by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Hardcover, 2007




Free Press (2007), Edition: Ninth Printing, 353 pages


Biography & Autobiography. Politics. Nonfiction. HTML:One of today's most admired and controversial political figures, Ayaan Hirsi Ali burst into international headlines following the murder of Theo van Gogh by an Islamist who threatened that she would be next. She made headlines again when she was stripped of her citizenship and resigned from the Dutch Parliament. Infidel shows the coming of age of this distinguished political superstar and champion of free speech as well as the development of her beliefs, iron will, and extraordinary determination to fight injustice. Raised in a strict Muslim family, 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 ruled largely by despots. 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 women and the reform of Islam as a member of Parliament. Under constant threat, demonized by reactionary Islamists and politicians, disowned by her father, and expelled from 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 evolves out of dutiful obedience to become an outspoken, pioneering freedom fighter. As Western governments struggle to balance democratic ideals with religious pressures, no other book could be more timely or more significant.… (more)


(1129 ratings; 4.2)

User reviews

LibraryThing member NovelBookworm
Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, should be required reading for everyone. Infidel exposes the truth that so many Politically Correct idiots refuse to acknowledge. Islam is NOT a religion of "peace and tolerance". I get tired of hearing that line from every talking head and politician eager for votes. We
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have to understand that this is a religion based in fanaticism, steeped in violence toward outsiders and each other, and filled with illiterate uneducated superstitious people.

This book is effective on so many levels. From the personal story of her life to an overall indictment of the worlds fastest growing religion. When Ali was a child of five, three adults held her down on a kitchen table, while a fourth mutilated her. " In Somalia, like many countries across Africa and the Middle East, little girls are made "pure" by having their genitals cut out. There is no other way to describe this procedure, which typically occurs around the age of five. After the child's clitoris and labia are carved out, scraped off, or, in more compassionate areas, merely cut or pricked, the whole area is often sewn up, so that a thick band of tissue forms a chastity belt made of the girl's own scarred flesh. A small hole is carefully situated to permit a thin flow of urine. Only great force can tear the scar tissue wider, for sex." Culturally relevant some will argue. That doesn't make it any less evil. Slavery was culturally relevant to our plantation owners in the south, that didn't make it anything less than evil. I'm pretty sure that Hitler and his pals would argue that gas chambers were culturally relevant to the Third Reich as well. Evil is simply that…evil. If its done in the name of religion, or a government.

Ali points out the fatal flaws of multiculturalism. Compassion for immigrants merely perpetuates the cruelty and ignorance. Islam has declared their Prophet to be infallible, and since no one is allowed to question this, it has become, as Ali says, a "static tyranny". At least during the time it took for this child to heal up, the almost daily abuse at the hands of her mother and grandmother abated. Can you imagine hogtying your child, placing them on their belly with their ankles and wrists tied together and then beating them with a stick? And then can you imagine this to be an acceptable, wide spread and common practice, to make sure that girls are, above all, obedient in all ways?

As you can imagine, Ms. Ali is not a terribly popular woman with believers in Islam. And, with the case of Salman Rushdie, the Danish comic strip artist whose name I can't seem to recall, Daniel Pipes, etc., she lives with armed guards. As Michelle Malkin says, "The Religion of Perpetual Outrage strikes again!"

In the meantime, in an effort to appear open and accepting, the West does such stupid things. We attack the religions our systems are historically based on while ignoring the evil wrought by Islam. Look around, tiny little examples exist everywhere, even something as simple as banning the wearing of Christian Chastity rings in one London school, while allowing Muslim headscarves on girls. (I suppose if we encouraged the wearers of the Chastity rings to have their genitals scraped off, it would be less offensive than their wish to wear a ring on their finger…) Oriana Fallaci said, before her death from cancer, "the hate for the West swells like a fire fed by the wind. The clash between us and them is not a military one. It is a cultural one, a religious one, and the worst is still to come." Ali takes this even further, she lived it, and now she warns us all. I just don't know if we have the courage to listen.
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LibraryThing member TadAD
The controversy surrounding Hirsi Ali and Infidel ranges from knee-jerk howls of support/vilification to thoughtful arguments about her ability to separate the cultural from the religious. I don’t plan to go there because I don't think LibraryThing is the proper forum for that kind of thing.

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believe the question for here is not, “Do you agree with her?” It’s, “Is Infidel worth reading?”

My take is this: fascinating life…so-so book.

My fundamental reaction to the book was one of disappointment. The back blurb reads: “Infidel shows the coming of age of this distinguished political superstar…as well as the development of her beliefs…Hirsi Ali’s story tells how a bright little girl evolves out of dutiful obedience to become an outspoken, pioneering freedom fighter.” From this, I expected a book full of thoughtful discussion about the evolution of her philosophy. Unfortunately, the book is nothing of the kind.

