37 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spellbinding autobiography and history
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...
Published on Sept. 22 2007 by Pieter Uys
19 of 48 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Difficult book
This is a difficult book to read, since the writer cannot be separated from her work.
At worst, the book can be discussed as merely expression of her hostility toward Islam. She is a woman who clearly has lost faith through her experiences living in repressive societies, though her portrayal of Islam is one-sided, since in her book we don't see complexity of...
Published on March 10 2007 by Angel
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37 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spellbinding autobiography and history,
This review is from: Infidel (Hardcover)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.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Problems of Cultural Relativism,
This review is from: Infidel (Hardcover)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.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best book I've read,
This review is from: Infidel (Hardcover)This novel was fascinating. It allowed you to walk in Ali's shoes and experience a culture so remarkably different from our own. It was incredible to see her world through her own eyes instead of fellow Westerners telling you what it is like in Africa. I would recommend it to anyone and everyone interested in learning about another culture, other countries and the suffering and oppression women still endure.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An important and compelling work,
'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.
5.0 out of 5 stars Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali,
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful insight,
This review is from: Infidel (Kindle Edition)The best insight for the way a vast number of women living nowadays under the Islamic culture which by no means limited to Africa or the middle east. The book vividly demonstrates that the west is wide open to importing such culture.
5.0 out of 5 stars Every one should read this.,
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars From Clan-Dominated Muslim Somali to Atheist and Global Critic of Islam,
This review is from: Infidel (Hardcover)Infidel is an overwhelming book to grasp. Why? Well, because so much has happened so far in Ms. Ali's life. In addition, she takes you into mental spaces where you've never been before and this takes more than a little stretching.
Here's the bottom line: In the course of her first three and a half decades of life, Ms. Ali moved from being born into a medieval-type lifestyle in Africa and Arabia based on Islam to becoming a prominent social critic of Islam in Europe and the United States who is well listened to wherever she goes. At the same time, she required enormous personal security to keep her alive as those she criticized sought to silence her.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali grew up in a traditional high-clan Somali family whose father was a leader in the Somali civil war against the Marxist dictatorship of Siad Barre. While her father was progressive in some ways, her grandmother wanted to follow all traditional practices. Her mother was estranged from her father, and often seemed to be fighting a losing battle for her sanity. As a result, Ms. Ali seemed to get the worst of each person's influence.
Her grandmother forcibly arranged for her female circumcision. Her mother used to alternate between beating Ms. Ali and forcing her to do all of the household work. Her father was usually absent except when she became an adult and he forced her into an arranged marriage she opposed. A Muslim teacher once almost killed her through a beating.
Early in her years, Ms. Ali began to value equality for women and decent treatment from the men in the household. Those instincts were viewed as totally anathema to her family and clan members.
On her way to join the new husband picked out by her father, Ms. Ali escaped to Holland where she becomes a successful applicant for refugee status. She soon was earning a living as a translator to help pay for her education, and later worked for a political think tank. There, her outspoken views about the dangers of permitting Muslim practices to be freely followed in Europe caused quite a stir. She became a Dutch citizen and was able to switch parties and run for Parliament, earning a seat in her first election. With this prominence, her criticisms had more effect.
Ms. Ali burst on the international scene in 2004 when she collaborated with Theo van Gogh to create a short documentary, Submission, Part 1, that had rocked the Muslim community with its physical and psychological boldness. A partially undraped woman is portrayed speaking directly to Allah rather than submitting to her faith in totally covering clothes. Two months later, van Gogh was assassinated. In the aftermath, the quest to keep her safe made her life a nightmare. In the aftermath, her citizenship was challenged and she has since moved to the United States to continue her role as a social critic of Islam.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extreme Personal Paradigm Shifts,
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.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating read indeed...,
This review is from: Infidel (Hardcover)My fascination with wanting to read this book came after seeing Ms. Hirsi Ali on an episode of 'Real Time with Bill Maher' a few years back. Being utterly drawn in by the story which thrust her onto the world stage -- the circumstances surrounding the murder of Danish film director Theo Van Gogh and accompanying death threats to Hirsi Ali that forced her to go into hiding and subsequently live a life of 24 hour security guards and armoured cars -- I was captivated and wanted to know more. In making the decision to read Ayaan Hirsi Ali's memoir, I soon realized that this woman, portrayed in the media as anything from revered freedom fighter and feminist theorist to naive sell-out and hateful opportunist...has just as incredible a back-story as the one that catapulted her onto the world stage in 2004. For that reason alone, I am grateful for having read this book.
