“Infidel” by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Micah Reader in February 2016 by Brenda Levenson
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Temple Micah.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali will be remembered as the woman who collaborated with the film director Theo van Gogh on a documentary about Islam. In November 2004, bicycling to his office on a street in Amsterdam, he was assassinated by a Dutch-Moroccan Muslim. Following his murder Ayaan Hirsi Ali received death threats and went into hiding. Published in 2007, Infidel is a memoir of her life.
Not since Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions in the 18th century has a writer shown the kind of honesty Ayaan Hirsi Ali reveals in her book. Born in Somalia, she was the oldest in her family of three children. Her mother had been an unusually independent woman, divorcing her first husband, an act rarely seen or tolerated in her society. Her second husband “was a modern man,” writes Ayaan Hirsi Ali. He forbade the excision of his two daughters, an order their maternal grandmother will ignore, submitting Ayaan Hirsi Ali and her sister to the barbaric procedure which she describes in graphic details, along with its life-long consequences. Politically involved, her father was rarely around and will eventually move his family first to Kenya and then to Saudi Arabia where her mother faces restrictions on women that are even more severe than in Somalia.
In her early twenties, her “modern” father arranged a marriage for Ayaan. Flying through Europe on her way to rejoin in Canada the groom she barely knows, she seizes the chance to escape and finds refuge in Holland where her life will follow an unexpected curve. She works at a variety of jobs, learns Dutch and enrolls at the prestigious university of Leiden where she majors in political science. Our readers commented on her delight in the liberal education she receives and in her description of some of the classes she takes, enthusing about the Enlightenment and its focus on reason. Now equipped with a master’s degree, she becomes active in politics and is elected as a member of the Dutch Parliament. One reader commented on how “she cleverly channels through the government” her fight against honor killing and the genital mutilation of girls which horrify her colleagues, but are practiced among the Muslim immigrants with whom she had worked as an interpreter.
The degree of domestic violence that seems to prevail among Muslim families was raised, with one reader wondering about the effect it has on societies such as African states. While one person disputed the idea that physical punishment, often severe, is common only in few countries. A 2015 Turkish film titled “Mustang” challenges her view. Contrary to claims by the media, Ayaan Hirsi Ali repeatedly points out that Islam is not a religion of peace, quoting passages of the Qu’ran and Hadith to support her argument, texts that “few people read,” she adds. The fear of women helps explain the banning of all serious education for them outside of memorizing selected verses of the Qu’ran. Can Muslims be integrated into Western civilizations? The question concluded our discussion, with one reader tracing a parallel between Fundamentalist Muslims and Hasidic Jews.
Infidel is the work of an extraordinary woman, a woman of moral principles and compassion. Her knowledge of Muslim texts makes her critical allegations all the more valid. “As much as I wanted to be a devout Muslim, I always found it uncomfortable to be opposed to the West,” she writes, adding that “For me, Britain and America were the countries in my books where there was decency and individual choice” she adds. We don’t know her whereabouts today, but wherever she is her presence will make a difference in bettering the world.