I don’t think I’m over-simplifying excessively by saying that, on this matter, the book boils down to: she was raised a devout Muslim; horrible things were done to her with claimed justification by Islam; she reacted by deciding that she couldn’t believe in a religion that condoned those things. This is said wordily, but not with much more depth. The vast majority of the book is simply autobiography recounting her personal history.

What we have is an enormous amount of, “On this date, I did this. Then, on this date, this happened. Then I went here, but I had to leave and went there.” This is particularly true in the last portion of the book that deals with her life leading up to and following the making of “Submission.” Had there been a lot less of this, what thoughtfulness there was in the book would have been more powerful.

Had she focused less on Somali customs and turned her intellect on further discussion of religious freedom vs. social integration, on the fundamentalist approach to Islam vs. the more moderate, on how to accomplish her stated desire to see a religion that explicitly not able to change actually do so, this would have been a monumentally powerful book.

As it stands, you still will not go wrong by reading it. The sheer drama of her life will give you a peephole into a world that is likely unfamiliar, and a glimpse of a woman who, whatever her faults as a writer, has had a major impact upon Western interactions with Islam.
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LibraryThing member Citizenjoyce
This should be required reading from high school onward. Anyone interested in political science, freedom, human rights, child development, philosophy, sociology or theology finds something in Ayaan Hirsi Ali to contemplate and debate This African woman born prematurely and seemingly the least
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intelligent or talented of her siblings, genitally mutilated in girlhood, married to a cousin against her will, somehow learned to think for herself. After growing up in poverty in Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia she fled to Germany, then sought and obtained asylum in Holland where she began to question her religion, managed to receive a top notch education and become a member of parliament.

Acting as a translator for Somali immigrants she saw how the religious oppression of women and children kept them in poverty. She saw immigrants who couldn't adjust to their new country and didn't even bother to learn Dutch, they continued to live as much as their could in the culture of the countries from which they fled and even resented their new countries. She theorized that this lack of acculturation was due to the submissive attitude decreed by their Muslim religion which resulted in a lack of initiative and curiosity. She thought that the propensity for violence found among the Muslim immigrants was also a result of their undiluted culture. Their adherence to clan affinity made them unable to work for improvement of any country, which she saw as the cause for the political upheaval and warfare in Africa.

When the Twin Towers were destroyed, she spoke out against Muslim violence and has needed to be surrounded by body guards ever since. Now living in the US she is employed by the conservative American Enterprise Institute where she continues to direct the attention of people world wide to the topic of her one guiding purpose: the promotion of freedom for women and children through the decrease of religious oppression.
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LibraryThing member msf59
In 2004, Theo van Gogh was brutally murdered, on the streets of Amsterdam. I clearly remember this story but had no idea the strong connection, between the Dutch film-maker and the author of this book. How this happened, along with the serious threats she was also facing, is just part of this
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captivating memoir.
Ali was born in Somali. She was also a born refugee and spent most of her early life, bouncing from one African country to another. She describes her relationships with her family and what it means to be raised a Muslim. She is forced to have a female circumcision, (horrifying to read), at the tender age of five and is commanded into an arranged marriage in her late teens.
This eventually causes Ali to flee her homeland and begin to question her faith, which for me, becomes the most interesting portion of the book. She settles in Holland and begins changing her life; completing her higher education, turning into a political activist and politician, which unfortunately places a target on her back.
Ali is a gifted writer and tells a strong, compelling story.
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LibraryThing member PennyAnne
Profound and important - not so much for her descriptions of clan life in Somalia or of female genital mutilation but for what she has to say about the rights of women and children in Muslim cultures and how the West's desire to embrace multiculturalism and tolerance may be doing an immense
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disservice to Muslim women everywhere.
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LibraryThing member lauralkeet
It was Friday, July 24, 1992, when I stepped on the train. Every year I think of it. I see it as my real birthday: the birth of me as a person, making decisions about my life on my own. (p. 188)

This fascinating memoir recounts Ali's life story and her journey from a devout Muslim childhood to an
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adulthood as a controversial political leader in the Netherlands. Ali is unflinchingly candid about her childhood experiences as a refugee in Kenya, her family relationships, and her intense faith. As she approached adulthood she began to question the society in which she was raised, and the tenets of Muslim living, particularly the associated oppression of women. She risked all she held dear for her own independence.

