5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on June 30, 2008
Ali’s journey not only covered continents but her experience must have felt like time traveling as she moved from Africa to Arabia and Europe until she found her maturity and personal freedom. Although the book has political and religious elements throughout, it is also an important testimony of the difficult journey one faces as their personal, family, religious, political and intellectual paradigms are shifted all at the same time over a period of 15 years.
Her personal candor is touching and establishes her credibility. In my opinion, she shows great restraint in remaining objectively descriptive of the most difficult events of her life. Besides not being able to put the book down as her story is a great adventure, I found it highly educative in understanding better the complexities of families and clan loyalties that many new immigrants must factor into their new life in their new country.
It is also an enlightening book for established citizens in western countries as they are also seeing their paradigms shift because the immigration waves use more social resources and change the cultural balance of their countries.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on July 24, 2009
The story of Ali's life evoked a sense of unreality in me, a kind of a disconnect from my comfortable, safe and free life as a Canadian Women. Her description of the absolute subjugation, torture and debasement of women in the name of God moved me to think more closley about how easily I take for granted the fact that I was born into a culture that respects me (for the most part) as a women and where I am free to allow my soul to exist as I will it to. The pure irrationality of some of the thoughts and beliefs of the dogmatic Islamic culture led me to laugh in disbelief.
Compared to the horrors of the lives of millions of women entrenched in the dogma of some muslim fundamentalists, my life is a haven of freedom, choice, self expression and security. I will not easily forget Ali's message and I applaud her fantastic bravery.
Her prose in this book is not preachy or condescending, but rather she writes with a kind of matter of factness and earnest incredulity that is easy to relate to. Please give this memoir a read.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on February 8, 2008
Hirsi Ali has written a concise and honest account of some of the most private and shocking events in her life. The book is VERY easy to read, the language is really simple, so anyone can read it - simple, but by no means is it 'boring' (it's difficult to pull that off sometimes).
Born into a devout Muslim family, Hirsi Ali endured horrors that would make any Western person's jaw drop. What we call here an 'extreme' form of Islam - genital mutilation, misogyny, forced/arranged marriage, hatred for non-believers ie. 'infidels' etc. - was dubbed by Hirsi as 'normal' in her culture. (FGM of course, is the one gruesome ideology that actually predates Islam, and has been incorporated into the Muslim cultures of Eastern and sub-Saharan Africa)
The book is not just a compilation of life events pieced together. Hirsi tries to get a message across:
Her main argument conveys the notion that all these atrocities we see in the media about honour killings, forced marriages and suppression of freedom - in the name of Islam - are not anomalies or extremist forms in anyway, they are the cultural NORM. She backs her argument by pointing to the fundamentals of the Islamic religion, with plenty of direct quotations from the Muslim holy book stating ideas such as - kill nonbelievers (quoting many versus), one man is worth two women, violent and cruel torture is permitted for certain sinners, the list goes on. For pointing out these injustices, and the dire effects they have on people, especially Muslim women, she was threatened with death by militant Muslims and has to travel round-the-clock surrounded by armed body guards.
It is a good idea to get some background information on Ayaan Hirsi Ali before diving into the text. Although the book is supposed to fill that in for you, I couldn't help but google her name, and read up on the story of her film 'Submission' directed by Theo van Gogh, and his subsequent brutal death as a result of it.
Be warned, this book is quite provocative and may anger some. It may also stir anti-Islamic feelings within the reader. In the end, it is important to distinguish between militant Muslims who take their holy books literally, and tolerant Muslims who follow only the aspects of their religion that comply with democracy.
Overall, excellent read. The book has been circulating among friends, seems no one can put it down.
37 of 42 people found the following review helpful
It is rare to find autobiography as absorbing as this. Not only because of the author's unusual path from the desert of Somalia to the USA via the Netherlands, but also on account of the engaging writing style. Clear and descriptive, the narrative of her eventful life had a profound impact on this reader. Born and raised in Somalia, she spent part of her youth in neighboring countries like Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Kenya, describing through the eyes of a child what it was like to live there.
She makes the history of Somalia come alive under the dictatorship of Siad Barre, explaining the clan system and comparing the relaxed Muslim practice in that country with the strictness of Saudi Arabia and the hypocrisy and racism that go along with it. The short experience of Ethiopia and later the long stay in Kenya, both predominantly Christian countries, were different again and she really captivates one's attention with the places and the people. One of the most salient memories she recalls is the obsessive anti-Semitism in Saudi Arabia. Where her family lived in the city of Riyadh, Jews were blamed for everything.
