Infidel By Ayaan Hirsi Ali (New York: Free Press, 2007. 353 pages.)

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Kathryn Kueny



In Infidel, Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s goal is to provide “a subjective record (p. xii)”
of her extraordinary life, a life that straddles six countries – Somalia, Saudi
Arabia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Holland, and the United States – in merely three
decades. The book’s title, however, suggests that this personal narrative
probes well beyond the travels and escapades of a young African girl in
times of deep economic strife and political instability. Rather, Infidel maps
out a spiritual journey in reverse, what might be described as an anti-Islamic
emigration “from the world of faith to the world of reason – from the world
of excision and forced marriage to the world of sexual emancipation” (pp.
The work is divided into two parts. The first, “My Childhood,” tracks
HirsiAli’s early years on the move with hermother, sister, and brother as her
father, beloved but perpetually absent, waged coup after coup against
Muhammad Siad Barre with the Somali Salvation Democratic Front
(SSDF). Often he was deported or jailed.As a result, family life for HirsiAli
was far fromideal.After narrating her own birth, six weeks early, shemuses,
“[p]erhaps my parents were happy” (p. 17). Tales of economic destitution,
political corruption, and a mother who possessed all the symptoms of a
severe depressive or schizophrenic suggest the young girl suffered great
physical and emotional violence throughout her early years.
Clearly, at a young age, her coping strategy was to lash out against her
elders through ridicule and rebellion, despite the inevitable consequences.
As a child, HirsiAli often spat at her grandmother.When hermother ordered
her to make ink for the ma`alim who taught her the Qur’an, HirsiAli locked
herself in the bathroom and refused to come out for hours.Another time, she
was too tired to wash up the dishes after dinner, so she hid them all, crusted,
in the refrigerator for a day. As a teenager, she devoured sensual romance
novels and trashy thrillers that aroused in her sexual feelings, even though
she “knew that doing so was resisting Islam in the most basic way” (p. 94).
She also stole visits and kisses with a number of boyfriends, knowing full
well her family’s disapproval.
These seemingly petty alternatives to direct conflict with authority figures
and institutions were, perhaps, the only avenues available to the young
Hirsi Ali to assert any control over hostile forces that denied her power over
her own existence. These episodes reveal a world that, for Hirsi Ali, is ...

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