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Bookmarks Issue: 
28-May-June-2007
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A-InfidelIn 2004, Ayaan Hirsi Ali collaborated with Theo van Gogh on a short film about the mistreatment of Muslim women. Shortly after it was broadcast on Dutch television, Van Gogh was assassinated by a Muslim radical (a story told in Ian Buruma’s Murder in Amsterdam, 3 of 5 Stars Jan/Feb 2007)—and Hirsi Ali started to receive death threats. Infidel recounts her journey "from the world of faith to the world of reason." She chronicles her traditional Muslim upbringing in Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, and Kenya; her genital mutilation; her questions over her faith; and the forced marriage from which she escaped. When she arrived in the Netherlands in 1992, she sought asylum and began to champion the rights of Muslim women. Briefly, Hirsi Ali was a member of the Dutch parliament until a dispute arose over her citizenship. Today, she is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington—and is still an outspoken critic of her faith.
Free Press. 353 pages. $26. ISBN: 0743289684

Washington Post 4.5 of 5 Stars
"In the tradition of Frederick Douglass or even John Stuart Mill, Infidel describes a unique intellectual journey, from the tribal customs of Hirsi Ali’s Somali childhood, through the harsh fundamentalism of Saudi Arabia and into the contemporary West. Along the way, Hirsi Ali displays what surely must be her greatest gift: the talent for recalling, describing and honestly analyzing the precise state of her feelings at each stage of that journey." Anne Applebaum

Miami Herald 4 of 5 Stars
"Throughout this astonishing book, [Hirsi] Ali’s prose is precise, vivid and disturbing. … While often horrifying and heartbreaking, Infidel is an ultimately inspiring story of defiance, resilience and truth-seeking." Ranen Omer-Sherman

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"The circuitous, violence-filled path that led Ms. Hirsi Ali from Somalia to the Netherlands is the subject of Infidel, her brave, inspiring and beautifully written memoir. Narrated in clear, vigorous prose, it traces the author’s geographical journey from Mogadishu to Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Kenya, and her desperate flight to the Netherlands to escape an arranged marriage." William Grimes

San Diego Union-Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"Hirsi Ali’s life, and her hypnotic new memoir, span many of today’s global flashpoints: African instability, Arab fury, the plight of refugees, and the rights of women to attain equality or to shun it. But at 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." Kate Callen

Wall Street Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"Anecdotal and somewhat self-conscious, the book reads like a Bildungsroman, 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. … As Infidel makes clear, Ms. Hirsi Ali plans to keep asking questions that many do not want to hear." Luuk van Middelaar

Critical Summary

Although Ayaan Hirsi Ali remains Public Enemy #1 for radical Muslims, she refuses to be silenced. In this captivating memoir—an act of courage itself—she shares the evolution of her values, beliefs, and identity, all propelled by an urgent mission to educate Western countries about the bigotries of other nations. Set against a terrifying geopolitical landscape of African wars and Muslim fundamentalism, Hirsi Ali addresses timely topics: the plight of refugees and women; the Muslim clan system; forced marriage; political asylum; and, perhaps most significantly, her own personal religious crisis. Written in descriptive, clear prose, Infidel, with its radical feminist criticism of Islam, offers a disturbing view of the modern world—and inspired every critic who read it.