10 March 2011

refusing to excuse fanaticism

Most of you know I am an enthusiastic biography (and autobiography) reader. As long as the narrative is well written and thoughtfully organized, I don't care if I am reading about a scientist or a socialite, an artist or an activist. Ayaan Hirsi Ali's autobiography, Infidel, was interesting in two ways. It was interesting (borderline riveting) as a life story and also interesting because Ali offers personal insight in response to ways of thinking about immigration, integration and messy cultural conflicts between Muslim countries and the 'West'.

Definitely check it out.

"In Somalia, little children learn quickly to be alert to betrayal. Things are not always what they seem; even a small slip can be fatal. The moral of every one of my grandmother's stories rested on our honor. We must be strong, clever, suspicious; we must obey the rules of the clan."

"In Islam, becoming an individual is not a necessary development; many people, especially women, never develop a clear individual will. You submit: that is the literal meaning of the word islam: submission. The goal is to become quiet inside, so that you never raise your eyes, not even inside your mind."

"Haweya began going to restaurants with the money Ibado gave her. A young woman, on her own, in a restaurant: this was absolutely unheard of. She would order lunch, and then, in front of everyone, she would eat it, slowly, while reading a novel. Waiters and male clients would badger her but she just told them off. This was hugely deviant behaviour."

"The soldiers were the worst: there was no money to pay them, and bands of soldiers would raid houses, preying on ordinary people. Occasionally there would be an outburst of gunfire, and children would run out into the street, responding to the sound of the bullets as if they were fireworks."

"These white people didn't frighten me. they seemed uninterested, but that was welcome. I had taken two airplanes on my own, I had wandered around the streets, and teh world did not seem as dangerous as my mother and grandmother had warned me. Everyone was anonymous here, but it gave me a feeling of freedom and power to be managing my way around these strange places. I felt safe."

"I had decided I wanted to study political science... I tried to explain that I wanted to understand why life in Holland was so different from life in Africa. Why there was so much peace, security, and wealth in Eruope. What the causes of war were, and how you built peace."

"What matters is abuse, and how it is anchored in a religion that denies women their rights as humans. What matters is that atrocities against women and children are carried out in Europe. What matters is that governments and socities must stop hiding behind a hollow pretense of tolernace so that they can recognize and deal with the problem."

Photo from The New York Times, 4 February 2007. Quotations from Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. New York: Free Press, 2008.

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