Tuesday, December 9, 2008


I was browsing through "Not without my daughter" when I remembered having read a very interesting book called Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. I remember having heard of it due to the rather unfortunate killing of Theo van Gogh, the man who had the courage to make the movie "Submission" along with Ayaan Hirsi Ali. That sparked off an interest to see the movie and to read the book.

Born in Somalia, the daughter of a politician who opposed the Siad Barré dictatorship, Ayaan Hirsi Ali grew up with oppression. The accounts of violent retributions at the hands of her religious teacher make you cringe, her mother's obduracy in sticking to what she is familiar with and her unwillingness to look outside that frustrates you, her mother's frustration in dealing with a life she does not understand makes you feel sorry for her while wanting to shake her up, the sisters' reading of romantic novels just like other young girls anywhere makes you smile, her first attraction for a member of the male species and their hesitant fumblings make you want to hug her, her all encompassing embrace of Islam including the wearing of a shapeless black garment makes you want to shake her for allowing her thoughts and her fire die out, her dissapointment as she realises that the father that she revered as a rebel, a thinker did deem her opinion / wishes / desires important make your heart cry for her, her mother calling her a "filthy prostitute" makes you cringe, her fear and anticipation as she awaits asylum in Holland keeps you on tender hooks.

Her description of her genital mutilation is narrated matter-of-factly without stretching it, which makes it even more agonising. And this happens across Africa, and, is not specific to a religion. I had to put down the book twice, before I could pick it up and read any further, it felt so real and personal.

And, not for the first time while reading the book, I thanked God for my blessings!

A couple of questions that arise when you read the book relate to the detailed description of her childhood when she was barely 10 years old. The detail in which she describes it, makes you question the veracity of the events. Can a person remember such details of a childhood that she strives to forget and move on? And if she has filled in the blanks at some places, is it concievable that there may be exaggeration at some other places?

Yes, a lot has been said about her falsifying some of the information on her application seeking political asylum, but is that an inconceivable thought and is she the first person to have done it? Though I wish she hadn't criticised the same action by others subsequently.

Yes, she appears to talk only of an oppressed Islamic world and has invited the ire of the more liberal muslims, but the fact is that she will talk about only what she has been exposed to in the Islamic world. Could she be a little less all encompassing in her denouncement of Islam? Definatley.

Yes, she paints a very rosy picture of the Western world but can you blame her? Her only yardstick are her experiences in Somalia, Kenya, Nairobi and Saudi, which is what she uses for comparision. As an educated woman, having spent time in the Western world, being a politically active woman, does one expect a more objective viewpoint? Definately.

And finally, in the last two years, having read so many books about muslim women in muslim states and their stories, I wonder whether all of what she says is really so far away from the truth for some women? Do many of us, who live blessed lives (irrespective of our faith), prefer to gloss over the fact that life is not so rosy for many other women?

I guess there will be many opinions and viewpoints about the book, but I think its definately worth a read.

I am attaching the links to the movie "Submission" by Theo van Gogh. Worth seeing, if not for anything but just to see what caused the man to loose his life.

I can imagine that he may have offended religious sentiments courtesy Quranic verses being written on a naked body of a woman. I remember an instance in India when Hussein, a famous painter, had painted pictures of Hindu goddess and invited the fundamentalist's ire. I remember it surprising me, cos we are the land of the Kamasutra, and, Ajanta and Ellora. I guess fundamentalists are the same everywhere, irrespective of the religion!


Connie said...

In any religion, when the people are told to "do as we say, don't think for yourself, don't question" ... well, nothing but pain and corruption will follow.

Ever read Irshad Manji's blog? She may not have all the answers ,but she asks good questions. I think all the world religions could use more boat rockers like this lady.

Manisha said...

Connie, nope, have not read her, but thanks, shall def look it up.

Ferida said...

Hi Manisha,

I happen to know the story of Hirsi Ali from the Dutch perspective and it isn't just a lot that has been said about her stretching the truth in her book. She definitely stretched the truth when it came to so-called death threats, as the police of Leiden officially announced she had merely been "wasting their time."
There is however something much more pressing for me, both a Muslim as well as an academic who did actually study the Arab world and Islam, not just someone who wrote down her traumatic experiences and got a seat in the conservative right wing Dutch party for it. Although Ali's experience with female genital mutilation (FGM)cannot be denied, her generalizing this as "an Islamic custom" is simply incorrect.
It has been pointed out so many times, I cannot understand how people still do not know this. FGM is a practice that dates back to Pharaonic times and it is until today the custom of all countries of the Nile Valley and then onwards into Africa. It can be found there among all peoples, regardless of their religion. In Egypt, the Copts believe just as firmly in the benefits of FGM as the Muslims.
But, if you would go looking for a woman who suffered FGM in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Palestine and even the Gulf, you will have a hard time. It is not normal there, in fact, most people do not even know what it is.
This misconception is only one of the many Hirsi Ali sent into the world and popularized. Her knowledge of Islam is insufficient and biased. Her personal experience is tragic, if all of it is even true, because even that is subject to doubt, by the way. And this too can be considered very very negligent, because all other women who have come forward with their stories of FGM are now identified with her, even though they are obviously not media attention seekers.

All and all, I would personally never recommend her works to anyone. But that's just my choice.

Nice blog, though, thumbs up.

Anonymous said...

This video is sick, and humanly would be in any religion and society. By taking one part of something obviously you can't understand the whole concept of a religion. If you took one paragraph of the bible, you couldn't undrstand it and you would judge it wrongfully. This video is saying that in islam beating the woman, raping the woman, and abuse is ok? Noway, it's not. Just like any place in the world, there are sick people.I feel sorry for people who actually believe in this.