Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s book “Infidel” is both extremely interesting and extremely thought provoking. Born in Somalia to a woman of increasingly Islamic Orthodoxy and an activist father involved in underground anti-government activity, Ayaan Hirsi Magan (her name was later changed) describes and perfectly horrific childhood and adolescence. Family breakup, poverty, dependence on clan charity, shuttled between Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Kenya, always a societal outsider, victim of female genital mutilation, continually beaten by mother, father, and teachers, often closeted at home unable to go anywhere without a male escort, hemmed in by Islamic, clan, and society’s many harsh restrictions.
Against her will, and without her even being present, her father marries her to a Somali-Canadian man. On her way to meet her husband in Canada, she stops to visit relatives in Germany and learns that she can claim refugee status in Holland. Arriving in Holland in her early twenties, she lies about why she needs refugee status, and gains the equivalent of a Dutch “green card” and then Dutch citizenship and, through hard work, a university degree and position as a researcher at a political think tank. Working as a translator (largely from Somali to English, understood by all Dutch), she hears tragic case after tragic case. Continually confronted by Dutch liberalism and toleration, she begins to speak out: Muslims are not going to integrate into Dutch society, particularly if they are allowed to live in their own communities and neighborhoods with state funded Islamic schools, and hatred of the west, of Christians and (of course) of Jews are core characteristics of Islam, which the west needs to understand. Having undergone her own conversion from Islamic believer to atheist, she becomes a highly controversial quasi-public figure. Convinced to run for Parliament for a right wing party (another conversion for Ali), she wins and is given security protection by the state as a result of threats against her life. She works with director Theo Van Gough on a film about the experience of minority women in Holland; Van Gough is shot and killed as he rides his bicycle through Amsterdam. Attempts (unsuccessful) are made to revoke her Dutch citizenship. She eventually relocates to the United States, where she now works at the American Enterprise Institute.
This book is a full fledged attack on Islamic society and theology. Is it overstated? I am not sure, but whether or not it is overstated, the case against Islamic treatment of women in many traditional families is clear enough, as well as Islamic attitudes towards “non-believers”.
I also read “Army Brat” the childhood memoirs of poet (and former U.S. poet laureate) William Jay Smith, now 93. Interesting to me because Smith, although born in Lousiana, spent virtually his entire youth in and around St. Louis, where his father was a member of the Army Band and for the most part stationed at Jefferson Barracks. He attended Cleveland High School in South St. Louis and Washington University, where he was a friend and classmate (and fellow poet) of Tennessee (or, as he calls him, Tom) Williams. Interesting book for three reasons: (1) Jefferson Barracks’s history from the early 19th century and how it functioned in the 1920’s and 1930’s, (2) Smith’s family history, and (3) his education at Washington University, where his childhood interest in poetry was matured, and particularly his recollections of Tennessee Williams’ and his mother.