A sub-theme of the book is the increased radicalization of Muslims, partly because of the failures and the suffering brought about by Barre and the chaos of the civil war that unseated him. She noted this radicalization taking place amongst Somalis and others in Kenya where she spent most of her adolescence. This radical strain was brought to Africa by Arabs and Iranians, both Sunni and Shia, also reflecting the failure of secular ideologies and bad government in the dictatorships of the Muslim world.
There are sympathetic but honest portrayals of her family and friends: her mother who showed healthy signs of independence early in life but eventually lost hope and became embittered, her loving and tolerant but mostly absent father, her brother who stayed in Kenya and her sister who, when she couldn't cope in Holland, died tragically after returning to Kenya.
Instead of stirring up feelings against Islam, this book makes one contemplate the location of each individual's birth, how little free choice there really is in a closed society, the powerful hold of your community's history and culture, the difficulty of resisting brainwashing and how grateful people in free societies ought to be for the blessings that a lot of us take for granted.
The book is also about a second journey - the one from a stifling experience of oppressive religion to enlightenment and an embrace of Western values like individual freedom, freedom of speech and the rule of law. The fact that the individual mattered and had a right to life, to choice and freedom, was a joyful discovery.
This theme interweaves with the history she so deftly chronicles: the collapse of Somalia, the slow decline in Kenya, Dutch politics in the face of dysfunctional multiculturalism that however well intended, harms individuals in the immigrant communities and society as a whole. More information of what is going down in The Netherlands and Europe as a whole is available in While Europe Slept by Bruce Bawer and Menace In Europe by Claire Berlinski.
It is humbling to read of the author's wonderment at Holland where even the police were friendly and helpful, and everything worked. She clearly loves The Netherlands; her words radiate with gratitude and appreciation of Dutch culture and society. I especially enjoyed the account of her studies at the University of Leiden where she discovered the great Western philosophers.
Infidel is the story of a life that has experienced mutilation, war, deprivation, tragedy, adventure, drastic adaptation and inspiring achievements, by an unusually courageous, empathic and resourceful individual. There are 11 black & white plates of family and other people who played a part in her life. As far as leaving Islam is concerned, I recommend the following informative books by two equally courageous women: Because They Hate by Brigitte Gabriel and Now They Call Me Infidel by Nonie Darwish.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
As a philosopher who has defended a specific form of cultural relativism I found this book very challenging indeed. I mean this in a positive manner since Ali's life challenges many assumptions of liberal Western thought.
There are many forms of relativism: purely subjective, cultural, and adaptive, to list just a few. No one, except some anarchists defend a purely subjective version, since there can be no rational defence for subjectivism.
Since we learn our values culturally, some form of cultural relativism must be defended. But, as this book shows, it is one thing to be tolerant of other views, it is quite another thing to be tolerant of intolerance. As this book shows, to be tolersant of intolerance leads to greater intolerance.
If the status of women in one society is that of property, and people from that society move into a society where women are considered persons, there will be a clash. The lesson of this book is that people have to adapt to their new surroundings; they have to become part of the new culture. One cannot fight Somalian clan wars in Holland or in Canada. Those old definitons no longer apply.
On another level, Ms. Ali's book raises some very real questions as to the nature of democracy and how representative of people's views our political parties really are. In a parliamentary system parties must have platforms: we vote for parties, not for individual candidates. But the parties must be responsive to what the people see as being important, and cannot just implement a platform of their own. While there is less chance of this happening where there is some kind of proportional representation, it happens all too often in majority parliaments where the majority of seats were won with a minority of the votes. But even where a proportional system exists, as in Holland, this book shows how the concerns and/or ideologies of the parties can limit policy implementation.
On a third level, this book is a fascinating journey of someone coming such a repressive virtually medieval society and learning how to function in a modern context.
This truly an important read for anyone interested in personal growth, political philosophy, and undersdtanding the problems of tolerance and multi-culturalism.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
An astonishing and captivating book, Ayaan Hirsi Ali writes her life story in extremely clear language and a matter of fact tone. Ali's book is a contrast between her rigid and religious upbringing in her North African and Middle Eastern homes, and her later emigration to Europe and the US. Unlike most biographies, though, it is Ali's upbringing rather than her later accomplishments (which are considerable) that is most compelling - and likely to most of us in the West, startling.
'People in the West have learned not to examine the religions or cultures of minorities too critically, for fear of being called racist,' writes Ali in the final pages of her book, and it is for this reason that the book is such a page-turner and so important. While we may have caught glimpses into life and culture in Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and Saudi Arabia through the mirky mirrors of op-ed pieces or articles, Ali both provides a large, clear window and through the retelling of her story acts as our guide.
