Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Book Review: Infidel

After reading the positive review in The Objective Standard (subscription needed for full content) I decided to pick up Infidel, the memoir of a woman who escaped Islamic tyranny and has ended up becoming a well-known critic of Islamic totalitarianism. While a memoir, the book reads like a gripping novel. I have to admit it's one of the few books I actually had difficulty putting down, sometimes even so much that I stayed up late just to finish more chapters. It is certainly a worthwhile read, one I'll consider doing again, next time as a formal study subject. Anyone interested in Islamic issues, woman's rights, or Middle East foreign policy will benefit from this book.

The author is, of course, still alive, so it tracks her life from the time of her young Muslim childhood in Somalia to the present day atheist and critic she is in America today. The book details her internal conflicts with her religious beliefs, the conflicts of others, and the political goings-on of the time, all with a great analytical eye and talent for portraying emotional depth. Though personal, the author's intention is to show what the religion of Islam logically leads to, refuting those myths that it's a religion of "peace and love."

The most shocking thing I've found about the book is her portrayal of the psycho-epistemology of the citizens of Islamic countries, bringing to full emphasis that these are truly backwards places. It is no hyperbole that these areas practice barbarism to its fullest extent. Most revealing, for instance, is how Ms. Ali was treated as a child. If she were to misbehave or act inappropriately in some way according to Islamic standards, her caretakers would immediately resort to beating her without hesitation. No explanations were given as to what it is she did wrong; the violence done against her was done as if what she did wrong was self-evident, and that the violence would somehow make her know better. It is no wonder, then, that violence is a constant theme throughout the book: Man's mind does not work automatically through the threat of force. The Muslims portrayed were perceiving "wrongs" left and right, and instead of solving their problems through reason they'd immediately resort to beatings, disfigurement, and murder. Without a rational epistemology in which to use methods of reason to persuade other people to alter their behavior and beliefs, physical force is literally the only option left. Violence does not beget more violence; mindlessness begets violence.

Such grotesque displays of cruelty gives the reader enough evidence to reach the conclusion that, in foreign policy, these types of people cannot be reasoned with. Throughout the story we can see the author struggle with her mental objections to her religious doctrine, objections and questions that, when voiced, were met with ridicule, hostility, and, in the present day, death threats. These people have no arguments to offer; they only want you to obey or die.

It goes without saying then that this book may be uncomfortable to those sensitive to descriptions of violence. The author makes no attempt at restraint in describing exactly what these acts are and how they permanently affect the victims. It makes crystal clear the rampant and putrid emotionalism of the perpetrators. Regardless, even if you are sensitive I nonetheless recommend working through such emotional discomfort to hear the argument that's being given. Given how important this issue it, it may take such a shock to some of us to eliminate our passivity and errors regarding the Middle East to see just how serious this problem is in our day and age.

The book's greatest virtue is how well it progresses from just a plain presentation of the facts of the author's life to deep analysis of those facts near the end, thereby tying abstractions to the appropriate concretes. Saving the abstractions for the end makes the analysis seem much more like a climax of a well-written story, tying everything together and penetrating the true nature of the subject. From the author's experiences you learn why these actions are perfectly logical of the Islamic ideology and are, in fact, explicitly called for in the Quran. It demolishes the myth that Islam is a religion of peace and love, for in reality it is an ideology of masters and slaves. That the author has first-hand experience only makes such an analysis more valuable, as she once lived in accordance to Islam and experienced the full force of its consequences, from how it leads to anger-driven mass murder to how it made her sister go insane.

Everything is so well integrated and formed that I honestly cannot think of a single vice to state. The writing style is clear, smooth, and very engaging. The book divides wonderfully in its chapter layout, separating the distinct periods of the authors life and transitioning smoothly to each. Even the dust jacket is artistically appropriate given the subject matter: Ayaan Hirsi Ali, head unveiled and eyes upward, filled with determination; refusing to submit.

For a long while I have been intellectually passive to the issues regarding the Middle East. While I recognized the objective seriousness of the matter -- these people have explicitly showed they intend to kill others in opposition to their ideology -- I haven't done much in the way of giving it thought. Seeing how unreasonable, dangerous, and barbaric these people truly are, my passivity has been destroyed and an interest in foreign policy born from it. I'll keep a watch on Ms. Ali's productions from now on, and work better to understand the issues. To see that these savages might someday try to kill you ought to eliminate any indifference.

In summary, I consider this a book well worth reading for anyone interested in foreign policy issues regarding the Middle East or in the subject of human rights, especially that of the plight of women in Islamic countries. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a true heroine of our time that has the potential to make a positive cultural impact, and, if you have no other interest in this book, her life may in the very least serve as fuel for the soul.

1 comment:

  1. I watched a wonderful sit-down interview of her on C-SPAN, in which she comes off as exceptionally logical, intellectually rigorous, genuinely proud of her learning and ideas, and unafraid to judge and generalize.

    A great quote from the end (just before the 53 minute mark):

    "I think that persuasion, just the idea...I'm always told 'you are so rosy-eyed about the West, you are so dazzled by the West.' And I want to say I am dazzled by the prospect of changing one's mind through dialogue, through reason, through fact-finding, and by exchanging ideas with people you disagree with...I find that not only dazzling but also something that I am clearly grateful for and have to say is very unique to the West."

    The interview is "After Words with Ayaan Hirsi Ali," on C-SPAN, June 4, 2010, and can be seen here if interested:


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