The strength which enabled Ali to strike out on her own carried her from refugee centers to independent living and, eventually, to membership in the Dutch Parliament. She is an activist for women's rights, particularly in the Muslim community: I decided that if I were to become a member of the Dutch Parliament, it would become my holy mission to have these statistics registered. I wanted someone, somewhere, to take note every time a man in Holland murdered his child simply because she had a boyfriend. I wanted someone to register domestic violence by ethnic background ... and to investigate the number of excisions of little girls that took place every year on Dutch kitchen tables. ... The excuse that nobody knew would be removed. (p. 296)

Her candor has caused considerable controversy and sparked acts of extreme violence. She has remained strong through it all. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is an amazing woman who is sure to have a continued impact on the world.
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LibraryThing member MusicMom41
I have been trying for a week to find the words to convey how incredible this book is. There is no way to do it justice in a mini review so I’ll give a brief summary and discuss my feelings as I read the memoir. Ayaan Hirisi Magan was born in war torn Somali to a Muslim family that seems a little
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more “liberal” than most families. Her mother had left the marriage arranged for her by her father and the child from that marriage and married a man of her choice, a member of one of the most important clans in Somalia. Three children were born to this marriage, a son, Ayaan, and a younger sister. Because her father was an important figure in the resistance movement trying to oust the communist ruler of Somalia he was gone for long periods of time and the family was forced to move many times because of the war. They lived in Kenya, Saudi Arabia, and briefly in Ethiopia in addition to Somalia. Finally Ayaan’s father stopped coming even for visits and established another family. Ayaan’s family had to rely on asking clan members to support them and their lives deteriorated. The picture of life for Muslims at this time is grim, especially for women who have no rights and are entirely dependent on the protection of a man.

The story of the disintegration of the society in these war torn regions is also horrifying. But Ayaan is a woman of spirit, determination and one who works to find meaning in her circumstances. Finally she runs away to escape an arranged marriage and becomes a refugee in Holland. She manages to find work to support herself and get an education and she becomes a Dutch citizen. She is concerned about the way Muslims that come to Holland don’t try to blend with the existing culture but remain separate in order to preserve their way of life that keeps women from having any status or rights. She gets first hand information of the problems through her job as translator for these refugees. Eventually she becomes a member of the Dutch parliament to pursue her goals of obtaining rights for Muslim women in Holland. She had a great deal of success but became a target for Muslim terrorists and now lives in the United States under armed guard.

Many of the reviews I read while trying to put into words my feelings about this book complained that it was depressing and she complained a lot. It certainly was not a “happy” book and there is much to horrify a Western reader who takes her rights and freedom for granted. But it is extremely well written, making it a good read and Ayaan shows a great deal of forgiveness and compassion for her fellow Muslims who are behaving as they have been taught for generations since the Koran was written. Her goal is to try to help Muslims learn to accept the times we live in without leaving the faith—although as this book closes she had serious doubts about her faith.

Before I read this book I was naive about the Muslim faith. I assumed that the fundamentalists and terrorists were a small minority in this large group of people who consider themselves Muslim. When I read Reading Lolita in Tehran I was appalled by what was happening to some of the women as the Ayatollah started enforcing Muslim rules for women. But we were led to believe that this was not the way normally Muslims behave and at the time that book was written the transformation of Iran was just beginning so I did not get the full impact that Ayaan reveals. As I read Infidel I realized that in Africa and the Middle East this treatment of women is not an aberration but the norm. If noting else, this book can open our eyes to how a large segment of the world’s population is living by 3rd century standards, especially where women are concerned.
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LibraryThing member Nickelini
One of my top reads in 2008. Actually, it was more of a "listen" than a "read," as I had the audiobook version. So very personal to hear Ayaan's story in her own voice (and nice to hear the foreign names pronounced properly since my Somali and Dutch are rather poor). An amazing memoir that made me
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cry in sorrow and in joy. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member Narboink
“Infidel” is an excellent and deeply troubling book. I read it when it was first published and have nursed feelings of extreme ambivalence about it ever since. As autobiography, it is both fascinating and honest – and it exhibits the clearness of mind and relentless intelligence of its
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author. What I find troubling is that it provides a powerful anecdotal narrative that confirms certain ethnocentric stereotypes and entrenched political biases of much of its American readership. For instance, there are gruesome descriptions of “female circumcision” which are bound horrify an American audience loath to call male circumcision “genital mutilation.” Much of the narrative takes place in locales that are in social and military flux, and are therefore rife with corruption, cruelty, and inhumanity; add to that a cultural tradition profoundly anathema to that of mythic Americana and you’ve got a political rallying cry rather than a statement of cultural anthropology… which is fine, but this book is an invitation to the reader to confuse the two. I’m grateful that this book was written and wouldn’t suggest that Ms. Ali change a word of it, but I cringe at the bloodthirsty, self-vindicating posturing of her targeted audience. This is an autobiography, but it is also a political treatise.

