Ayaan Hirsi Ali was born Somali. After what most of us in the Western world would consider an almost impossible childhood (a childhood that included some horrific experiences which seem fairly standard for a young Muslim girl living in a Muslim state), at age 22 she was married off (unwilling) to a Somali man living in Canada. Rather than going to join him there as she was supposed to (she was in Germany at the time waiting for her Canadian visa to come through) she slipped across the border into the Netherlands and sought refugee status. It was approved, and she lived in Holland for a number of years, eventually becoming a Dutch citizen, getting a degree from the University of Leiden, and becoming a member of Parliament. She became very vocal about the treatment of Muslim women, and how Dutch society with its belief in multiculturalism was allowing the same activities practised in Muslim countries (female genital excision, forced marriage, sanctioned beatings, etc.) to take hold in Holland. Together with Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh she made a short film about Muslim women and their relation with Allah; two months after the film aired in 2004, van Gogh was murdered by a Muslim man, and Hirsi Ali began living under round-the-clock police guard. Eventually the Dutch Integration Minister Rita Verdonk decided that because Hirsi Ali had lied in making her original claim for asylum, her Dutch citizenship was invalid. This led to a huge uproar (there was a lot of coverage in the Financial Times and, I would assume, other European newspapers), and eventually Verdonk was given the choice of reversing her decision or resigning from the government herself. By this time, though, Hirsi Ali had decided to leave Holland and go to the U.S., where she'd been offered a position with a conservative Washington think tank (the American Enterprise Institute). She's been here in the U.S. about six months now, I think.
Hirsi Ali is only 38 years old. Her story is a remarkable one, and this is a serious book that I recommend highly. I'm amazed at what she's managed to accomplish, against all odds. Still, I find myself a little less happy about her than I was when all I knew of her story was what I was reading in the newspapers. There's just the tiniest whiff of self-righteousness and entitlement in her story (lying and breaking the rules are fine if they advance a personal agenda, and it's enough to say you're sorry; there shouldn't be any real consequences), and the fact that she ended up in Bush Washington at a conservative think tank frankly appals me. I wish she'd taken a different path once she decided to resign from the Dutch Parliament and leave Holland. If she'd had enough of politics, there were other things she could have done to continue advancing the cause of Muslim women and, indeed, oppressed communities in general. But that's a personal view that has nothing to do with the book.
Go read. And think.
(And I promise to hold off on reading and talking about the biography of Pol Pot for awhile.)