This is a book about survival against all odds. On nearly every page of the book a story is told that makes you wonder, “How is this woman still alive?” The book is the incredible autobiography of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somalian woman who escaped her family, clan, culture, and religion in search of freedom.
Let me say at the top that I highly recommend this book for several reasons. First, it provides a view of clan culture in East Africa that for me at least was new, informative, and enlightening. Second, it helps you understand the ways in which Islam works itself out in different cultures, the political ideology the religion demands, and the manner in which the theological system and traditions that have built up over centuries regard people, girls and women in particular, and life itself.
Third, the book is simply compelling. It’s different, relates familial or religious practices that are astounding for their disparagement of human life and individual value, and provides a social analysis at once winsome and courageous. Fourth, the author Ali was always smart but is by now a well-educated woman who can write. I’d even say gifted as a writer. I was hooked in the first few pages. Fifth, Ali is a political scientist by education and profession so her political and cultural analysis is as good as any you’ll find dealing with the topics she addresses.
Ali made her escape from Germany by taking a train to Holland where she found a kind people and a welfare state especially prepared to receive and nurture a scared but strong Somali woman who wanted nothing but to be independent, to live freely. She made this bold run for freedom at 22 years of age after her father had arranged a marriage for her with a Somali man living in Canada, a man she did not choose. Her father had put her on a jet to Canada but she bailed during her layover in Germany.
The book relates with amazing memory formative events from her childhood spent in Somalia, Saudi Arabia, and Kenya. She describes her religious odyssey, one that eventually saw her reject Islam and embrace atheism. (Ali at least in this book is not an “angry atheist” and she does not attack Christianity. She simply no longer believes in God or an afterlife.) She speaks knowledgeably and movingly about female genital mutilation—which she endured, the sexual paranoia of her religion and culture, and her later experiences with love and sexual maturity. And she shares her feelings and concerns for family members who, though often hateful and abusive, she still loves.
Eventually, through what can only be described as a process of pluck and passion she becomes an elected Member of Parliament in the Netherlands, makes a controversial short film (Submission, Part 1) with a Dutch producer about the plight of women under Islam, loses her Dutch citizenship only to have it restored, and finally immigrates to America.
In the meantime, the Dutch producer is brutally killed on a Holland sidewalk by an Islamist murderer who leaves a note pinioned to the dead man’s chest with a knife, a note to Ali. She then becomes the focus of Islamist assassins and now requires constant security likely for the remainder of her life. As a result of all this she becomes a personality lauded worldwide for her beliefs and actions in support of freeing women and girls from religious suppression.
Ali is especially articulate and passionate about multiculturalism, which she believes allows cultures to perpetuate evil in the name of moral relativism. She believes most European countries have made a huge mistake in adopting a multiculturalist attitude toward immigrants, which she contends delays their assimilation and adoption of the new language and new values in their new homeland. This, she says, perpetuates poverty, isolation, ignorance, and suppression of creativity and independence in women, thus denying the economy productivity it and the immigrant group could enjoy.
As I said, I highly recommend this book because it is well written and because I believe Ali offers so many sagacious lessons. The West would do well to listen and to learn.
© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2012
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