The most charitable hope that I have for this kind of book is that it resembles Frederick Douglas’ autobiography, which was also a book of political agitation. My ambivalence stems from the fact that Douglas was challenging a conventional view of inhumanity within his own culture while Ali is confirming one without.
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LibraryThing member vibrantminds
A very powerful and moving autobiography of growing up in Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, etc. as a Muslim and her struggle of survival, and triumph in overcoming a culture full of religious traditions. Seeking asylum in Holland to avoid an unwanted marriage and eventually rising to a political
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figure in parliament. An unrelenting motivation to have her voice heard and expose Islam for its brutal behavior towards women. Her determination is compelling through the pages of this book, her passion flows freely.
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LibraryThing member DanaJean
In today's world where our idea of role model has become very warped, Ayaan Hirsi Ali is the very epitomy of role model and has become my hero. I read this book and journeyed with this meek, unassuming child. I watched her grow into a strong, educated woman championing the rights of women trapped
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in a culture and religion that tell them from birth that they are worth less than their male counterparts. Tough, tenacious and believing in herself, Ayaan made her way from her childhood home in Somalia to the parliament of Holland.

She has risked her life to give voice to all those women silenced by generations of duty to family, clan and Islam. Her personal questioning, learning and putting into action what she has come to know as truth is inspiring and doesn't just speak to the Muslim women's conflict, but to all women bound to a controlled and isolated existence. She talks how Muslims scream racism as a weapon to keep their women locked into a segregated and accepted life of submission, domination and abuse. Details on female circumcision and honor killings are quite horrifying, and Ayaan continues to speak out and bring to the forefront all of these things in hopes that change will happen. It's an upward battle I'm afraid, but she has dedicated her life to these causes. If nothing else, pick up this book (hardcover) and read starting at the top of page 272 through to the top of 273. It says it all.

I would love to hear her speak in person. I was honored to read her story.
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LibraryThing member Lenaphoenix
This is an utterly fascinating book on so many levels it’s hard to count. As a memoir, this chronicle of Hirsi’s journey from the good daughter of a Muslim Somali family to her current role as an outspoken critic of Islam who lives under 24-hour armed guard is gripping. The stories of trauma
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she endured as a child—from violent abuse to life under an oppressive dictator to the horrors of war viewed firsthand—are not easy to read, but I couldn’t put the book down as I sought to discover how she survived to become the person she is. But it is when Hirsi flees her arranged marriage and seeks asylum in The Netherlands that this book actually changed the way I think. Hirsi details with amazing precision the collapse of her Islamic belief system when she discovered that the “infidel” West was a far kinder and gentler place than the one she grew up in. Being able to look at my own society through her eyes dramatically shifted my perception of the freedoms and lifestyle I have as a woman in the West, something I had only intellectually appreciated before. Hirsi’s decision to use her own newfound freedoms to fight for the rights of abused Muslim women in the face of repeated death threats makes her a true hero in my mind.
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LibraryThing member LivelyLady
Powerful memoir of Somalian woman, brought up with the teachings of Islam. She escapes to Holland and becomes a member of Parliament. This book is informative, powerful, and unsettling. Certainly shows a different side of Islamic teachings. I use to think just the fringe members were the dangerous
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ones, but the whole religion does not accept or tolerate other with different beliefs, and women are subservient and chattels, just property to be owned. Very good.
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LibraryThing member
It is Ayaan Hirsi Ali's autobiography. It starts in Mogadishu, Somalia. In her early life she travels with hear family through several countries (Saudi Arabia, Kenya, Ethiopia) and through several stages of Islamic practice (tradition, spirituality, radicalism, doubt). Along the way, she tastes
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first hand the poverty and brutality of life in developing Africa, the abuse and oppression of women heralded under the name of tradition and Islam, and a barely noticeable flavor of freedom that exists in the developed western world.

The last leg of her journey puts her in the Netherlands, where she flees, taking a decisive step to break away from tradition and from an arranged marriage her family is trying to force her into. There, in a span of a mere decade, she goes through the stages of refugee, freelance translator, university student, and finally elected member of parliament, with the agenda of cultural integration of recent muslim immigrants into the liberal and open-minded Dutch society. There also, influenced by many factors, but not least of all the events of 9/11, she takes the final step from Islam to apostasy.

Moreover, she has turned into an outspoken critic of Islam and the culture associated with it, in part due to the abuses that it condones, that she endured earlier in her life, and that many women are still subject to today. You may have heard of the incident in the Netherlands, where a fundamentalist muslim murdered a Dutch film director, Theo van Gogh, for making a short 11 minute film that criticized Islam for the same reasons. The film is called Submission: Part I and was written by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The murder of van Gogh, a friend as well as a colleague, was accompanied by numerous death threats, which force her to this day to live in an undisclosed location and be constantly surrounded by bodyguards.

I first ran into Ali as a guest on the Colbert Report, where she was promoting her book. I was struck by her composure and the clarity of her discourse. What attracted me to the book is her personal story of apostasy. After buying a copy, I couldn't put it down for two days, until I finished it. A fascinating book, with a compelling story and clear prose.

