In this profoundly affecting memoir from the internationally renowned author of “The Caged Virgin, ” Ayaan Hirsi Ali tells her astonishing life story, from her traditional Muslim childhood in Somalia, Saudi Arabia, and Kenya, to her intellectual awakening and activism in the Netherlands, and her current life under armed guard in the West. One of today’s most admired and controversial political figures, Ayaan Hirsi Ali burst into international headlines following an Islamist’s murder of her colleague, Theo van Gogh, with whom she made the movie “Submission.”
“Infidel” is the eagerly awaited story of the coming of age of this elegant, distinguished — and sometimes reviled — political superstar and champion of free speech. With a gimlet eye and measured, often ironic, voice, Hirsi Ali recounts the evolution of her beliefs, her ironclad will, and her extraordinary resolve to fight injustice done in the name of religion. Raised in a strict Muslim family and extended clan, 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 largely ruled by despots. In her early twenties, 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 immigrant women and the reform of Islam as a member of Parliament. Even though she is under constant threat — demonized by reactionary Islamists and politicians, disowned by her father, and expelled from her 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 evolved out of dutiful obedience to become an outspoken, pioneering freedom fighter. As Western governments struggle to balance democratic ideals with religious pressures, no story could be timelier or more significant.
I’ve never reviewed a memoir or any other autobiography so I’m not sure how to properly critique this novel. So what I’m going to do is discuss how the themes Ayaan Hirsi Ali explored made me feel. I am ashamed to say that I had never heard of Ayaan Hirsi Ali until reading this book but I wish I had. She is an incredible person with a powerful story to tell.
Ali’s life by itself is an incredible description of many lives throughout the African continent; from the way women are treated to the severe corporal punishment that children face. It was clear that she was speaking from a level honesty that I’ve yet to read. I also thoroughly enjoyed the manner in which she talked about life. There was a lot of animosity that was quite palpable many times throughout the novel, animosity that I felt was well deserved. But, there was also a certain level of respect that she gave to those who had clearly hurt her and she clearly conveyed the initial feelings of love or like before conveying animosity. There was a progression of feelings just as much as their was a progression of her life.
The biggest issue that Ali discusses is religion and the numerous terrible things that people have done in its name. Specifically, those done in the name of Islam. It is clear that Ali does not hate religion but she is also not afraid to say that there is so much that she disagrees with. I had so much respect for the stance she took and for the very clear evidence she brought to the table. And more importantly, I respect the fact that instead of simply talking about it, she has gone through steps to bring awareness to the changes she wants to see. She has been active in government and she has practically forced people to pay attention to her.
There are also a number of smaller themes and issues that Ali mentions throughout her memoir. Another that really stuck out to me was the treatment of children within families. Especially the pressures of women to follow certain guidelines that her parents set for her and, if ignored, would result in complete shunning by her family. This goes beyond women being expected to be “pretty” or “thin”, the expectation in many societies is that women will get married to the man of her parents choosing and will stand beside them regardless of the things they do. Ali made it clear that this practice upset her, that she would not stand for a society that treated women like they were any less than a person with a brain.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali wrote an incredible memoir, illustrating a life that is inspirational and motivating. She shows clearly how her life has shaped her into the strong-willed woman she is today but also how much life has made her weak in some areas. I’d recommend this read to everyone who wants to read about someone who has tried to install change but may not be recognized by everyone. She is truly a phenomenal person, one who I have a great deal of admiration for.