The culture is so foreign, with just a few geographic names and historical events recognizable, that it has a ring of science fiction. (Words such as Osman, Darod, jilbab, ma'alim are common). The events are very human and very alarming, though, and it is Ali's lack of anger, regret or moralizing that allows - compels - readers to read on.
As the narrative progresses, it becomes clear that Ali is an exceptional girl and woman, and it is very clear that her departure from her culture is also an exception. In her culture, her upbringing and life are the rule, and there is no choice for almost any female in a similar circumstance. Ali's adult life in the West is a stark contrast, but through her fresh eyes she provides interesting insights that make us question our own belief systems and societal structure. She notes the parallels between the clan cultures of her youth and the cliques of her Dutch university, and later the relative morals her Dutch parliament colleagues as they wrestle with actions (specifically Ali's expulsion from the country) necessary to maintain power. Earlier, Ali had noted the life and death trade-offs in refugee camps, and that morals were irrelevant when basic needs couldn't be met.
Many autobiographies are written to celebrate, frame or even justify successes or actions later in the author's life. Ali's is riveting and thought provoking from start to finish, and is recommended reading for all. An exceptional and important work.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on May 14, 2007
I feared this book might be one of those tell-all exposés intended to take advantage of Ms. Ali's 15 minutes of fame or, more likely, an extended anti-Muslim rant. When you`re wrong, you`re wrong. The book is a fascinating journey through Ms. Ali's life from her start in Somalia right up to her departure from Holland for the U.S. Through here eyes we gain insight into the Muslim religion, the Islamic world view and the misconstructions of first world multiculturalists. Some may find the book is too long and too detailed or that Ms. Ali is a plodding unimaginative writer but, for me, the story never once lagged and her style painted clear, precise pictures. Perhaps most inspiring is Ms. Ali's humanity; her understanding, undying respect and love for those who wronged her often repeatedly; coupled with her determination to expose and correct the injustices perpetrated on third world women. A terrific book from a terrific lady.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Ayaan Hirsi Ali was born into a Muslim family in Somalia, and grew up in Somalia, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia and Kenya. She suffered a form of female circumcision and, at about 22, her father tried to force her to marry a Somalian man who had emigrated to Canada. Ali refused to submit, and, while in Germany in transit to Canada, she bolted. She fled to Holland, where she first obtained refugee status, then learned Dutch and made a life for herself.
As Ali says, her Muslim religion and Somalian clan culture treat women as children their entire lives, and prevent them from learning how to think or care for themselves in any meaningful way. This incredible woman, however, managed to break away.
Ali's life and story are absolutely amazing, and on several different levels. Her story, as an individual, is fascinating on its own. What Ali's story also teaches us important lessons about religion, culture, tolerance, self-reliance and rational thought. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on April 21, 2008
Let's face it. Very few non-Muslims have read the Quran. We're told in the West that Islam means peace. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who grew up in Somalia, Saudi Arabia and Kenya within the Muslim faith, begs to differ. It means, she says, surrender. Surrender to the will of Allah. In reality, she says, it means submission - submission to willful ignorance and untold suffering of muslims everywhere the religion is practiced.
Ayaan did her best to become a good submissive muslim, but she refused to shut down her mind. She refused to submit her faculty of reason - the very thing that makes us human - to the written words of the Quran and the the trap of ignorance and destruction that she argues is the inevitable result.
She eventually stretched thin the chains of tribe and family and escaped to Holland, where she applied for and received refugee status. She educated herself, became a voice against the suffering of muslim women, and was elected to the Dutch parliament. Her courage and fire to help women escape the brutality imposed on them by Islamic tradition backed by the words of Allah forced her into years of hiding and security protection against threats on her life. The threats were real. When film-maker Theo van Gogh was murdered while riding his bicyle in the middle of the day, a note was found on his body, affixed with a knife, threatening her life, in the name of, and in honour of, Allah and Islam.
While reading this book, I coudn't but think of Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange. But imagine that instead of living in a world of brutally sadistic and violent thugs and gangs that you may encounter if you are at the wrong place at the wrong time, that those sadistic thugs are your mother, father, brother, neighbours, teachers, and Imams. Imagine a world where being beaten by bats or stoned to death at a moment's notice and where you were supposed to submit and accept your beating was the norm. Imagine that to be a woman and to speak out against this outrageous behaviour is to commit a crime against Allah and the will of the Prophet Mohammad, dead for 1,500 years, to be avenged by the devout. This is a world where individual rights, reason, and justice are fobidden. All there is is the Quran, and if you are female, the assurance of a lifetime of submission, pain, suffering, and violence.