There are a few things that I learned from its pages. One of them is the degree to which female genital mutilation is taken in some African cultures (no the term female circumcision doesn't quite capture the procedure), all in the name of virginal purity. Another is the amount of bigotry that stems from the clan and tribal culture of some African ethnic groups, even among groups that speak the same language and have diverged only a dozen or so generations ago. I now find the ethnic cleansings that made infamous African civil wars less surprising.

But, more importantly, I learned what opened the window to free and critical thought in the mind of a child growing up in a dogmatic, superstitious and intolerant environment. It's quite simple: books and movies. When Ali lived in Kenya she and her siblings learned English while in elementary and secondary school. As a result, a whole world opened up to her. At first, it consisted of only trashy paperback novels and the likes of Nancy Drew mysteries, then also of some Hollywood productions that made their way to Kenyan cinemas. These were a window to a world where women were not forced to wear veils, to marry against their will, or to bury their dreams of a career. The knowledge of the existence of this other world is what told her that there was something to run away to, a better world. And it was more books that she came face to face with as a university student that eventually changed her outlook on government and religion.

I hope that the people who organize book donations to third world countries realize that it doesn't particularly matter what kind of books get donated. As long as they describe a world that's different from the one in which third world citizens live. This knowledge is what gives them a new choice for the direction their lives can take.

Not surprisingly, I highly recommend this book, to a wide audience.
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LibraryThing member calmclam
Ali is a very clear, conversation writer, and I found her story--while difficult to stomach at times--very easy to read. She brings an interesting perspective to feminism and religious oppression; she supports her arguments quite well, and she is able to write from personal experience.
LibraryThing member myfanwy
This is one of those books that made such an impression, I really didn't know where to begin the review. J recommended it for book club and I certainly owe her one for getting me to read something I would never otherwise have picked up. For those not familiar with it already, this is the memoir of
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a young Dutch parliament member, who happens to also be Somali, an immigrant, and a woman raised in several strongly Islamic cultures. She has gained notoriety for taking a seemingly right-wing stance against the rights of immigrants to not-assimilate. At the same time, her perspective is from the point of view of muslim women's rights. As she might say, if you allow muslim culture to remain unchecked, then you are permitting a culture that beats women and treats them as chattel.

Infidel does not start right off with the political commentary however. Much of the book is a window into a culture I've never heard a peep from. You don't get this kind of detail from Saudis and certainly not from muslim women, who are largely kept under wraps. The first half of the book describes Ali's upbringing. She was raised by her mother and grandmother first in Somalia, then Saudi Arabia, and finally Kenya. She was from a relatively priveleged family and one which, uncharacteristically, believed in education for girls. However, Ayaan and her siblings largely raise themselves and are controlled only through beatings. She is beaten at home and at school. She undergoes female circumcision. In Saudi Arabia, they arrive at the airport and are not permitted to leave because there is no male relative to escort them on the streets. In Kenya, she studies the Koran and joins a group of adolescents who vie for conformity to the Koran's teachings. As she begins to be interested in boys, she is also determing whether a head scarf and long buttoned-down coat are sufficient or whether she should sew herself a billowing formless black robe cinching at the wrists to ensure no one can see even her form.

Parts of her life are almost unbearable to read. After returning to Somalia, her family escapes just before total lawlessness and genocide takes over. A few weeks later, word comes that some cousins and in-laws have made it to the refugee camp on the other side of the Kenyan border and she goes to collect them. Having waited a week too long, they had been forced to march without food for weeks across the country until they were unrecognizably skeletal forms. The whole of the first half of the book is riveting in its alienness and its ring of truth.

When she reaches marriageable age, her father arranges her marriage to a wealthy Canadian-Somalian expatriate. She's never met him before, and in a burst of rebellion, she escapes into Europe half-way to Canada. Holland's refugee regulations being the most liberal, she seeks asylum there and is granted it. In a matter of months, she is transformed, re-awakened, by the freedoms women enjoy there, by the fact that men in fact do not go lustfully mad when a woman bares her hair, or even much of her body. She works as a translator for immigrants caught in the justice system, in battered women's shelters, in perpetual wait for a visa.

I could go on and on, but none of this will equal reading the book. Let me cut to the chase. Ali has a transformation in Holland, and comes to feel the injustice of how she was raised, how close she was to becoming a wife and mother, bound to the home, unable to work or participate in the community in any way, devoid of rights. In response, she becomes an atheist and decides that the Koran itself is a danger, that Muslim schools teaching the Koran's teachings indoctrinate the young to ritual stonings, honor killings, and the like. She even, as a newly minted political scientist, gets the police to count murders by cause and draws the authority's attention to the fact that 11 girls had been killed by their families (for getting raped, pregnant, etc), not just anywhere, but in Holland! bastion of freedom!

