Infidel, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
I recently found this book on the living room bookshelves, one I soon learned the missus had read for her book discussion group. I was familiar with this woman’s role in Dutch Parliament, her stand against the worst acts Islam has committed against the human condition, but this book was been a revelation.
Ayaan (I’ll use that name so as not to confuse regarding her many-tiered family names) grew up in Somalia under the tutelage of two strong, severe women – her mother and grandmother. In that African tribal culture of Islam, Ayaan contends, men are given carte blanche to wear anything, do most anything, while the women are constantly beaten, are subjugated in every way imaginable. One of the most poignant passages of the book has to do with the childhood circumcision of Ayaan and her sister, Haweya. Various female tissues are cut away, without the use of pain medication or anesthesia, and the vagina sewn shut with only a tine aperture allowing urine to exit. When the women marry, it’s necessary for their men to enter forcibly. Again a painful process for women.
Ayaan’s family moves constantly, trying to escape the growing tribal feuds, trying to find work, trying to find a place of physical and emotional refuge for the women. Sadly, the cultural practices follow them, as Ayaan discovered when she sought refuge in the Netherlands. There, she questioned her faith; consequently, death threats dogged her, and the Dutch government had to provide security for her.
Her move away from Islam was obviously the reason for the book’s name, but there seems as well a larger umbrella for that title. In the Netherlands, Ayaan found it necessary to defend sexual as well as gender freedom, and to stand forthrightly for women’s rights worldwide.
The book is written, as most memoirs are, in a conversational voice. For a Somali for whom English is at least a third or fourth language, it’s hard to criticize her diction or writing style. Still, that voice is remarkably strong and resilient, as is the woman herself. This book will educate you from the inside about African culture, about the repression of women under that version of Islam, all in the voice of a woman who has been there.
My rating: 16 of 20 stars