August 27, 2008

Book Review: Infidel

I read almost exclusively nonfiction (Christian bible being an exception), and my two favorite topics are atheism and progressive politics. I've read most of the books on atheism that you've heard of and some more obscure ones. I picked up Ayaan Hirsi Ali's Infidel expecting another interesting tome on atheism along the lines of Harris, Dawkins, Dennet, or Hitchens. I could not have been more wrong! Infidel is not a book about atheism at all. And yet, I cannot remember the last time I read a book as hard to put down as this one. If you haven't picked this one up yet, you owe it to yourself to do so. It is not to be missed.

I do most of my fun reading right before I go to bed. I typically curl up with whatever I'm reading for 20-30 minutes before turning off the lights and falling asleep. With Infidel, I found myself reading for an hour or two and wanting to ditch work to read more the next day. I found myself thinking about what I had read all day. There was something utterly captivating about the book.

Hirsi Ali's book is about her experience growing up in Islam, making a daring escape to the Western world, and finally embracing her true self. It is about feminism, the oppression of women in Islam, the experience of encountering freedom for the first time, and so many other things. Yes, she eventually discarded religion altogether, but that really is not the focus of the book.

What you will find is a story of incredible bravery, courage, and commitment to human rights. Hirsi Ali is a hero. There is simply no other way to say it. She is not simply an inspiration for Muslim women but for all of us reluctant to speak out or concerned that we cannot make a difference.

There are many lessons to be taken from Hirsi Ali's excellent writing, but I'll try to summarize one of the big ones as follows: Islam, not simply Islamic extremism but the religion itself, is a danger to humanity. Those of us in the West obsessed with multiculturalism and attempting to be equally tolerant to all religions are making a serious mistake by denying the realities of Islam. As Hirsi Ali says,
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.
The transition she's referring to is that leading to the modern world. She makes a compelling case that the values inherent in Islam are inferior in so many ways to those of Western democracies. We in the West are often taught to regard such claims as unacceptably intolerant. This book is a needed eye-opener.

In closing, I should offer a word of warning to you who are now considering reading Infidel. If you are not fairly open about your atheism, reading this book may make you feel like a douchebag, especially if you have whined about the obstacles you face.