This is the November book selection for our A Thirsty Mind Bookclub, a raucous, intelligent, outspoken bunch of women who are not afraid to interrupt, gesticulate or change the subject on a whim. We normally choose fiction for our selections, but we’ve been known to read and discuss almost anything. One of our members was attending a conference where Ms Hirsi Ali was speaking, so what more incentive did we need!
Actually I’m not much of a fan of memoirs. They’re usually just all about “me”, and that gets tiresome. Besides I’m more of a fan of explosions, snakes and wild chases through the jungle with romance behind the vines…but I can be forced to read about someone’s actual life occasionally. Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s life actually had some of the elements that I enjoy anyway, explosions, wild chases and jungles (well, actually there were mostly deserts, but most of her life took place in Africa so I figured the jungle was close).
I’m being unnecessarily flippant, so I apologize for that. Ms Hirsi Ali’s life was not in any way romantic or enjoyable. What it was, was traumatic, terrifying and to Western eyes simply awful! But she eventually rose above that and became a voice for Muslim woman all over the world. She challenges Muslims, both men and women, to question the dogma of Islam; to try to bring their faith into the 21st century and not keep it bogged in the harsh ancient past.
Ms Hirsi Ali’s descriptions of her childhood in Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Nigeria are completely foreign to Western eyes…the complete subjugation of women of her faith in Somalia and Saudi Arabia, the confusion of living in a Christian country such as Ethiopia, the poverty and isolation of Nigeria. It’s all so heartbreaking. What sets Ms. Hirsi Ali apart though is her intelligence, her status within her community because of the influence of her father, and her drive to be educated.
Although I was familiar with the murder of Theo van Gogh in Holland by a Muslim extremist, I never connected the letter that was pinned to his chest to Ms Hirsi Ali and her film, Submission. It was after all just a murder in a small European country and didn’t affect me at all. But Ms. Hirsi Ali showed with that one death that everything that came before and after did ultimately affect me, as a woman and as a citizen of the world. That women could be mistreated, tortured and killed not just in third-world countries in Africa but also in enclaves of refugees throughout Europe was a real eye-opener. Her description of female circumcision (a theme which I felt, as horrid as it is, was overused in her writing…it almost became a de-sensitizing aspect…it no longer had its shock value in her dialogue) was absolutely unconscionable in the modern world…or in the ancient world for that matter. I can’t imagine the scope of death this would have had in the past without the use of antibiotics or the effect it had on childbirth! It was also interesting to note that this practice was not a specific practice of Islam, but a tribal practice which was adopted in the name of Islam in some parts of Africa, particularly Somalia, and is still being practiced in refugee communities in other parts of the world.
Ms Hirsi Ali, a survivor, a member of the Dutch Parliament, a speaker, a champion for the rights of women, has written about her life, her faith and her family in an eye-opening manner using surprisingly American syntax to portray her plight and the plight of so many others. I can’t wait to discuss this with the bookclub in a few days!