INFIDEL is a remarkable story of a girl born in Somalia in late 1969, who sought asylum in Holland in 1992 to escape a family-planned marriage, became well-known for speaking out against commonplace atrocities committed against Muslim women in the name of Allah, and became a Liberal Party member of the Dutch Parliament. It is not primarily a story of a rise from abject poverty; her father was from a dominant Somalian clan and actually led a resistance movement against the current Somalian strongman. However, for the 1970s, the material circumstances of her childhood were crude and backwards. But this is a story of the deleterious impacts of the all-consuming presence of religion, that is Islam, in her life and the dominance of clan traditions, which were aligned with religious demands. The sheer inhumanity countenanced by Islam, including the subjugation of women and the advocacy of killing non-believers, forced Ali to realize that she could no longer accept the religion of her youth.
The first half of the book follows Ali as she lives in Somalia, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, and mostly Kenya. Muslims were a minority in Kenya, but her family rigorously complied with Muslim practices including the most heinous of them, female mutilation. Held down, her female parts were excised by scissors and then she was sewn shut – now she was “pure.” She did attend religious-based schools and a secretarial school. She was clandestinely married at one point for days; her husband left, but not until a nightmarish wedding night. The first part of the book does get bogged down in recounting numerous indignities and religious practices, involving too many people to remember, and the harsh restrictions of her temper-prone mother.
The story begins in earnest when Ali in 1992 diverts from Germany, where she was supposedly waiting for a visa to join her family-selected husband in Canada, to Holland and asks for political asylum as a Somalian refugee. Holland was an absolute shock to Ali. Never had she seen such order and efficiency both in the infrastructure and in the people. Here was a state that actually had the capacity and willingness to assist those in need. Authorities in her previous life were to be feared regardless of source: family, religion, or government. Acquiring asylum status, she was given housing and benefits. With no small effort on her part, she completed several levels of schooling which eventuated in her receiving a Masters Degree in political science from the prestigious University of Leiden in 2000. During that time she also worked as a translator in any number of social situations. She became increasingly aware of the vulnerable status of Muslim women even in enlightened Holland: beatings, mutilation, and even “honor” killings. She also had to contend with her beloved younger sister who she was trying to help regain her mental health; but the trauma of her harsh childhood proved to be too much – one of many Muslim girls so affected.
Her first job out of college as a researcher for the social-democratic Labor Party propelled her into the public arena. Her attendance and speaking out at public forums and her writings gained her a reputation as an advocate for Muslim women. She eventually was elected to Parliament on the Liberal Party ticket in 2003. It was also at this time that she made a quite controversial short film with noted Dutch film producer Theo Van Gough which dramatized the female brutality condoned by Islam. The venom unleashed in some elements of the Muslim community were so profound that Van Gough was assassinated on the streets of Amsterdam in 2004 and she had to go into deep hiding under the control of the Dutch state security police.
Beyond Ali’s academic achievements and public roles, the last part of the book consists of her reflections on the contradictions and hypocrisies of Islam and the faulty thinking of the Dutch state in accommodating Islam. As Ali points out repeatedly, Islam is fundamentally not a religion based on kindness, tolerance, reason, growth of individuals, or other widely held ideas about what is best for societies. It is all right there in Quran. It is male-dominated; she wonders how a supposedly universal religion could write off half of the human race. Women in Islam are nonentities. This is the situation that the Dutch state is accepting when it permits separate Muslim institutions. The multicultural mantra is used as a shield by the Muslim community. In her opinion, their religious-based cruelties can and do proceed without restriction.
Ali had to resign her seat in Parliament in 2006 when her notoriety almost cost her Dutch citizenship. But she remains an advocate for ending religion-based schooling in Holland, as well the end of the brutalities perpetrated against women under a religious shield. She also has called for restricted immigration of Muslims, fearing their potential dominance of Dutch politics. She is not optimistic that Muslims in any significant numbers can ever free themselves from their cage and reject the extremism of Islam.
Ali is now an atheist. She came to that point through having to live through the immense absurdities of Islam. She does not however tackle the greater issue of whether all religions should be similarly viewed and rejected. The mayhem and cruelties perpetrated under Western religions have been quite massive through the centuries. Why should they get a free ride? Interestingly, Ali took a position with the conservative American Enterprise Institute in 2006, which is fairly consistent with her emphasis on the exercise of free choice. One can wonder whether she fully appreciates the rejection by the AEI of the welfare state; such a state gave her a second chance in life with almost no hesitation.
The book is interesting – what a remarkable person. But like most memoirs it is tedious, repetitious, and selective in what is included and emphasized. Her childhood years go on interminably. However, her adult life is far more important and fascinating. Thousands of more voices like hers might make inroads in the notion that religions are peaceful and further all of mankind – an idea that is demonstrably false.
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