Ayaan Hirsi Ali and her “Infidel: My Life” …….. 2006

I. The book Infidel: My Life, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali ….Courtesy of Wikipedia 

Infidel (2006/published in English 2007) is the autobiography of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-Dutch activist and politician. Out of consideration for the safety of the female ghostwriter, her identity is not given, as Hirsi Ali has attracted controversy[1]and death threats were made against Ali in the early 2000s.[2] 

INFIDEL coverSynopsis: Hirsi Ali writes about her youth in Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Kenya; about her flight to the Netherlands where she applied for political asylum, her university experience in Leiden, her work for the Labour Party, her transfer to the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, her election to Parliament, and the murder of Theo van Gogh, with whom she made the film Submission. The book ends with a discussion of the controversy regarding her application for asylum and status of her citizenship.

Praise; The launch of the book in the Netherlands was considered a success, with the initial print run selling out in two days.[3] A review in de Volkskrant concluded that “anyone who discovers Hirsi Ali’s tumultuous history can only sympathise with her”.[1] The German edition of the book, Mein Leben, meine Freiheit (“My Life, My Freedom”), debuted in the top 20 of the bestseller list of Der Spiegel.[3][4] The book was also well received upon the release of the English edition in 2007. Reviewing the book for The Sunday Times, Christopher Hitchens called it a “remarkable book.”[5] Hitchens provided a foreword to the 2008 paperback edition. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Anne Applebaum, writing in The Washington Post, said “Infidel is a unique book, Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a unique writer, and both deserve to go far.”[6] A review in The New York Times described the book as a “brave, inspiring and beautifully written memoir”.[7] In an interview, Newsweek editor Fareed Zakaria described it as “an amazing book by an amazing person”.[8]

Criticism: Reporter Lorraine Ali in Newsweek magazine gave the book a negative review, claiming that the reader will feel “manipulated” by Hirsi’s story. She said that “Hirsi Ali is more a hero among Islamophobes than Islamic women.” She also said that Hirsi sounds as “single-minded and reactionary as the zealots she’s worked so hard to oppose.”.[9]

Infidel: My Life
Author Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Original title Mijn Vrijheid
Genre Autobiography
Publisher Free Press
Publication date 2006
Published in English 2007
Pages 368
ISBN 0-7432-9503-X
Preceded by The Caged Virgin
Followed by Nomad: From Islam to America

II. William Grimes: “No Rest for a Feminist Fighting Radical Islam,” 14 February 2007, Review for New York Times

Ayaan Hirsi Ali came to the attention of the wider world in an extraordinary way. In 2004 a Muslim fanatic, after shooting the filmmaker Theo van Gogh dead on an Amsterdam street, pinned a letter to Mr. van Gogh’s chest with a knife. Addressed to Ms. Hirsi Ali, the letter called for holy war against the West and, more specifically, for her death.

HIRSI ALI Pic by Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times

A Somali by birth and a recently elected member of the Dutch Parliament, Ms. Hirsi Ali had waged a personal crusade to improve the lot of Muslim women. Her warnings about the dangers posed to the Netherlands by unassimilated Muslims made her Public Enemy No. 1 for Muslim extremists, a feminist counterpart to Salman Rushdie.

The circuitous, violence-filled path that led Ms. Hirsi Ali from Somalia to the Netherlands is the subject of “Infidel,” her brave, inspiring and beautifully written memoir. Narrated in clear, vigorous prose, it traces the author’s geographical journey from Mogadishu to Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Kenya, and her desperate flight to the Netherlands to escape an arranged marriage. At the same time, Ms. Hirsi Ali describes a journey “from the world of faith to the world of reason,” a long, often bitter struggle to come to terms with her religion and the clan-based traditional society that defined her world and that of millions of Muslims all over.

Ms. Hirsi Ali, now 37, belongs to the Osman Mahamud subclan of the Darod clan. Its members, by tradition, are born to rule, which may explain the author’s self-possessed, imperious gaze on the cover of her book. Her mother came from a family of nomads, and Ms. Hirsi Ali grew up listening to desert folk tales narrated by her grandmother, who, like many Somalis, followed a “diluted, relaxed” version of Islam that included traditional magic spirits and genies. It also required that young girls undergo genital mutilation, which Ms. Hirsi Ali, a victim of the practice, describes in horrific detail.

Somalia’s troubled politics provided Ms. Hirsi Ali with an eventful childhood. Her father, an opponent of the country’s Soviet-backed dictator, spent years in prison. The family, living on clan charity, moved to Saudi Arabia, where Ms. Hirsi Ali recoiled at the local interpretation of Islam, and later to Ethiopia and Kenya, where Ms. Hirsi Ali added Swahili and English to her growing list of languages. Without knowing it, she was becoming a permanent outsider, a misfit wherever she traveled.

