Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Book Review: Infidel

In Infidel, Ayaan Hirsi Ali tells what life was like as a girl born into a Muslim clan system in Somalia. She would move to Kenya and Saudi Arabia, but the clan system would never leave her. Eventually she would escape to Europe and adopt Holland as her new home. On page one, Ali describes the brutal murder of Dutch film maker Theo van Gogh in 2004. Theo was shot and as he asked, “Can’t we talk about this,” his attacker shot him four more times and sawed into Theo’s throat with a butcher knife. His killer stabbed a five page letter to his body. The letter was addressed to Ali. And three paragraphs into the book, I was hooked.

Theo and Ali had been singled out by a Muslim killer because they had released a short film critical of Islam. Ali had been questioning Islam and her faith for many years. She had seen some of the worse aspects of Islam as a child and young women. Many of these things would cause her to eventually loose her faith. She discusses the way devout Muslims in Africa and the Middle East treat women. The abuse is in most cases encouraged by Islam. One of the most shocking parts of the book for me was her memory of enduring female circumcision. She doesn’t say how old she was, but Ali says that most girls are five years old when they go through it and she was probably around five when it happened to her. She admits that not all Muslims believe in female mutilation, and not all who do it are Muslim. However, in Somalia, it is often done in the name of Islam.

As time would pass, Ali would live in Somalia, Kenya, and Saudi Arabia. As a teenage girl, she became more and more involved with Islam. As the Muslim Brotherhood was forming, she found herself listening to its believers and agreeing with them. But as she continued to get older, she questioned her faith more and more. How could a religion of peace permit the way women were treated in the name of Allah?

She would eventually flee to Europe and then Holland. She earned a degree in political science and ran for parliament. While in Holland, she openly criticized Islam for the way it treated women. This criticism would later force her to give up her adopted home and go into hiding. To this day she must live with arm guards at all times.

Ali says that in writing this book, her, “…central, motivating concern is that women in Islam are oppressed.” She also argues that Islam today creates a society where every generation lags further and further behind the west. The film Submission she made with Theo had a theme that shows up time and time again in her biography: A strict interpretation of Islam causes incredible misery for women.

Infidel is a very easy read. While it is a memoir of her life, it reads more like a drama one would expect on the big screen. I believe this is a very important book to read. Anyone who believes that those who kill in the name of Islam are corrupting a religion of peace must read this account. Ali lived the life of a Muslim in a society that had no influence from liberal media or conservative talk shows. Her opinion of Islam and her life experiences can teach those of us in the west a lot about Islam.

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