Synopses & Reviews
One of today's most admired and controversial political figures, Ayaan Hirsi Ali burst into international headlines following an Islamist's murder of her colleague, Theo van Gogh, with whom she made the movie Submission
Infidel is the eagerly awaited story of the coming of age of this elegant, distinguished and sometimes reviled political superstar and champion of free speech. With a gimlet eye and measured, often ironic, voice, Hirsi Ali recounts the evolution of her beliefs, her ironclad will, and her extraordinary resolve to fight injustice done in the name of religion. Raised in a strict Muslim family and extended clan, Hirsi Ali survived civil war, female mutilation, brutal beatings, adolescence as a devout believer during the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, and life in four troubled, unstable countries largely ruled by despots. In her early twenties, she escaped from a forced marriage and sought asylum in the Netherlands, where she earned a college degree in political science, tried to help her tragically depressed sister adjust to the West, and fought for the rights of Muslim immigrant women and the reform of Islam as a member of Parliament. Even though she is under constant threat demonized by reactionary Islamists and politicians, disowned by her father, and expelled from her family and clan she refuses to be silenced.
Ultimately a celebration of triumph over adversity, Hirsi Ali's story tells how a bright little girl evolved out of dutiful obedience to become an outspoken, pioneering freedom fighter. As Western governments struggle to balance democratic ideals with religious pressures, no story could be timelier or more significant.
"Ms. Hirsi Ali's struggles to gain a toehold in her new country, and her perceptions of the West, told through innocent eyes, put flesh and blood on an immigrant story repeated countless times throughout Western Europe." William Grimes, New York Times
"While often horrifying and heartbreaking, Infidel is an ultimately inspiring story of defiance, resilience and truth-seeking." Miami Herald
"[A]t its core, her story is about a crisis of faith, and her compelling account of her transfiguration offers a glint of hope that, like Christianity before it, Islam may be brought to its senses by legions of incensed apostates." San Diego Union-Tribune
"[T]he book reads like a...coming-of-age novel except that a Muslim girl from Mogadishu was never supposed to develop a sense of 'self' in the first place." Wall Street Journal
"A charismatic figure...of arresting and hypnotizing beauty...[who writes] with quite astonishing humor and restraint." Christopher Hitchens
The author of The Caged Virgin recounts the story of her life, from her traditional Muslim childhood in Somalia and escape from a forced marriage to her efforts to promote women's rights while surviving numerous threats to her safety. 75,000 first printing.
In this profoundly affecting memoir from the internationally renowned author of The Caged Virgin, Ayaan Hirsi Ali tells her life story, from her traditional Muslim childhood in Somalia to her intellectual awakening in the Netherlands to her life under armed guard in the West.
Table of Contents
Bloodlines -- Under the Talal tree -- Playing tag in Allah's Palace -- Weeping orphans and widowed wives -- Secret rendezvous, sex, and the scent of Sukumawiki -- Doubt and defiance -- Disillusion and deceit -- Refugees -- Abeh -- Running away -- A trial by the Elders -- Haweya -- Leiden -- Leaving God -- Threats -- Politics -- The murder of Theo -- Epilogue: the letter of the law.
Reading Group Guide
1. Hirsi Ali tells us that this book is "the story of what I have experienced, what I have seen, and why I think the way I do" (page xii). Which experiences does she highlight as being integral to forming her current views on Islam?
2. "No eyes silently accused me of being a whore. No lecherous men called me to bed with them. No Brotherhood members threatened me with hellfire. I felt safe; I could follow my curiosity" (page 185). This passage refers to Hirsi Ali's initial impression of walking the streets in Germany. What other significant differences between the West and Islamic Africa did she observe during her first days in Europe? Upon arriving in Holland, what were her initial impressions of the Dutch people and the Dutch government? Did these change significantly as she lived there
3. How did Hirsi Ali's immigration experience and integration into Dutch society differ from those of other Somalians?
4. Discuss the differences that Hirsi Ali noticed between raising children in Muslim countries and raising children in the West. In particular, what did she notice about Johanna's parenting? How were Muslim parents different from Dutch parents in their instructions to their children on the playground? (see page 245).
5. In Hirsi Ali's words, "a Muslim girl does not make her own decisions or seek control. She is trained to be docile. If you are a Muslim girl, you disappear, until there is almost no you inside you" (page 94). How do the three generations of women in Hirsi Ali's family differ in their willingness to "submit" to this doctrine?
6. As seen through Hirsi Ali's eyes, what factors contributed to Haweya's death? How might members of her family describe events differently?
7. Although Hirsi Ali mostly refrains from criticizing her father, she publishes the personal letter he wrote her upon her divorce. Why do you think she included this letter? Were you surprised by any other intimate details of her life that she revealed in the book?
8. The events of September 11th caused Hirsi Ali to reread sections of the Quran and to evaluate the role of violence in Islam. Consequently, her interpretation of September 11th differs from those around her. What doe she conclude? Do you agree with her analysis?
9. On page 295, Hirsi Ali lists the three goals she wished to accomplish by joining Parliament. By the book's end has she accomplished all three? How did her views of the Dutch government change over time?
10. Examine Hirsi Ali's relationship with her brother. How did Mahad's and Abeh's reactions to her political work differ?
11. Throughout her political career, Hirsi Ali has made several bold statements challenging the Muslim world. In your opinion, were these declarations worth the risk?
12. Has this book changed the way you view Islam? According to Hirsi Ali, is Islam compatible with Western values and culture? Do you agree with her?
Enhancing Your Book Club
1. Visit the website for the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, the Washington D.C. think tank that Hirsi Ali joined upon leaving Holland. Take a look at the articles that Hirsi Ali has posted, and bring one to share. The website is located at www.aei.org.
2. Go to www.youtube.com to watch a version of Theo van Gogh and Hirsi Ali's film, Submission: Part One.
3. Research the Quran before your group meeting and choose a passage to examine together.
4. Take a look on the web for Hirsi Ali's most recent statements about freedom of speech, women's rights, or religion in schools. (For example, in April 2006 she publicly stated her support of the Danish cartoonists' rights to publish images of Muhammad.) Bring in a copy of any interviews you find and share with your group.