Sunday, February 5, 2012

Book Review: Infidel

This is not the sort of book I would generally choose to read. If my book club hadn't selected it for our February read, I wouldn't have picked it up. Much like The Kite-Runner, I looked at the cover and felt hesitant to begin a book about Muslim culture or politics. It just isn't a subject I pursue. However, like The Kite Runner, I was amazed at how engrossed I became in this book despite its graphic portrayal of the Muslim culture and politics.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali sucked me in right from the start. In the introduction, she tells of a man who was murdered because of his involvement with her film, "Submission." This memoir was quite a page-turner. Beginning with the importance of bloodlines in her culture, she weaves the story of her life and the story of how women in Muslim countries are expected to submit. It is truly amazing the amount of influence Ayaan came to have from a fairly young age. After fleeing from a forced marriage, she finally finds freedom from the overwhelming expectations of her family as she seeks refugee status in Holland. She eventually becomes a member of Parliament there and lobbies for the unpopular view that expecting immigrants to adapt to Holland's culture is not racist, but rather fundamental in breaking down a cycle of oppression and cultural ignorance. Her argument is simple: look at the outcome of life in the Muslim sub-culture and look at the outcome of life in a Western-influenced culture and choose the one that provides individuals with the greatest freedom and happiness. (If this argument came from someone else, it would be ethnocentrism, but Ayaan is coming from the Muslim culture and finding fault.)

However, her message was extremely volatile, both for Muslims and for the political parties in Holland who were loathe to abolish government funding for faith-based education and tolerant attitudes towards immigrants. I began to have the same reaction I had to Khaled Hosseini's books. I wondered how the author could still be alive after revealing the realities of life in these Muslim cultures. Much of what she reveals is disturbing to read. Indeed, Ayaan has been in fear of assassination for presenting her views and opinions openly. Her book clearly indicated to me that many of the individuals perpetrating these crimes against both women (as exemplified in female circumcision, wife-beating, forced marriages and honor killings) and unbelievers (e.g., suicide bombers and assassins of apostates) don't even see themselves as criminals. They are merely following the dictates of their religion and the mandates of their holy book.

At one point, Ayaan declares that she has become an atheist. I don't fully believe she is an atheist. It seems she does believe there is a supreme being of some sort, because she continues to respond with immediate thoughts like "Allah, please let it not be a Muslim who is responsible for this."

Plus, I was unable to agree with her premise that all submission is evil. She presents the Muslim religion as the only one where the relationship between God and man is one of master and servant. However, I would argue that Christianity also sees the relationship in similar terms. The difference would be that our God is benevolent and worthy of our servitude. He is just and loving. To serve the Christian God is to relinquish our own will under the loving guidance of His will. We are free to speak to Him and to petition His will on our behalf.

It brought to mind a song which begs:

"Pierce my ear, oh Lord, my God.
Take me to your door this day.
I will serve no other gods.
Lord, I'm here to stay.
For You have paid the price for me.
With Your blood You ransomed me.
I will serve You eternally,
A free man I'll never be."

This refers to the Jewish custom where servants, in the year of Jubilee, instead of pursuing their freedom, could request to have their ear pierced as a public display of their voluntary submission to the lordship of their master.

I found myself hoping that the author would discover and embrace the religion I hold, with a loving God who encourages devotion but doesn't expect that devotion to play itself out in taking the lives of those who don't believe as we do. In the end, God determines what happens to the unbeliever, not man.

As you can see, this was a very thought-provoking book. It was well-written and incredibly interesting. I'm glad my book club selected it, or I might have passed it by.


Elizabeth A. said...

Wow, Wendy. I really enjoyed your review. Extremely thought provoking. Wouldn't that be such an awesome job?

Even though I no longer share your religious beliefs, you compared and explained them very respectfully.

And maybe she will find peace in some type of religion.

But I also just thought, God knows she deserves it. But I use it as a figure of speech. I mean whatever supreme being may or may not be out there (and I think probably not, but as one human who am I to comprehend such) help her find an inner serenity she was robbed of.

I may just check this book now.

Wendy said...

Missed this comment, somehow, Liz. Hope you enjoy the book as much as I did. It was, indeed, fascinating and very risky for her to write.