AUTOBIOGRAPHY AND MEMOIRS: Infidel

Article excerpt

Infidel, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. New York: Free Press, 2007. xii + 354 pages. $26.

Reviewed by Wolfgang G. Schwanitz

Ayaan Hirsi Ali's radical critique on Islam was a wake up call in die Nedierlands that culminated in the murder of the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh in 2004. Two years later, the author came to the United States, where she is pursuing research at the American Enterprise Institute. In her latest book, Infidel, a New York Times bestseller, she explains how this all happened.

But this book is more than an autobiography. It reflects contents and structures of civilizations. This illuminates her unique life. Born in 1969 in Mogadishu, Somalia, she experienced harsh turns from nationalism to Islamism during time she spent in Nairobi, Kenya; Jedda, Saudi Arabia; and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Just nine years before her birth, during the Year of Africa, a clutch of European colonies attained their independence. Yet, in a number of these cases, military rulers seized power. In her home country, Somalia, the dictator Siad Barré embraced communist ideology, thereby provoking an Islamist backlash by the tribes. Thus, the tribes protected the male order against socialist experiments.

Hirsi Ali's own clan went through this. At first, she was inspired by the liberal Islam of her father, who had studied at Columbia University. Later, having been exposed to Wahhabism, which her mother had adopted in Jedda, Hirsi Ali became a Muslim Brotherhood activist. But as a teenager, Hirsi Ali failed to find ready answers to questions such as why a married woman has to be submissive to her husband and why her words count for only half of his in a court of law. Hirsi Ali's restless mind, touched by English literature and Hollywood, was too developed to submit to the life of a Caged Virgin (the title of her previous book).

As she was to be married to a Canadian Somali against her will, Hirsi Ali fled from Africa to Europe. To obtain asylum in the Netherlands, she altered slightly the story of her past. Thereafter, she worked and studied political science at the University of Leiden. She learned, among other things, about how married couples can and do live as equals.

The author discusses how the native Dutch and immigrants interacted. She observes that Muslim immigrants, though regarding themselves as superior to their infidel counterparts, nonetheless struggled and often failed in their daily lives. Some who were unable to cope with the daily load of work and with integration simply withdrew - leading lives of indolence and dependency, playing upon Europeans' guilt, and relying upon allegations of "racism" to extract what they wanted. …