Thursday, September 2, 2010

Review: Infidel, by Ayan Hirsi Ali

This one of many books I'm reading on my Kindle

Infidel is the book I’ve most recommended to family/friends in recent times. Ayaan Hirsi Ali was born in Somalia and raised a devout Muslim. She fled an arranged marriage (and probable honor killing) to the West, and denounced Islam. She became a member of the Dutch parliament, but had to flee the country after the producer of her film criticizing Islam was murdered, with a note attached to his chest addressed to Ayaan. She is now the leading critic of Islam. Her writing is compelling, and the most original thing you’ll read on the subject.

I love watching her on video. She’s quiet and humble – right up to moment where she savages the interviewer with her superior intellect and arguments.

Her book has two points. The first is that it describes her early life and what it’s really like to grow up under Islam. Frankly, all sides of the argument are bigoted in America. There is no difference between the left-wing who claims that Islam is a religion of peace, and the right wing who claims all Muslims are violent. Both are totally ignorant of what Islam really is. What Ayaan teaches us in her book is that Muslims are more nuanced than that. Her book is awesome in the way that it teaches us to see that Muslims are people, and that they share the same good and bad traits as any other people.

We see, for example, that her grandmother is stern, but in her own way, a loving caregiver that wants what’s best for her granddaughter. Which is why she pins the young 9 year old Ayaan to ground and cuts of her clitoris, according to the age-old practice to make sure women are kept pure until marriage.

Which leads to the second point of her book: there is something wrong with Islam. She describes her journey settling in a Western country, seeing that everything she was taught about the West was wrong. In particular, she is forced to confront the fact that the West is peaceful, prosperous, and happy, unlike Islamic country. Her tail in the second half of the book is finding the reason why.

Her answer is simply this: the West went through the Enlightenment.

We in the West grew up with the Enlightenment, but we have lost our way. We no longer know precisely what it is. We don’t stand up for the principles of the Enlightenment. While Ayaan is known as a fierce critic of Islam and a champion of women’s rights, I think she is also the most interesting champion for the ideals of the Enlightenment.

The point of her book is this: Islam is also a political ideology. While Bush and Obama claim we are not at war with Islam, Ayaan says we are. While we aren’t at war with the religion, we are at war with the un-enlightened political ideology side of Islam. While we might not think we are at war with Islam, Muslims certainly think they are at war with us.


You should read this book because it will help you see Muslims as people, not just things.

You should read this book as one of the most interesting descriptions of Enlightenment.

You should read this book because the conflict between the Enlightened West and Islam has become the new Cold War, and this is the most important guide to that Cold War.

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