Ayaan Ali is clearly incredibly passionate about her beliefs, and the book makes you understand why. However, I, like many others she mentions, am reluctant to go as far as she does. I am reluctant to say Islam is the problem, that as long as Islam is taught there will be crimes against women. It made me think about the structure of religious teaching. We are a Christian nation, and yet most people believe that sodomy is not punishable by death. Looking at Judaism, the Torah is chock full of smiting, but the Talmud is a religious text of interpretations, giving rabbis and thus humanity in general the right to interpret the text for modern life. What happened to Islam? What happened between the Middle Ages when they were explorers and scientists and alchemists and astronomers and now when fundamentalists believe only in the word of the Koran. Obviously there is another model -- there WAS another model -- where is it now? Will Iraq become a religious state? Will Pakistan?

If you're interested in an incredible story, if you're interested in the whys and wherefores of Islamic fundamentalism, this is an incredibly interesting book. Read it with someone else, and when you're done, sit yourself down for a very long, very interesting debate!
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LibraryThing member dianemb
Ayaan Hirsi Ali tells her story in a very matter of fact way. She highlights the difficulties that women face everyday in Muslim countries.
LibraryThing member Hernibs
Everything I ever heard and feared about the misogynistic attitude of a Muslim society is described in this biography of former Dutch politician who now lives in the usA for fear of her own life after her friend Wenders was killed by extremists.
LibraryThing member FicusFan
I read this book for a RL book group. It was well written and fascinating autobiography.

This is the life story(so far)of Ayaan Hirsi. She is from Somalia originally, though she travels much as a child (Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Kenya) and as an adult (Europe, USA).

Ayaan is the daughter of a strict
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Muslim family. She is burdened with many things as a child: the need to learn her family's heritage, the need to be a perfect daughter and a whipping post for the frustrations of the women, a third world existence, sudden poverty, fractured family, and lack of opportunity determined by her gender.

Her family was secure until her father was imprisoned by the government. He had a falling out with the dictator and Ayaan's world became filled with danger, uncertainty, and lack of food. She seems to have learned early that not everything she was told by her mother or grandmother was true. That set her on the path to questioning and thinking for herself. Quite dangerous traits given her setting.

The surprising thing was that although she lived under a male dominated society and religion, where women were property, it is the other women who were the most dangerous. As a child her mother and father did not want her to be circumcised, where the female genitals are hacked out, and then everything is sewn shut. During the family upheaval of her father's imprisonment, it is the grandmother who has it done to Ayaan. She does it to insure her granddaughter's purity and the family good name.

Throughout her time with her grandmother and mother, Ayaan is beaten, reviled and generally abused. Often in the name of learning to be proper, it is how the older women work out their personal demons and difficulties of trying to live under the cultural and religious limitations. At one point Ayaan's father, free at last, leaves the family and marries another woman and starts a second family. Ayaan bears the brunt of her mother's anger.

As a teen and a young adult, Ayaan can often do things she wants, as long as her mother thinks she is doing something else. Ayaan learns deception to keep her family happy and still meet her needs. She also tries to find a place in the world that works for her. She flirts with becoming strictly religious and with becoming a Nationalist. She has an illicit platonic romance with a non-Islamic young man. Then she has an secret marriage, arranged by an older female distant relative to a wayward son. He leaves her and she conceals the event from her immediate family. Her father, unaware of the previous marriage arranges for her to marry the son of a friend.

Ayaan is not interested in an arranged marriage and an arranged life. The man is from Canada and she would get to live in a modern world, but by archaic rules. It is this event that compels her to escape. She marries him, but on a trip to see him in Canada, she stops in Germany to see a relative. While there she gets on a train to the Netherlands and asks for asylum. The Netherlands have a very liberal policy for accepting refugees.

She is given a place to live, food, and provisional status while her case is investigated. She lies to the Dutch about her circumstances, and she changes her name to hide from her family. She learns their language and the rules of the game for asylum seekers. Much less complicated than the ones she had to play to survive with her family. Ayaan is granted asylum and then works with other refugees as a translator for the refugee center.

Ayaan builds a life for herself with friends and lovers. She struggles with education, though she is told she is not really suitable for college. She eventually comes to terms with her family and her groom. It is a great disgrace for her family that she has run off. They shun her for a while. She tries to help her sister who is not as good at finding a way to live as Ayaan has been. It eventually ends badly with her sister, who is not as strong as Ayaan.

Ayaan speaks publicly against the accommodation the Dutch have made with Islam. Many immigrants are coming into the country with the religion, and the Dutch allow them to run their own affairs with Islamic schools. Their sub-culture allows the brutality and repression of women, and their schools teach it as a proper way to live. Ayaan is often called out as an interpreter to deal with the violence, death and chaos of their lives. They are living by archaic rules with a cover of modernity in a modern society. They say what the Dutch want to hear, but then speak against the Dutch and their open society. Ayaan believes that the Dutch multi-cultural acceptance is allowing repression to flourish and damage lives.

