Wednesday, October 8, 2008


On recommendation of my girl Willikat, I'm reading Infidel. I'm not going to try to explain the memoir in my own words, so here's the publisher's synopsis:
In this profoundly affecting memoir from the internationally renowned author of The Caged Virgin, Ayaan Hirsi Ali tells her astonishing life story, from her traditional Muslim childhood in Somalia, Saudi Arabia, and Kenya, to her intellectual awakening and activism in the Netherlands, and her current life under armed guard in the West.

One of today's most admired and controversial political figures, Ayaan Hirsi Ali burst into international headlines following an Islamist's murder of her colleague, Theo van Gogh, with whom she made the movie Submission.

Infidel is the eagerly awaited story of the coming of age of this elegant, distinguished -- and sometimes reviled -- political superstar and champion of free speech. With a gimlet eye and measured, often ironic, voice, Hirsi Ali recounts the evolution of her beliefs, her ironclad will, and her extraordinary resolve to fight injustice done in the name of religion. Raised in a strict Muslim family and extended clan, 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 largely ruled by despots. In her early twenties, 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 immigrant women and the reform of Islam as a member of Parliament. Even though she is 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 story could be timelier or more significant.
I'm only about 100 pages in, but the book is riveting. Hirsi Ali starts telling the story before she was born, filling the reader in on the history of her family and other clans in Somalia. Then she describes her life in Somalia with her brother, sister, mother and grandmother - for much of her childrhood, her father was in jail for being a part of the resistance against the government. Over the years they move to Saudia Arabia, Ethiopia and Kenya. Hirsi Ali and her siblings are beaten weekly by their grandmother and mother (more so the girls than her brother), and all experience genital mutilation between ages 4 and 6 years old. While school is a source of stress for Hirsi Ali (because they moved so much, they were always the new kids, and usually of a different religion or culture, so they were bullied), she also learned many different languages and the practices of many different families.

With any memoir, I think we've all learned, you have to take what you read with a grain of salt. Several reviews I've read call the book "eye opening," but others feel her abusive childhood colored her real understanding of Islam. But if anything, I feel she renounced her religion for a reason and it's better she share her story with the world, than remain silent. Though the danger it puts her in is unimaginable.

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