Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
This is Ayaan Hirsi Ali's biography in which she details how she went from being a typical Muslim woman to rejecting the Muslim religion and her native country. Ali was raised as a strict Muslim, which meant that she was raised as a second class citizen. Every aspect of her life was ruled by religion and by her family's lifestyle, which was based on generations of adherence to strict religion tenets. Ali went through periods when she was very compliant, and periods when she questioned all that she saw around her, and especially the treatment of women. She was excised, the term for female circumsion, at an early age along with her sister.
The final blow came when her father, who didn't live with the family for many years, arranged a marriage for Ayaan with a man she had not met and who she did not want to marry. He was a Muslim living in Canada, so in order to join him, she had to emigrate through Germany. When she got to Germany, she found the strength to go instead to Holland, where she was granted refugee status.
Ali spent several years getting a college education, then becoming a strong advocate for Muslim women. Her work led to her being elected to the Dutch Parliment. As her work progressed, she gained a reputation for speaking out against the Muslim religion and the second-class status of women in that religion. Her views led to death threats against her, and when Theo Van Gogh, a direct descendant of the painter and a film maker who lived in Holland, was murdered, the murderer stabbed a note into his chest. The note was a threat against Ali. Her life now consists of bodyguards and constant vigilence against those who would kill her for her views.
The most interesting issue she brought up was the dichotomy between two ideals in the West. One ideal is multiculturism. In most Western countries, it is considered a "good" or civilized thing to support the right of other cultures to express themselves without having to change their values, religion, etc. to that of the dominant group. However, another ideal is that each citizen should be treated equally. So what are Western countries to do as increasing numbers of immigrants from other cultures arrive? Should their values be supported, even if those values treat women, for example, as chattel with no rights? Should women be beaten because the religion supports this, or separate schools established so that the children of the minority don't have to be exposed to other values? I found this conflict between ideals very thought provoking.
I enjoyed this book quite a lot. I believe I'll be thinking about it for quite a while. I admire the strength that Ayann Hirsi Ali found within herself to create a life so different from that assigned to her by her culture. This book is highly recommended.

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