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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Problems of Cultural Relativism
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...
Published on May 27 2007 by Bernie Koenig

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20 of 49 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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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Problems of Cultural Relativism, May 27 2007
By 
Bernie Koenig (London, Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
(TOP 100 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
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.
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37 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spellbinding autobiography and history, Sept. 22 2007
By 
Pieter Uys "Toypom" (Johannesburg) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME)    (TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
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.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Worthy Read, May 14 2007
By 
RondoReader (Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta Canada) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Infidel (Hardcover)
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.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An important and compelling work, March 18 2012
By 
Ian Robertson (West Vancouver, Canada) - See all my reviews
(TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Infidel (Paperback)
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.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars From Clan-Dominated Muslim Somali to Atheist and Global Critic of Islam, April 16 2007
By 
Donald Mitchell "Jesus Loves You!" (Thanks for Providing My Reviews over 124,000 Helpful Votes Globally) - See all my reviews
(#1 HALL OF FAME)    (TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
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.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best book I've read, Dec 22 2007
By 
Mary Koziol "Marj Koziolo" (Ottawa, Canada) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing Journey, June 6 2007
By 
Robert Kramchynski "CanaDao" (Saskatoon, SK CAN) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Infidel (Hardcover)
Hirsi Ali takes us on an incredible experience: a first-hand view of the

young life of a Muslim girl in Africa, Arabia, and finally in Europe. We come

to know the political culture of the Somalis and how their off-beat practice

of Islam shapes their lives and influences those with whom they interact. We

are also introduced to the stricter forms of Islam in Mecca and the multi-

faith country of Kenya. Hirsi Ali's account is certainly flavoured with her

personal influence, but that is expected in an autobiographical effort.

What I appreciated most here is her candid skepticism of the faith even

when she is devoting herself completely to the cause; because this shows

to us the honesty that every believer undoubtedly has deep within. Also,

she gives us an intimate perspective on the treatment of women within the

faith and always, her skepticism is inflamed by her sense of betrayal that

Islam forces upon all women.

I would have appreciated even more candid commentary from the author about

how Islamic beliefs (or religious beliefs in general) make individual women

feel about their world and their place in that world. At times, she

comes across as a bit self-righteous, especially her conduct while she

lived in The Netherlands and in her account of her first "marriage." But,

this only goes to show us her own flawed character and the effects of the

deep scars religion has left on her perspective, and I could certainly

appreciate that. This is a must read for any woman who is a person of faith

and who is wondering how other females deal with the inherent misogyny that

often accompanies organized systems of religious belief. Of course, all

men should read this book for the same reasons. An impressive and amazing

life is chronicled here and her journey from devout Muslim to infidel is

both inspirational and essential to becoming fully human.
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17 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The book to read this summer, or anytime, July 16 2007
This review is from: Infidel (Hardcover)
Normally one to stick to some piece of fiction---you know the kind: "Middlesex" by Eugenides or "Deception Point" by Brown, I looked into this book instead, having admired Ayaan Hirsi Ali for some time - ever since I saw the first reports of her in Dutch politics and the shocking images of her subsequent film on the abuse of Muslim women. I admired her in her role as activist against the wrongs of radical Islam. (After all, Christianity has had its own ideological purge.) But my admiration was even more for the woman herself. As a white, middle-class female I am neither sociologist nor political animal, so why read this book, let alone comment on it? Because I believe it has a powerful message for Western women besides a political one. Certainly, the plight of Muslim women and the implications of burgeoning Islam concern me greatly. I cannot turn a blind eye, even in the isolation of New Zealand where I live. We have seen vandalism here against the mosques and been saddened by it. We have bristled at the intractability of a visiting Imam when he was interviewed on national television on the abuse of Muslim women. (As far as he was concerned, it didn't exist, and the Qu'ran did not sanction abuse.) But this book does more than enlighten me on such issues: it shakes me out of the complacency of my own, relatively safe world. And it leaves me with questions I had never thought of asking before. For other titles you may be interested in, might I suggest "Middlesex" or the novel "Tuesdays with Morrie"--not like this book but equaly as good.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Emotional!, April 1 2007
By 
LoveJoy (Georgia, USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Infidel (Hardcover)
Sometimes It's hard to believe that different customs and cultures have different beliefs. This is a book that will take you out of your own comfort zone and into the life of a woman who was abused and who became determined not only to overcome, but to inform the world of how women in her culture are being treated. She did this even though her own life was in danger. Another book that will take you out of your own comfort zone and have you glued to your seat is This Can't Be Love! by Patricia Goins. This book shows how a woman is able to overcome child molestation and domestic violence. You won't be able to put Infidel or This can't be love down! Both of these books are very powerful novels that everyone should read.
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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Infidel: caught between different worlds, July 21 2007
By 
Jennifer Cameron-Smith "Expect the Unexpected" (ACT, Australia) - See all my reviews
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Infidel (Hardcover)
This autobiography can be read on a number of different levels.

It can be read as a factual recounting of Ayaan Hirsi Ali's early life followed by an awareness of, and involvement in, politics.
It can be read as a woman's questioning of the different treatments accorded men and women both within Somali society and within the variant of Islam practised there.
It can be read as well as a description of the very real loss that can occur when individuals seek to question values and beliefs of the society to which they originally belong.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali tells her story with great dignity, grace and courage. This is a story that should be read in order to better understand the difference between peoples and to appreciate the very real cost to individuals as a consequence.

Highly recommended.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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Infidel
Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali (Paperback - April 1 2008)
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