Eventually Ayaan is elected to public office. She also receives death threats from Islamics. As part of her election she told that she had lied to receive asylum. After her election she is eventually forced to resign, and her citizenship is stripped from her. Her friend and filmmaker Theo van Gogh is murdered in the street by a Muslim who was enraged by a film he made with Ayaan about the repression of women.

Ayaan flees to the US where she is still living (at the time the book was published). She had her Dutch citizenship re-instated, but it is not safe for her to live there.

The book was well written and fascinating. Her life and travels are so absorbing that the book flies by. She seems to be a very strong woman who is trying to do what she thinks is right. She went from being a strong believer in Islam and god to someone who comes to see it as human manufactured cant to control and manipulate others. A power trip for those in charge. Her change is not just someone preaching her own new beliefs, but seen through the prism of her life, suffering and personal human experience.

A great read.
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LibraryThing member Periodista
Fascinating life, but Ali is not an intellectual, by any means.

If you actually want to know more about what the Koran says about women--or is interpreted to say, that is--far better, by a far more learned woman is: Iran Awakening by the Nobel prize-winning lawyer Shirin Ebadi. Is she/was she ever
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a believer? You don't know and it doesn't matter because Iran's theocracy has forced her to study the Koran very closely. Other people have questioned parts of Ali's life story but I'm most skeptical that she ever spent much time studying Islam. Maybe her exposure consisted of rote memorizing in Arabic, a language she didn't know well ...
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LibraryThing member ccayne
The author is a remarkable woman. This biography is a study in resilience and determination. Despite all odds, Ali escaped her family and clan, educated herself, found her voice and began her life's work, speaking out for women like herself, repressed by religion and culture.
LibraryThing member JollyContrarian
Terrific cover: Ayaan Hirsi Ali resolutely looks straight at the camera, defiant. Refusing to avert her eyes or show the necessary submission. She is an apostate; a very brave woman.

And a great writer: there are many remarkable things about Infidel but none more so than that it's written by a
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self-declared thick kid (methinks she doth protest too much) in a third (or even fourth) language. Yet is still as gripping and beautifully executed as many ghost-written memoirs. I picked this up on holiday when my wife finished it and was curiously flipping through the first few pages - it's not my kind of book, really - but was immediately drawn in, and raced through the rest of the book in less than a week. Along the way I learned a lot of recent African history and some good information on how Islamic societies are set up - perhaps based on a jaundiced view, given her conclusions, but still, I thought, a fairly and clearly represented one.

I have two remarks - not intended as criticisms, but rather as observations: First, to state the obvious, Ali has re-constructed her life story through the prism of, and with the benefit of, a subsequently gained appreciation of the Western enlightenment tradition. This perspective, when she navigated her childhood in Mogadishu, Mecca, and Nairobi was simply not available to her, on her own account. But it surely casts a different shadow; by dint of the hindsight it affords, Ali inevitably renders images and draws conclusions which differ from those she must have held at the time. I couldn't help feeling that the early history - perhaps while cataloguing dates and events accurately, must contain a large element of revision in its complexion. Only this can explain the apparent disconnect between her political thesis (that the principal victims of the Muslim socialisation are, principally, women) and her observation that the dominant female characters of her youth were the most unyielding enforcers of oppressive disciplines (including genital mutilation) and themselves remained sincerely and unresentfully devoted to principles Ali (subsequently) deemed beyond the pale. Ali doesn't seriously explore this anomaly, but I think it is in need of discussion for her case to be made out.

Secondly, and like most of the combatants in the jousts over religion that play in literary circles these days, she renounces Islam but not the religious disposition, which she takes up just as assiduously (as proselytes tend to) for the cause of atheism. So Islam isn't true; instead, she argues, libertarianism is. But this strikes me as a leap from the frying pan into the fire. Ali's faith in the enlightenment and dismissal of cultural relativism (which frequent readers may know I happen to quite like) - and its evil spawn, multiculturalism - strike me as glib, thinly argued and somewhat dogmatic in their bearing. Neither relativism not multiculturalism demands submission to foreign cultures for the sake of it, and if the social exclusion of muslim refugee communities that Ali describes in Holland is a result of truly multicultural policies, then they've been pretty poorly implemented. There may have been some rather feeble liberal hand-wringing going on, but I don't think that can be laid at Multiculturalism's door.

New York, where I gather she now lives, is a multicultural centre with the sort of robust disposition she clearly approves of. So is London. Perhaps it was her misfortune to land in Holland first.

