A heroine for our times

She has the high cheekbones and long, lean body of a fashion model. She has the eyes of a seeker of truths. She has the background of an Islamic terrorist.

Her name is Ayaan Hirsi Ali and she wrote the book, Infidel. She is so intelligent, brave, and beautiful, I wonder that I cannot look up to the heavens and see a trail of stardust igniting the darkness behind her as she streaks like a comet across the sky.

Hirsi Ali was born in Somalia. She was brought up in Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, and Kenya. Infidel is about what it is like to be raised Muslim and to have absolutely no option of exercising her intellect, her emotions, or her free will because she is, was, and will always be female.

At age 22, she fled an arranged marriage to Europe and settled in Holland. To her horror, she discovered that all of the oppressions to which Islamic women were subjected had emigrated, with Muslim families, to the West. It was then that she made her decision: “The most important thing I could do with my life was expose the reality of those women’s lives to people in power and make sure that existing laws demanding equality between the sexes were applied. Mine was a combat of action, not ideas. I should stand for Parliament.”

Doing so, Hirsi Ali wanted to achieve three things. First, to make Holland “stop tolerating the oppression of Muslim women in its midst.” Second, to “spark a debate among Muslims about reforming aspects of Islam so that people could begin to question, and criticize, their own beliefs.” And third, to educate Muslim women about “how bad, and how unacceptable, their suffering was.”

In January 2002 at age thirty-three, Aayan Hirsi Ali became a member of Holland’s Parliament. A week later, a local radio program, announced: “Hirsi Ali Calls Prophet Muhammad a Pervert.”

In an interview she had given three weeks earlier, she described the fifty-four-year-old Prophet’s Allah-approved marriage to a six-year-old child, consummated when the girl was only nine. Then, showing more raw nerve and common decency than any politician I can think of, Hirsi Ali added, “By our Western standards, Muhammad is a perverse man, and a tyrant.”

Within minutes of that broadcast, her life was threatened, her career as a Parliamentarian was almost over, and members of her own party were demanding that she “apologize for causing such commotion,” insisting that they would help to “protect her from herself.” Infuriated, she responded, “If the Prophet Muhammad went to bed with a nine-year-old, then according to Dutch law he is a pedophile. If you look at how the Prophet Muhammad ruled, he was a lone ruler, an autocrat, and that is tyranny. As for being protected from myself, that is condescending, and inexcusable.”

Ayaan Hirsi Ali knew more than anyone should ever know about the inexcusable. Her grandmother taught her fear. “A woman alone is like a piece of sheep fat in the sun... Before you know it, the ants and insects are crawling all over it, until there is nothing left but a smear of grease.” That same grandmother, when she was five years old, decided that she had be purified by “having her genitals cuts out.” She was spread-eagled on the floor and held down for a blacksmith/circumciser “... the scissors went down between my legs and the man cut off my inner labia and clitoris. I heard it, like a butcher snipping the fat off a piece of meat.”

Welcome to the glories of being Muslim and a five-year-old female in Somalia.

Highlights from Ali’s childhood included constant beatings. Her mother “... tied my hands to my ankles, and then with a stick or a wire she would beat me until I begged for mercy... ” The preacher who taught her the Quran, “... hit me with all his strength with a sharp stick... grabbed my braided hair and pulled my head back, and then he shoved it against the wall. I distinctly heard a cracking noise.”

Hirsi Ali experienced a brief honeymoon of the spirit when, at the happily misnamed Muslim Girls’ School (most of the students were Christian), she was exposed to Western literature and read Huckleberry Finn, Wuthering Heights, Cry the Beloved Country, 1984, thrillers, romance novels, and Valley of the Dolls. “All these books, even the trashy ones, carried with them ideas – races were equal, women were equal to men – and concepts of freedom, struggle, and adventure that were new to me.”

Ideas generated thought and thought generated rebellion. All, of course, were quashed. In this repressive atmosphere, Ali became entranced by the rigors of Islam, began to abase herself and to feel abased. She prayed five times a day, and joined a discussion group of young Muslims “convinced that there was an evil worldwide crusade aimed at eradicating Islam, directed by Jews and by the whole Godless West.”

Nevertheless, she always “... found it uncomfortable to be opposed to the West. For me, Britain and America were the countries in my books where there was decency and individual choice.” For a while longer, she continued to believe and she continued to pray. Then one day, after being taught that, “A man’s sinful erotic thoughts were always the fault of the woman who incited them,” she stood up and asked, “Don’t women also have desire for male bodies? Couldn’t they be tempted by the sight of men’s skin?”

Ayaan Hirsi Ali had begun to think, and there was no turning back.

Her saga continues with her escape to Holland... her election to the Parliament... the movie she made with Theo van Gogh which encouraged Muslim women to defy Allah... Theo’s murder by a an Islamic fanatic who stabbed a five page letter onto his chest addressed to Hirsi Ali... more threats to her life... and her eventual move to the United States, where she now lives and works, protected by armed bodyguards.

In the preface to her book, Ayaan Hirsi Ali writes, “People ask me if I have some kind of death wish, to keep saying the things I do. The answer is no: I would like to keep living. However, some things must be said, and there are times when silence becomes an accomplice to injustice.”

There are very few people not thrown directly in my path whom I would like to meet. This incredible woman is one of them. Should we ever come face-to-face, I would look directly into her beautiful, deep, dark, intelligent eyes, and with unequivocal admiration declare, “You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din.”

Shelly Reuben is an Edgar-nominated author, private detective, and fire investigator. For more about her books, visit shellyreuben.com.

Copyright © 2008, Shelly Reuben

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