Saturday, July 16, 2011

What a Woman!

Wow - have you read Infidel?  It now means hero. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is living proof that sometimes you have to lose absolutely everything in order to find yourself.

Her story begins with the final moments of free speech martyr Theo Van Gogh - the Dutch filmmaker who was brutally murdered in the Netherlands for having made a film criticizing Islam. His Muslim killer shot him several times in broad daylight, his throat slit and a 5 page letter stabbed into his back. "That letter was addressed to me," begins Ayaan Hirsi Ali in Infidel.

She was the impetus and writer of Van Gogh's short film, "submission", criticizing the oppression of Muslim women. She now lives with bodyguards in safehouses, but Ali grew up a Muslim in Somalia, Saudi Arabia and Kenya - firmly believing in Allah, often abused, learning multiple languages and all about her "clan". She and her sister endured female circumsion when a man came to their house and as their clan held them down, he mercilessly snipped off their clitorises with scissors.

The excision results in a scar that covers the vagina so thoroughly that there's barely room to leak out urine. Girls who could be heard urinating a full stream were mercilessly made fun of - as clearly they had not been genitally mutilated and thus were unclean. It also meant that sex was a painful experience and the new husband, post-wedding, having thrust and penetrated through this scar, would run around to show the family his pride: the blood-soaked sheets.

Unlike many, Ali was given an education and occasionally got her hands on Western books that spoke about sexual and intellectual liberation. Not that she ever dared at all in the way of insubordination. After all, "submission" is the very definition of Islam. Her father was a rebel leader attempting to free Somalia (still hopeless!) and her mother a woman who learned to accept her lot and constantly blamed others for her unhappiness. When her father arranged a marriage to a devout Muslim from Canada, she uncharacteristically tried to reason her father out of it.

Then, on her way to Canada to consummate the marriage to this man she had met once for 15 minutes, she had a layover in Germany and something sparked. She walked out the door, took a train to the Netherlands, registered as a refugee and disappeared. Somehow she summoned a courage she was never taught.

Infidel is a riveting journey of awakening, nothing short of a woman's total renaissance. An escape to home that is hope and inspiration for humankind. We don't have to be afraid of the dark.

Of course, her "husband" and her clan chased her down, but by now she was strong enough to resist their wrath and say yes to freedom. She even got her sister Haweya refugee status in Holland but she did not fare as well. Haweya said it was like being locked up in a house and suddenly the walls fall down and you are confronted with so many options you simply become paralyzed. She floundered, refused to assimilate, retreated into Islam, raced back to Kenya, went mad and died.

But Ali was empowered, ignited by the flame we call purpose. She learned the language, studied political science, and was elected to Dutch parliament where she spoke out about the dangers of Holland's tolerance of new immigrants who still practice customs like female genital mutilation and honor killings. Ayaan Hirsi Ali became wholly apostate after 9/11.

Ironically, it is in finding purpose that the struggle truly begins.

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