The family was politically liberal but pious, with one foot in the remote past and the other in the modern world. In Nairobi, her grandmother kept a sheep in the bathtub at night and herded it during the day. Ms. Hirsi Ali, at her English-language school, devoured Nancy Drew mysteries and English adventure series, “tales of freedom, adventure, of equality between girls and boys, trust and friendship.” She eventually became a woman very like one of George Eliot’s heroines — earnest, high-minded and ardent, forever chafing at the limits imposed by her religion and her society.

Rebellion came slowly. Ms. Hirsi Ali, under the spell of a kindly Islamic evangelist, passed through a deeply religious phase. She describes, quite persuasively, the attractions of fundamentalism and the growing appeal of groups like the Muslim Brotherhood in disintegrating societies like Somalia’s. But nagging questions disturbed her faith, especially as she encountered inflexible doctrines on the role of women, and their need to submit to men.

“Life on earth is a test, and I was failing it, even though I was trying as hard as I knew how to,” she writes of her anguished, questioning adolescence. “I was failing as a Muslim.”

In 1992, in her early 20s, Ms. Hirsi Ali made a dash for freedom. Instead of joining her new husband in Canada, she bolted to the Netherlands. There, she pretended to be fleeing political persecution, and the authorities granted her refugee status. She had brought shame on her family and her clan, but the order and rationality of the Netherlands intoxicated her, right down to the houses “all the same color, laid out in rows like neat little cakes warm from the oven.” She could not imagine what the Dutch had to vote about, since everything seemed to work perfectly.

Ms. Hirsi Ali’s struggles to gain a toehold in her new country, and her perceptions of the West, told through innocent eyes, put flesh and blood on an immigrant story repeated countless times throughout Western Europe. Alienation, dislocation and the burden of too many choices warp the lives of people rooted in traditional societies based on clans and tribes. Ms. Hirsi Ali’s own sister, who joins her in the Netherlands, sinks into deep depression and psychosis.

Fluent in English, and determined to learn Dutch, the highly adaptable Ms. Hirsi Ali makes her way, first as a translator for various social services, then as a political researcher for the Labor Party, and eventually as a political candidate with uncomfortable views on Islam, immigration and assimilation.

Ms. Hirsi Ali, disturbed at the economic and social plight of Muslims, warned the Dutch that their liberal policy of helping immigrants create separate cultural and religious institutions was counterproductive. She deplored the crimes of violence against Muslim women committed daily in the Netherlands, to which the authorities turned a blind eye in the name of cultural understanding. After the 9/11 attacks, she was vocal in insisting that, despite well-meaning assurances to the contrary, there really was a meaningful link between the Muslim faith and terrorism.

“Holland was trying to be tolerant for the sake of consensus, but the consensus was empty,” she writes. “The immigrants’ culture was being preserved at the expense of their women and children and to the detriment of the immigrants’ integration into Holland.”

Ms. Hirsi Ali’s provocative comments on Islam and on the need for Muslim women to reject their traditionally submissive role (the subject of a short film she made with Mr. van Gogh) channeled mounting Muslim anger directly at her.

Death threats have since driven Ms. Hirsi Ali to the United States, where she has accepted a fellowship at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative research group.

This is a pity. As a politician, she focused Dutch minds on a subject they steadfastly ignored. In her brief career, she forced the government to keep statistics on honor killings, in which enraged family members murder sisters or daughters believed to have brought shame on the family or clan. Much to the surprise of the Dutch, it turned out that there were a lot of them. Unfortunately, Ms. Hirsi Ali is no longer in the Netherlands to point out these things.

   ***  ***

ALSO LISTEN to Laurie Goldstein’s Interview with Hirsi Ayaan ali in USA in 2006 = http://www.nytimes.com/packages/khtml/2007/02/03/weekinreview/20070204_ALI_AUDIOSS.html

ALSO consider

  • Alan Dupont; “ISIS as Fascist and Totalitarian,” 29 September 2014, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2014/09/29/isis-as fascist-and-totalitarina
  • Michael Roberts:  “Where Infighting generates Fervour and Power,”  21 July 2014, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2014/07/21/where-in-fighting-generates-fervour-power-isis-today-ltte-yesterda/

 

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Filed under accountability, authoritarian regimes, citizen journalism, cultural transmission, discrimination, heritage, historical interpretation, Islamic fundamentalism, life stories, literary achievements, plural society, politIcal discourse, power politics, press freedom & censorship, social justice, the imaginary and the real, unusual people, women in ethnic conflcits, world events & processes

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