Saturday, September 27, 2008

Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Title: Infidel

Author: Ayaan Hirsi Ali

# pages: 350

Date published: 2007

Genre: nonfiction (memoir)

Challenge(s): Raved-About Reads


(one of my favorites)

Setting: Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, and Holland for the most part

First Paragraph:

“One November morning in 2004, Theo van Gogh got up to go to work at his film production company in Amsterdam. He took out his old black bicycle and headed down the main road. Waiting in a doorway was a Moroccan man with a handgun and two butcher knives.”

Synopsis (from Barnes& 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.

Reason for Reading: St. Pete book club’s September pick

Random Thoughts:

I would not have read this book if it had not been one of my book club’s picks, but I’m so glad I did. I thought it was going to be depressing and hard to get through, but it wasn’t. That’s not to say that parts of it didn’t infuriate me. They did. And Ali certainly writes about depressing, disturbing topics. But she does it in such a matter-of-fact and well written way that I was constantly glued to the book to see what would happen next and how she would deal with it. Ali credits at least some of her rebellion against her upbringing to the western novels she read as a teenager. If not for those books, she would never have realized that there were places in the world where women and men are equals and that women in these countries choose mates for themselves. Her insights into fundamentalist Islam from a position of someone who has lived in that world were enlightening and, I believe, important for anyone who is interested in figuring out how 9/11/2001 came about to read.

Quotes to Remember:

“Most of all, I think it was the novels that saved me from submission.” (p. 94)

“It was as if my head had somehow divided in two. When in Sister Aziza’s world, I was devout, meek, and respectful of the many, many barriers that restricted me to a very narrow role. The rest of the time I read novels and lived in the world of my imagination, filled with daring. As a reader, I could put on someone else’s shoes and live through his adventures, borrow his individuality and make choices that I didn’t have at home.” (p. 118)

“Even when all women had been covered completely from head to toe, another line of thought was opened. For this was not enough. High heels tapped and could trigger in men the image of women’s legs; to avoid sin, women must wear flat shoes that make no noise. Next came perfume: using any kind of pleasant fragrance, even perfumed soap and shampoo, would distract the minds of men for Allah’s worship and cause them to fantasize about sinning. The safest way to cause no harm to anyone seemed to be to avoid contact with any man at all times and just stay in the houses. A man’s sinful erotic thoughts were always the fault of the woman who incited them.” (p. 110)

“The litter shutter at the back of my mind, where I pushed all my dissonant thoughts, snapped open after the 9/11 attacks, and it refused to close again. I found myself thinking that the Quran is not a holy document. It is a historical record, written by humans. It is one version of events, as perceived by the men who wrote it 150 years after the Prophet Muhammad died. And it is a very tribal and Arab version of events. It spreads a culture that is brutal, bigoted, fixated on controlling women, and harsh in war.” (p. 272)

“From now on I could step firmly on the ground that was under my feet and navigate based on my own reason and self-respect. My moral compass was within myself, not in the pages of a sacred book.” (p. 281)

Let’s give people a variety of opinions! If you've reviewed this book (or a book by this author), leave me a link to your review in the comments and I'll link to your review, too!


Jeane said...

This sounds like a fantastic book. I appreciate the quotes you shared. I want to read it myself, now.

Kristi said...

It was really good, jeane. Everyone in my book club was just wowed by it. Hope you enjoy it when you get a chance to read it.

naida said...

this sounds really good.
great review!

tinylittlelibrarian said...

I read this one for my book club, too! :) I really wasn't looking forward to it, but ended up finding it really interesting, powerful, and (as you say) infuriating.

loga said...

Did anyone notice she didn't cite sources and mixes culture with religion? I felt like I learned about Somalia not Islam (although she made it sound the other way around). Due to my frustration I wrote this, a Muslim response, I hope you find it interesting: