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Book report

Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

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.)



( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 24th, 2007 09:09 pm (UTC)
I think I read a critic of the book in The Economist - they seem to think she's overdoing her case. Apparently she had a very liberal upbringing (against which she first rebelled by acting like an integrist muslim) and it doesn't quite correspond to what she says about it. I don't really know what to think, and I can't help but ask why she lied when she sought asylum in the Netherlands.
Apr. 24th, 2007 10:25 pm (UTC)
I suppose "liberal" is a relative term. And yes, she did just what you said as a schoolgirl. As to the lying to gain refugee status, apparently it was common practice, and talking about persecution in war-torn Somalia sounded a little better than just saying she didn't want to go to Canada to consummate an arranged marriage. Still, if what she says in the book is true, once she was given asylum, she didn't ever hide the fact that she'd originally lied. It just seems that no one particularly cared until she became so very high-profile after Theo's murder, and then there was this ham-fisted attempt to get rid of her. What the book doesn't say (or speculate on) is whether Verdonk initiated things or whether she was just following instructions from higher up.
Apr. 25th, 2007 09:40 pm (UTC)
According to some, the marriage wasn't forced, but I suppose that could be a relative concept. But from knowing people that I do, I would say that the family life she lead, that is 'liberal', would have been like any sort of well-off family in North America... liberal, but with certain obligations based on status. I don't know, could just be reading things into it.
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 24th, 2007 10:38 pm (UTC)
Did you watch any of last week's "America at a Crossroads" series on PBS? Hirsi Ali appeared briefly in one of the Thursday night episodes.

Pol Pot? Yep. Hey, what can I say? Every once in a while I remember I've got a degree in history....
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )