Infidel is a fantastic book

I just want to state before I go into this, that I don’t tend to take issue with religion. I don’t care to tell people what they should believe or criticize their beliefs in general. I do however, take issue when people’s beliefs go against basic human rights or equal rights.

I’ve just finished reading:

It’s the biography of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Muslim woman who grew up in Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Kenya. It discusses her struggles not only with survival and within her family, but also with her beliefs and ideas about Islam.

She grows up devout and after witnessing since birth questionable treatment of women she begins to question some of the teachings in the Quran. It openly states in the Quran that a woman needs to be available (sexually) to her husband at all times. It also states that they must always be submissive to them regardless of their treatment. So along with female circumcision to become pure, arranged marriages etc., one becomes aware that there are a myriad of beliefs and rituals that support inequality of the sexes and stifle women from being anything but subservient to their husbands.

Ayaan’s father meets a Canadian Muslim and gives her hand to him for marriage. She does not like this man and thus seeks refuge in Holland to avoid having to move to Canada with him.
In Holland Ayaan is exposed to a brand new point of view and way of life. She is able to question her beliefs and see people acting in a way that goes against the teachings of the Quran, and she sees that it does not result in utter chaos. She learns Dutch, earns her political science degree and finally become a member of parliament. Drawing from her experience and education, in her position in parliament she begins to campaign for some changes. She takes note that immigrants coming into the country, specifically Muslims, are not adhering to Dutch values. They continue to perform female circumcisions, continue to teach that women should be completely submissive. They are able to build their own places of worship and schools and they continue to teach the ways of the Quran, including those teachings which are oppressive.

Ayaan views this as a very big problem. She believes that the Dutch view this as freedom of expression and belief, that they don’t realize that this freedom allows for a large number of the population to disregard basic human rights. She wants to abolish Article 23 in their laws in order to stop faith based schools. She also wants statistics to be calculated in terms of the amount of honour killings that happen each year etc. She essentially wishes that being politically correct and allowing freedom, not be confused with allowing harmful and degrading practices to go on in countries whose values do not support these actions and ideas.

“The message of this book, if it must have a message, is that we in the West would be wrong to prolong the pain of that transition unnecessarily, by elevating cultures full of bigotry and hatred toward women to the stature of respectable alternative ways of life.” (Ali, 348)

“My central, motivating concern is that women in Islam are oppressed. That oppression of women causes Muslim women and Muslim men, too, to lag behind the West. 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.” (Ali, 349)

“What was I trying to achieve? Three things: first, I wanted Holland to wake up and stop tolerating the oppression of Muslim women in its midst; the government must take action to protect them and punish their oppressors. Second, I wanted to spark a debate among Muslims about reforming aspects of Islam so that people could begin to question, and criticize, their own beliefs. This could happen only in the West, where Muslims may speak out; in no Muslim country can there be free discussion on such a subject.
Third, I wanted Muslim women to become more aware of just how bad, and how unacceptable, their suffering was. I wanted to help them develop the vocabulary of resistance. I was inspired by Mary Wollstonecraft, the pioneering feminist thinker who told women they had the same ability to reason as men did and deserved the same rights.” (Ali, 295)

I think Ayaan brings up a lot of interesting ideas. Hard ideas.
When is it necessary for the state to intervene with religion? Should those lines ever be blurred?
Should the state ever demand that beliefs be altered in order to adhere to human rights? Can anyone demand that a religion progress?

This is something that I’ve thought about quite a bit- especially since I’ve moved to Toronto. How Canada deals with multiculturalism is interesting and strange at the same time. We’re not like the United States, we’re not a melting pot. We really do, like Holland, allow for each culture- religion to manifest itself. But we do open the door in this case for things like honour killings.

How do you allow people to have freedom with their beliefs but ask them to adhere to certain ideas while in Canada or any other country? Is it as simple as asking that all people no matter their faith or culture must adhere to human and equal rights, otherwise punishable by law?
Or do you do as Ayaan suggests and not allow faith based schools to exist in order to have one unified education that teaches children to question beliefs and to use their critical thinking skills?

I feel like it’s really hard to win this argument without offending someone. But I also think that it’s important that these ideas are discussed as this is a very real issue.

Feel free to throw around some ideas-
For further reading see below for some Canadian articles about honour killings.


A 14-year-old female rape victim is strangled to death in March 2004 by her father and brother because she has supposedly tarnished the family name

Reaction to a man attempting to appeal his honour killing case

Honour Killing is our export to Canada


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One Response to “Infidel is a fantastic book”

  1. Christine Says:

    Multiculturalism is a dilly of a pickle. If the highest good is freedom, then you’re putting a lot of trust and power in the hands of people to make decisions for themselves. When it comes to religion especially, there seems to be this belief (in secular circles) that it’s harmless. Ayaan sees how it’s not.

    As long as you have one group saying “we’re right” and the other group saying the opposite, it will boil down to an issue of power. Who is in charge? Is Holland giving its power to Islamic fundamentalists to have control over their women and children (and consequently future generations of Dutchies?), or is it standing for what it believes in and thus saying, “Change or leave.”

    When the government gives away its power – to religious leaders, for example – it becomes less and less powerful. If it never intervenes, or draws a line, there will be people in the country making decisions that are changing the way that society functions.

    I think Holland should defend it’s people, and stand for whatever it is Holland believe in. You can’t please everyone, and the second you draw a line, you’re going to have people on the other side of that. To be a functioning nation, however, that seems necessary.

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