That is the story the Ayaan Hirsi Ali tells. It's her story as she lived it. It is the story, she says, of hundreds of millions of Muslim women, not only in Africa, but even in Holland and other Western countries.
Having suffered, escaped, and lifted herself out of the mental and cultural trap imposed by tribal culture, Ayaan describes her mission and responsibility as follows:
"Perhaps I could start by telling peope that values matter. The values of my parents' world generate and preserve poverty and tyranny, for example, in their oppression of women. A clear look at this would be tremendously beneficial. In simple terms, for those of us who were brought up with Islam, if we face up to the terrible reality we are in, we can change our destiny."
This is change we can all help bring about by reading this book and supporting Ayaan in her fight to end the brutality Islam through reason and the injection of human values into the interpretation of the Quran. What Islam desperately needs is a cultural renaissance and a recognition of the concept of individual rights. If you are a lover of personal freedom and political liberty, and thereby a foe of human slavery and totalitarian brutality, Ayaan Hursi Ali's fight is a fight worth fighting.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on March 28, 2008
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is undoubtedly a very controversial figure. Her position as a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a neoconservative think tank, often results in some on the left dismissing or not taking seriously her criticisms of Islam and the way women are treated in Islamic societies. However, to dismiss her or her real-life accounts would be a huge mistake and there is something to be learned in her memoir "Infidel" no matter where you fall on the political spectrum. At the same time, when reading this book, one should be aware that she gets more support from people who are anti-Islam than she does from Muslims or even Muslim women.
This book excels in providing a personal description and perspective on growing up in Somalia. Her descriptions of her family and clan relationships as well as her discussion of school and significant events in her life, such as the forced circumcision of herself as well as her brother and sister can be difficult to read, but are important to understand that these types of relationships and events are common in far too many places. It is also interesting from the perspective of learning about the different countries in which she lived and how things differed from a cultural and religious perspective.
The book is split into two sections: the first one covers her time as a willing participant in her family. This is her early life, as she moved from Somalia to Saudi Arabia to Ethiopia to Kenya and so forth. She provides an interesting and personal look at her family's life in each of those countries and the problems they faced in each of them. In addition to the horrible account of her and her siblings forced circumcision, she also covers her first marriage/non-marriage and her forced marriage to a Somalian man who lived in Canada and her trip to Germany to await clearance to proceed on to Canada. It was there that she decided to take control of her own life and that is where this section ends.
In the second section, she discusses her initial reaction and adjusting attitude to living in the west. She talks about why she felt she had to lie to try to get asylum in the Netherlands as she was trying to avoid being found by her husband and their clan. Her husband and clan do eventually catch up with her, but after they state the reasons why she should go with her husband, she is still allowed to say no, but this does sever her ties with her clan, and ultimately her father as well as he replies to her note asking for forgiveness and understanding with a very hurtful reply in which he cuts off communications with her and tells her to "Go to Hell!"
In this section, she is increasingly drawn towards learning about western society, yet fears that it may be compromising her own faith. She struggles with both her family and her friends, especially her sister whose tragic story does at least serve to reunite Ayaan with her father. Ayaan makes a return trip to Kenya under difficult circumstances, but decides it is her last. She starts to make real decisions in her life, including to pursue a political science degree against the advice of others and to become a citizen of the Netherlands. After 9/11 the conflicts between her upbringing and experiences in the west result in her leaving Islam behind and becoming an atheist.
The second section also covers her emergence as a public figure. At first, working at a think tank for the labor party, and then speaking on television she enraged part of the Muslim community and found it necessary to come for a while to the United States. She then found herself recruited by the Liberal party to return to the Netherlands and to be one of their candidates and ultimately be elected. Her outspoken criticisms of Islam resulted in her being targeted by radicals, and her making of a short film "Submission: Part One" would result in the murder of its director Theo van Gogh. The other key part in this section involves her near loss of Dutch citizenship, which was initially revoked, and then restored. Although, she was already looking to come to the United States at the time, the loss of her citizenship in the Netherlands could have caused her a great deal of difficulty in coming to America, and also could have put her life at risk.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali's story is a very interesting one, and this book is definitely one which is worth reading. Many of the events are horrible, but they need to be discussed as it is important to know that these types of events still take place regularly outside the West, or in the case of honor killings even in the west. While you may or may not agree with her position on Islam, it is certainly isn't a subject which should be taboo or which people should be afraid to discuss.