These quibbles aside, this is a thoughtful and stimulating read.
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LibraryThing member Morgester
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is an amazing woman who has survived much adversity to become a member of a free society. Her upbringing could have lead to her being bitter and left her blaming others for her lot in life and instead she has overcome abuse, war, banishment, abandonment, religious extremism (her
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own), language barriers, poor to nonexistent early education and threats on her life to become a member of the Dutch parliament, get a degree, and speak out about her beliefs and for women in Arabic conclaves in her adopted country. Her drive and courage are amazing and while I understand that her position on Islam is a personal one, she makes cogent and compelling arguments for her stand.

Some reviewers have commented that the book is a memoir and focuses too much on Somali culture. However, the book is about how she came to her current beliefs about Islam and those cannot be understood with understanding not only her journey to this point but also the culture that informed that journey. We are a product of our upbringing and she brings light to her own journey and through that helps those of us who have no frame of reference. I found the book inspiring and thoughtful and it gave me a lot to think about.
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LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
Reading this I was frequently reminded of Frederick Douglass' middle biography, My Bondage and My Freedom, which I read a few months ago. That's not to say I would equate Ayaan Hirsi Ali in stature or as a writer. This doesn't have quite the eloquence, the striking lines or piercing psychological
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and sociological insights of Douglass. Given Hirsi was born in Somalia, grew up there and in Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Kenya and received her higher education in the Netherlands, it's doubtful she had read that 19th century American intellectual and anti-slavery activist. But I can't help but think they would have understood each other. Both Douglass and Hirsi are utterly courageous and both in their times controversial--and their memoirs passionate polemics seeking to spark profound political change--and, above all, both memoirs are about a journey to freedom. Hirsi said of her decision to seek asylum in the Netherlands rather than accept her arranged marriage that: "I would not have put it this way in those days, but because I was born a woman, I could never be an adult [in Muslim society]. I would always be a minor, my decisions made for me... I would be dependent--always--on someone treating me well."

So she choose freedom. Then, working as a translator to put herself through school she'd work with and at police stations, hospitals, clinics, women's shelters, prisons, schools--and discover the disturbing reality that in the name of "Dutch Values" and "multiculturalism" Muslim women immigrants were being battered, even murdered in honor killings and "little children were [being] excised on kitchen tables" and it was being ignored and tolerated. By "excised" Hirsi means genital mutilation--which she had undergone herself as a young child. I'm tempted to explain exactly what that means--but Hirsi's description of what was done to her and others isn't for the faint of heart. I had a professor in college who called what was done to her "female circumcision" and a "rite of passage." (Village, please pick up your idiot at Fordham University). I'd love to send my old professor a copy of this book--with bookmarks and highlighted text. What Hirsi saw pushed her into speaking out, led to her becoming a member of the Dutch Parliament--and to threats on her life.

In her introduction, and in more detail later in the book, Hirsi described how in 2004 her friend Theo van Gogh was assassinated because of a short film he made with her, Submission, critical of Islam. A note was pinned to his chest saying Hirsi was next. A bit more than two months ago, another video critical of Islam, Innocence of Muslims, uploaded to YouTube was blamed for the assassination of America's ambassador to Libya and dozens of deaths. The director of the video, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, given he was on probation, was able to be arrested in America and charged with using a pseudonym to upload the video and "accessing the internet without authorization." A couple of weeks ago he was sentenced to prison--where he is now incarcerated. One might claim rules are rules, and he violated his probation. (Just as Hirsi in the wake of the van Gogh murder would find herself almost stripped of her Dutch citizenship using technicalities involving her application for refugee status.) Regardless of the dubious qualities of Nakoula's video, the parallels and chilling effects on speech of appeasing violence sure seem clear to me. Nor is that the only parallel out of current headlines I can find in Hirsi's story.

I should also warn Hirsi will prickle sensibilities on the left and right. She is upfront about her spiritual journey that has led her to become an atheist and many of her criticisms of Islam can be applied to Christianity--or any other faith. And though I find Hirsi's tone respectful to those of other views... Well, some on the religious right might be offended before they ever get to the body of the text given Christopher Hitchens' Foreword openly scornful of religion. And there's plenty in the main text to raise the hackles of the politically correct left in Hirsi's criticisms of multiculturalism. But Hirsi not only should be supported in her right to speak out, but deserves to be listened to. This book might not be "amazing" in the sense of depth of the ideas or undying prose (though it is fluid and lucid), but this is an amazing life story that often moved and outraged me, is eye-opening about Muslim society and the plight of women there, and deals with issues urgent and timely.
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LibraryThing member gbelik
What a story! This memoir takes the author from Somalia to Saudi Arabia to Kenya to Holland, from religious Islam to atheism, from a strict Islamic girlhood to parliament in Holland. Such honesty and such courage.



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353 p.; 6.5 inches


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