The book is separated into two halves, Hirsi Ali's childhood growing up in various oppressive and dictatorial regimes throughout Africa and the Middle East, and what she terms 'her freedom', or the years after she ran away to begin a new life in Europe. Of course, reading about the political goings-on in Somalia during the 1970's and 1980's gave me an entirely new appreciation for a country I previously knew very little about. For this I am grateful; Hirsi Ali's book at the very least gave me a deep understanding about how the current humanitarian crisis and famine affecting Somalia came to be. As someone who greatly enjoys reading history, it was very engaging to read about the tyranny under Siad Barre, the SSDF resistance fighters to which Hirsi Ali's father was a member, and the eventual civil war that has caused utter lawlessness in that country, with no unified central government being able to take hold since 1991. As Somalia descended further into chaos, Ayaan Hirsi Ali grew up in a house with an absentee father, a devout Muslim mother who was very angry at the circumstances to which her life had manifested, abject poverty and war time and again, all the while being forced to relocate on a moments notice to places like neighbouring Kenya, Ethiopia, or Saudi Arabia. Each of these places presented their own unique set of challenges, and it is fascinating to read how Hirsi Ali navigated such a nomadic and turbulent childhood and adolescence, to varying degrees of success.
The second half of the book catches the reader up to the events of 2004 and how Hirsi Ali left her life (by that time back in Kenya) to escape an arranged marriage that her father had organized with a man in Toronto in the early 1990's. After being sent to Germany to stay with relatives and await her Canadian visa, she ran to Holland to claim asylum after being confronted by some uncomfortable questions she really didn't have adequate answers to. For instance, she wonders how, if her Muslim faith was supposed to be some arbiter of privilege as 'the true believers', either in spiritual or temporal form, why is it that she and everyone she grew up with lived in a seemingly constant state of poverty and war, while people in Europe lived relatively comfortable lives, in safe communities with laws that were upholded by both government and people? Obviously, the answers to a question like this are myriad and complex, bound as they are in the vestiges of colonialism, racism, local corruption and tyranny etc., but in reading the book, one gets a sense of Hirsi Ali's awakening to the idea that life could actually be very different from the one she had previously accepted as fixed and inevitable. Here, she embraces (her critics argue far too naively), the tenets of liberalism and social democracy with an ardent ferocity and ultimately loses her religion. It is these sets of experiences that informs the reader on Hirsi Ali's current self-avowed atheism that is readily apparent in almost any media interview she gives these days.
Ultimately, Ayaan Hirsi Ali's book is as controversial and the woman herself. The uncomfortable memories her family would likely have preferred she kept quiet about, her evolving political beliefs from devout Muslim to liberal atheist, and her focus on the treatment of women globally, is bound to ruffle a few feathers. Though after the murder of Theo Van Gogh transformed her life into one that necessitates round the clock bodyguards etc., it would seem timidity is no longer a very meritorious option. Does the book have some faults? Sure. Hirsi Ali's passion for liberalism and social democracy can at times manifest as a 'rose-coloured glasses' exaltation of the United States and Europe, whereby she seemingly fails to notice any of the hypocrisies and problems inherent in those countries that one native to these places certainly would. Her critics argue that her admiration for the West is really just internalized racism but having read her book I would tend to disagree. I think it is impossible for anyone who grew up in the West to imagine coming of age in any war-torn, impoverished country and the perspective with which that must inform her life and her choices, cannot be discounted. I highly recommend this book as it appeals to such a cross-section of interests and people. Whether you like her or not, agree with her or not, Ayaan Hirsi Ali has lived one heck of a life and it is pretty awe-inspiring to imagine everything she has both survived and achieved, all by the young age of 40. As the back cover of the book notes, in this age of globalization and transnationalism, where religious pressures routinely collide with democratic ideals, it goes without saying that this book couldn't be more timely or relevant.
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Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali (Hardcover - Feb. 6 2007)
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