Infidel Reflection #5 (Chp. 15–17 + epilogue)
The final fifth of Infidel focused on what I had expected the book to be about when I first picked it up: Ali’s fame and the threats that it posed to her life and well-being. On the back cover of my edition of Infidel, it reads: “One of today’s most admired and controversial figures, Ayaan Hirsi Ali burst into international headlines following the murder of Theo van Gogh by an Islamist who threatened that she would be next…under constant threat, demonized by reactionary Islamists and politicians, disowned by her father, and expelled from family and clan, she refuses to be silenced”. Ali’s headstrong perseverance was what drew me to this book in the first place; I enjoy stories that portray strong women standing up for themselves, and this book did not disappoint.
As I discussed in my previous reflections, Ali’s autobiography contains an underlying feminist message: Muslim women should be treated equally to their male counterparts. In the final part of this book, Ali had risen to become a member of the Dutch Parliament, and described herself as “a one-issue politician…Every society that is still in the rigid grip of Islam oppresses women and also lags behind in development…Societies that respect the rights of women and their freedom are wealthy and peaceful” (pg. 296). She used her political power to advocate for Muslim women’s rights and to expose the truth about Islam, and its hugely negative effects on women and refugees. When other politicians did not believe that the treatment of Muslim women in Holland was an urgent issue, she did a case study on the number of honor killings that took place. She wrote, “Between October 2004 and May 2005, eleven Muslim girls were killed by their families in just those two regions (there are twenty-five such regions in Holland). After that, people stopped telling me I was exaggerating” (pg. 309). In addition, Ali created a film called Submission: Part One that exposed what Islam is really about: “In Islam..the relationship of the individual to God is one of total submission, slave to master. To Muslims, worship of God means total obedience to Allah’s rules” (pg. 313).
Ali’s intention in creating Submission: Part One was to “liberate Muslim minds so that Muslim women — and Muslim men, too — might be freer” (pg. 314). However, the backlash she received from many Muslims in Holland did not quite match up with that goal. By the time that Submission aired, Ali had already been protected by bodyguards from the Dutch Royal and Diplomatic Protection Service (DKDB) for two years, but her partner in filming, Theo van Gogh, had no such protection (pg. 317). A few months after the film’s release, Ali received news that van Gogh had been murdered. She was in shock, blaming herself — “[The murderer] was a Muslim, and this had happened because of Submission. If we hadn’t made Submission, Theo would still be alive. I felt responsible for his death” (pg. 319). The DKDB took Ali into hiding, moving back and forth from Holland to the U.S. to Germany multiple times. She was not allowed Internet access or to talk to her friends almost at all, and spent the time in a phase of mourning, depression, and isolation. After 75 days in hiding, she described her return to the Dutch Parliament as being home again (pg. 335).
The epilogue is set 16 months later, in May 2006, when Ali was notified that her Dutch citizenship was going to be nullified. Because she had given false information when applying for nationality in 1997 to protect herself from her clan finding her, “citizenship had never been granted [to her] in the first place” (pg. 337). Ali decided to move to the United States to spread her ideas, and that is where she wrote this autobiography. “The message of this book,” she wrote, “is that we in the West would be wrong to prolong the pain of [the transition from Africa to Europe and the U.S.] unnecessarily, by elevating cultures full of bigotry and hatred toward women to the stature of respectable alternative ways of life” (pg. 348). In accordance with the message, Ali also wrote that she needed “to seek out the other women help captive in the compound of irrationality and superstition and persuade them to take their lives into their own hands” (pg. 349). This book was a feminist masterpiece, and truly opened my eyes to how women in this world are still being treated today because of oppression by their religion and society. The strong beliefs that Ali held throughout her journey were inspiring, and the way that she refused to be silenced was extraordinary.
The last paragraph of the book is the one that hit me the hardest, and so I decided to include it as the last words in my last reflection: “I am told that Submission is too aggressive a film. Its criticism of Islam is apparently too painful for Muslims to bear. Tell me, how much more painful is it to be these women, trapped in that cage?” (pg. 350).