Enlightenment versus Oppression
AEI Newsletter

In February, Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s memoir Infidel was released in the United States. A bestseller across Europe, Infidel is the story of her journey from growing up as a Muslim in the upheaval of east Africa to becoming a prominent member of the Dutch parliament and a campaigner for women’s rights.

As her family moved from Somalia to Saudi Arabia and Kenya, she experienced the collision of the modern West with the ancient tribal culture of Somali clans and the rigid ideology of Wahhabi Islam. Although fervently religious as a teenager, she became increasingly disillusioned with the oppressive character of Islam. When forced into an arranged marriage like so many other girls she had known, Hirsi Ali fled to the Netherlands, where she attended college, worked as an interpreter and researcher, and was eventually elected to parliament.

In 2004, Hirsi Ali wrote the screenplay for Submission, a short film about violence against women justified in the name of Islam. She received numerous threats on her life and went into hiding after the director of the film, Theo van Gogh, was killed on the streets of Amsterdam by an angry Muslim. The book ends with her return to parliament in 2005.

Infidel is no mere autobiography; it also relates Hirsi Ali’s intellectual enlightenment, as she learned to value the “open society” and to question the tenets of her childhood religion. In an epilogue, she writes of what animates her research and continued advocacy: “My central, motivating concern is that women in Islam are oppressed. . . . It creates a culture that generates more backwardness with every generation. It would be better for everyone--for Muslims, above all--if this situation could change.”

For more information about this book, visit www.aei.org/book870/.

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