Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Review: Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

First line: "Who are you?"

From the back cover:  One of today's most admired and controversial political figures, Ayaan Hirsi Ali burst into international headlines following the murder of Theo van Gogh by an Islamist who threatened that she would be next. She made headlines again when she was stripped of her citizenship and resigned from the Dutch Parliament.

Infidel shows the coming of age of this distinguished political superstar and champion of free speech as well as the development of her beliefs, iron will, and extraordinary determination to fight injustice. Raised in a strict Muslim family, Hirsi Ali survived civil war, female mutilation, brutal beatings, adolescence as a devout believer during the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, and life in four troubled, unstable countries ruled largely by despots. She escaped from a forced marriage and sought asylum in the Netherlands, where she earned a college degree in political science, tried to help her tragically depressed sister adjust to the West, and fought for the rights of Muslim women and the reform of Islam as a member of Parliament. Under constant threat, demonized by reactionary Islamists and politicians, disowned by her father, and expelled from her family and clan, she refuses to be silenced.

Ultimately a celebration of triumph over adversity, Hirsi Ali's story tells how a bright little girl evolved out of dutiful obedience to become an outspoken, pioneering freedom fighter. As Western governments struggle to balance democratic ideals with religious pressures, no other book could be more timely or more significant.

My thoughts: A while ago, my aunt, also an avid reader, told me about this book and I put it on my list of books to be read. A few months ago my book club decided to read a memoir and I recommended this one. While I didn't make it to that discussion, I do have to say I found this book to be very compelling and would recommend it for book clubs - it has many points that lend to great discussions.

Infidel is a fascinating and disturbing portrayal of what life is like for many Islamic women and girls in Africa. At times very disturbing (the female mutilation scenes are tough to get through), it is an eye-opener that gives us a glimpse into the fanaticism of radical Islam. I found myself constantly thinking about this book when I was not sitting there reading it and found that this book was best read in small doses - there is some very heavy material given.

I really admire Ayaan Hirsi Ali for standing up for what she believed. She tried to make the best of her situation and wanted everyone else to know what it was like. She didn't write this for fame or notoriety, but rather to show the injustices being done. One of the things I really liked about this book is that, while it was very educational, it left me wanting to read more about this culture - I love books that leave me wanting to learn more.

One of my favorite quotes from this books is:  

The rest of the time I read novels and lived in the world of my imagination, filled with daring. As a reader, I could put on someone else's shoes and live through his adventures, borrow his individuality and make choices that I didn't have at home. [pg. 118]

Isn't this what reading is all about, especially when reading fiction? To me, it's my escape from reality, sometimes a much needed thing!

Ayaan Hirsi Ali two other books out, The Caged Virgin: An Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam and Nomad: From Islam to America: A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations. I don't know much about either of these books, but do plan on looking into them. Has anyone read either of these books? Can you recommend any other books that deal with this topic?

(I purchased this book.)

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