A journey to freedom. The life of Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Joaquina Pires-O’Brien

Like millions of other people, I was startled by with the 9/11 terrorist attacks, to which I responded by trying to read about Islam in particular and religion in general. In my quests for answers I tried to read what the experts had to say on both subjects, and to listen to their debates in YouTube.  I was already a convert to atheism or anti-theism in 2006, the year when Richard Dawkins published The God Delusion and Daniel Dennett published Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. In addition to these, I read other books, and listened to many debates on the subjects of religion and Islam on YouTube. I was particular fond of listening to Christopher Hitchens (13 April 1949 – 15 December 2011), the award-winning British social critic and notorious atheist who died prematurely to esophageal cancer. He praised a unique book published in criticizing the misogyny and the cruelties committed under the sanction of the Koran, the ‘holy book’ of Islam, published in 2006, by  a young black woman called Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Although I read more than most people I am by no means a book worm. When in January 2019 I ran across a brilliant lecture by the British historian Niall Ferguson (1964 -) in YouTube, I immediately decide to buy his book The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook, published by Penguin in2018. Because I learned in one of his YouTube interviews that he was married Ayaan Hirsi Ali, I decided to buy her book Infidel, published by Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc., New York, in 2007. I bought both The Square and the Tower and Infidel in digital edition, and I read them both during a holiday to Seattle in January 2019.

Below is a short biography of Ayaan Hirsi Ali (born Ayaan Hirsi Magan) that I found at the end of Infidel, in which she describes herlife in Africa, Saudi Arabia and the Netherlands.

“Ayaan Hirsi Ali was born in Somalia, was raised as a Muslim, and spent her childhood in Africa and Saudi Arabia. In 1992, Hirsi Ali came to the Netherlands as a refugee, escaping a forced marriage to a distant cousin she had never met. She learned Dutch and worked as an interpreter in abortion clinics and shelters for battered women. After earning her college degree in political science, she worked for the [Dutch] Labour Party. She denounced Islam after the September 11 terrorist attacks and now fights for the rights of Muslim women in Europe, the enlightenment of Islam, and security in the West.”

Hirsi Ali’s biography is instructing and captivating. Narrated in an honest, straight forward style, it provides a window to cultures that most of us know very little about and at the same time reveals the development of the writer herself, leaded by her inquisitive mind. Alongside her life’s timeline, the reader can perceive the development of her understanding of her culture and the Islamic religion. It is remarkable how she evolves from being a devout and uncritical Muslim to a critic of the Koranic fanaticism that holds back the Muslim world.

At a very young age, she begins to question the domination of males over females in Islamic societies. As she comes of age, she starts to question other things such as the way it sanctions atrocities and violations of human rights such as forced marriages and marriages of underage girls, honour crimes, and many other hard held prejudices such as the notion of purity and the practice of excising parts of the feminine genitalia, in the West known as female genital mutilation (FGM). Two things in this book that cannot be overemphasized are Hirsi Ali’s first hand account of Islamic culture and the remarkable way in which the author adapted to the West. Although she could have opted for a quiet personal life, she chose to put her own life at danger in order to campaign for the mental emancipation of all Western Muslins.

In addition to Infidel Hirsi Ali has published  Atheïstic Manifest (in Dutch; 1995), The Caged Virgin: A Muslim’s Woman’s Cry for Reason (2004), Heretic: Why Islam needs a reformation now (2008), Nomad: A Personal Journey through the Clash of Civilizations (2010), and Heretic (2015). Hirsi Ali’s books have been translated to various European Languages, which is congruous with her objective of helping the Muslims of the West to free themselves from the many shackles associated with the Koranic fanaticism that holds back the Muslim world.

PS. Hirsi Ali’s campaign against female genital mutilation (FGM) has been successful. In 1st February 2019, a 37-year-old woman from Uganda who allowed her 3 year old daughter to be subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM) was convicted for this crime. The mutilation took place on 28 August 2017. The mother dialed 999 stated that the girl was bleeding, and the victim had to undergo emergence surgery. Police were alerted the following day, after the surgeon  found evidence of deliberate excisions with the use of a scalpel. The girl later stated that she was held down and cut.