By Alexandra Wells
ArtsPost Staff Writer
Having all your life’s decisions made by the male head of a family is unimaginable to many Western women. However, this is the way that some Muslim women in the Middle East are raised, it is then “normal.” One woman who grew up in this climate is Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who tells a unique tale in her memoir, “Infidel.”
Ali explains herself as a woman who went from quietly submitting her will in Saudi Arabia to loudly announcing her thoughts in Dutch politics. She opens with a scene of herself at age 5, sitting on a grass mat in Somalia with her grandmother, and reciting her ancestry, “I am Ayaan, the daughter of Hirsi, the son of Magan.” As she falters for a second, her grandmother quickly speaks up to the nervous Ali, telling her, “If you dishonor him you will be forsaken. You will be nothing…”
The autobiography is extremely touching, a gripping read that is hard to put down. Ali uses descriptive prose to describe dire situations: her escape of an arranged marriage, the numerous death threats she received after her co-production of a controversial film and her atrocious beatings and female mutilation as a child. She manages to step back from the situation at hand and discuss the roots of her problems.
Many times when people are physically and emotionally downtrodden, they choose to curl up and ignore the outside world. In Ali’s case, she did the exact opposite and decided to help bring freedom to other oppressed women around the globe. Her political and religious positions are extremely liberal, especially for a female coming from a Muslim background, and for this she has suffered but not given up.
Her father disowned her when she chose to stay in the Netherlands and earn her degree in political science. Fundamental Islamists sent her death threats and tried to tarnish her public image. Ali however, has remained stalwartly committed to her cause of women’s rights, her voice bold. Her current method of reforming free speech for women in Muslim countries is through her election to the Netherlands’ House of Parliament, where she serves as a Representative.
She does not try to make herself out to be innocent or angelic and she recognizes that she had to be selfish in order to make it to where she is today. A sense of regret in hurting her strict Muslim family comes through during her recollection of childhood, but she does not waiver in her decision to fight religious injustice, which directed primarily towards women. She is truly resilient, springing back into action when it looks as if all the doors in her life are closed to her.
Seeing Ali’s thoughts turn from basic religious submission to questioning the dogma is an out of the ordinary change, but the true transformation in her life comes about when she begins to turn her thoughts into actions. Her deep sense of right and wrong, coupled with a curiosity and intelligence, allow Ali to learn from her life lessons rather becoming bitter and resentful. Sheer courage emanates from her pages, as she concludes her book saying, “Even with bodyguards and death threats I feel privileged to be alive and free.”