Infidel Hardcover – Feb 6 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Readers with an eye on European politics will recognize Ali as the Somali-born member of the Dutch parliament who faced death threats after collaborating on a film about domestic violence against Muslim women with controversial director Theo van Gogh (who was himself assassinated). Even before then, her attacks on Islamic culture as "brutal, bigoted, [and] fixated on controlling women" had generated much controversy. In this suspenseful account of her life and her internal struggle with her Muslim faith, she discusses how these views were shaped by her experiences amid the political chaos of Somalia and other African nations, where she was subjected to genital mutilation and later forced into an unwanted marriage. While in transit to her husband in Canada, she decided to seek asylum in the Netherlands, where she marveled at the polite policemen and government bureaucrats. Ali is up-front about having lied about her background in order to obtain her citizenship, which led to further controversy in early 2006, when an immigration official sought to deport her and triggered the collapse of the Dutch coalition government. Apart from feelings of guilt over van Gogh's death, her voice is forceful and unbowed—like Irshad Manji, she delivers a powerful feminist critique of Islam informed by a genuine understanding of the religion. 8-page photo insert. (Feb.)
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Hirsi Ali, internationally acclaimed for her book The Caged Virgin (2006) and her film depicting the oppression of Muslim women, which cost the life of her colleague Theo van Gogh, now offers a compelling memoir of her life. Stripped of her Dutch citizenship and threatened with the same fate as van Gogh, Hirsi Ali continues to defy conventions regarding Muslim women. She writes poignantly of growing up in Somalia, Saudi Arabia, and Kenya in a strict Muslim family. She was subjected to female circumcision and brutal beatings by a mother who wanted her to conform to the obedience expected of women. With the rising influence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Somalia, her ambitions were even more repressed. She defied a forced marriage and fled to the Netherlands, fighting for the rights of Muslim women and a more open practice of Islam. Her rising political prominence and outspokenness have made her a target of Islamic extremists. Hirsi Ali's spirited recollections and defense of women's rights to independence and self-expression are inspiring to women of all cultures. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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.