political science. But it is after 9/11 that she began to speak and write about what life under Islam was really like, and about how Holland's approach to Muslim refugees was making it possible for them to continue to abuse their women and children. She was asked to run for Parliament, and she served for two years, contributing to programs on immigrants' issues, even under the threat of death for what she had to say about the treatment of women and children under Islam.

This is an amazing woman, and an amazing book. I think anyone who thinks they know about Muslim life ought to read it, because it will blow you away.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Deena I hate this book, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. I'm sad to see that you liked it.


"Now, I’m no fan of religion – of any kind. But Hirsi Ali’s simultaneous condemnation of Islam and obvious admiration of Christianity was disturbing. As with any religion or ideology, it’s how it’s practised that impacts on people’s lives and on society.

Many of Hirsi Ali’s criticisms of Islam could be applied to fundamentalist Christianity: unwavering adherence to the Bible and the control of women’s sexuality. Even FGM has a western parallel in the state-sanctioned, legal, non-consensual mutilation of intersex children’s genitals to force them to conform to a male/female sex binary – something that rarely warrants an outcry in mainstream media or from feminist activists. If Christian fundamentalists such as Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church had their way, our society would look very different in terms of women’s and queer rights, to name just two.

Of course in no way am I saying that we should not pay attention to and speak out against the abuses endured by so many women and girls in the Muslim world. Nor am I saying we should not be critical of radical, fundamentalist Islam – as Mona Siddiqui points out in her review of Nomad in the UK’s Daily Telegraph, there are many Muslims who fear radical Islam. But vilifying an entire religion or people who follow that religion is not the way to create a harmonious society – as history as shown time and again.

The irony is that while Hirsi Ali is (rightly) applauded for her courage in fighting for and finding personal freedom, she now denies others such rights. In unleashing her wrath on Islamic fundamentalism, she has (perhaps unwittingly) become a fundamentalist herself.

It doesn’t help that she has achieved celebrity status, because once a person reaches a certain level of fame for their ideas, they are then invested in sticking with them for their own economic survival. It’s a rare academic, writer or thinker who is willing to take the risk of losing their career and/or income by doing an about-turn.

So, perhaps it’s down to publishers to champion other writers with as much vigour as they do Hirsi Ali; to publish and promote the hell out of the work of Muslim feminists working on the ground in their local communities to educate and effect change; to bring the female activists such as those featured in Coleman’s book to international writers’ festivals and posh venues like the Sydney Opera House."

Ðɑηηɑ I am glad to see you liked it, I think it's an incredible book!

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