July 28, 2007
Checking Out InfidelBy Gerald McOscar
Checking out Infidel from the local library was no easy task. Infidel is Ayaan Hirsi Ali's best-selling autobiography-cum-political manifesto about growing up female in the Muslim faith.
Last February, six people were ahead of me in line. When I decided to read it again in May the line had grown to 38. Great! If it were up to me, Infidel would be required reading for every adult in America, especially those who continue to harbor any illusions about the true nature of Islam. Infidel is an important and powerful book.
In Part I, Hirsi Ali recalls her coming of age against a teeming backdrop of primitive, tribal- riven, despotic societies that have changed little in over a thousand years.
She was born in 1969 in Mogadishu, Somalia to a proud "graceful" mother and a "bold, learned" Columbia University-educated father who was imprisoned for a time after she was born by the hated Siad Barre regime. He escaped to Ethiopia when she was about 5, to lead the Somali opposition to the Barre dictatorship.
Her typical childhood of home, school and play was lived amid conditions unimaginable to most Westerners.
Take for example this spine-chilling encounter outside their home one evening, between her grandmother and several of Barre's feared special guards. Hirsi Ali ran into the house and watched in terror as her grandmother called one of the soldiers a coward while jabbing him with a sharp weaving needle, unmindful of several of his armed companions standing nearby. Pushing the old woman to the ground, the soldiers then ransacked their home. Hirsi Ali records the incident with the cool detachment of a seasoned reporter.
Her graphic description of female genital mutilation shocks 21st century Western sensibilities. In Somalia, virtually every girl, typically around the age of 5, have their genitals cut out. Immans encourage this barbaric practice because it keeps girls "pure."
By age 10, Hirsi Ali had endured civil war, brutal beatings and female mutilation in three failed political systems. Later as an adolescent in Kenya, she became a devout member of the Muslim Brotherhood, a fundamentalist Islamic group formed in Egypt in 1928.
She describes Mogadishu as a "police state...which rations people into hunger and bombed them into obedience " and deplores "the strict Islamic law in Saudi Arabia which treated women like animals, with no rights or recourse."
Part II is appropriately titled "My Freedom." In 1992, at age 22, her family arranged her marriage to a distant relative in Canada. In a March Wall Street Journal interview, she reports that had the marriage ensued, it would have been "an arranged rape." While staying in Germany awaiting the visa that would seal her fate, she sought asylum... and found freedom... in Holland. Over the next 10 years she earned a college degree, was elected to the Dutch Parliament and evolved into an outspoken advocate for Muslim women's rights and fearless critic of Islam.
In 2004, she wrote the script for "Submission," a film critical of Islam and of passages from the Quran that she contends authorize violence against women.
At the end of 2004, Theo Van Gogh, the film's director, was ritually murdered by a Dutch-born Islamist extremist in broad daylight in downtown Amsterdam. A letter attached to a knife impaled to his body read; "I know for sure that you, Hirsi Ali, will go down."
Persistent death threats prompted her to move to the U.S. in 2006.
But death threats haven't silenced her. She writes that the message of Infidel, "if it must have a message," is that we in the West would be wrong to elevate "cultures full of bigotry and hatred toward women to the stature of respectable alternative ways of life."
She believes that the values of the West, freedom of expression, freedom of inquiry, tolerance and equality, are "simply better" than the world of tyranny, cruelty, poverty and tribalism into which she was born.
In the Wall Street Journal interview, she argues that fanaticism is intrinsic in Islam itself. In the epilogue to Infidel she cautions that
Do yourself a favor, check it out.