Wednesday 8 February 2012

On religion

Finished Ayaan Hirsi Ali's Infidel (Free Press, 2008) and couldn't sleep afterwards. Not because of the description of brutal genital mutilation in an early chapter.

What particularly stayed with me was the clear-sighted description of life in Europe, from the point of view of a newly-arrived Muslim person. I believe that Holland is a particularly advanced and open society (having lived and worked there for six years). She witnesses the mostly calm and measured way in which ordinary people air their differences and resolve them. In her experience until then, hierarchy enforced its wishes violently - her mother for instance beat her and her sister relentlessly. People - women in particular - seemed powerless to effect any change in their lives.

There is a beautiful moment when she refuses to marry a man and her statement to a Court that it is her soul which refuses the union, is unexpectedly respected by a senior Muslim man - what an amazing liberation this must have been for her. This official reappears later, and again acts in a beneficial way - and he is unique in the narrative, the single Muslim person capable of ethical, thoughtful conduct. I am sure he is not in fact the only one, but there does not seem to exist any education or modelling within the ambit of most people around Ayaan at the time she lived in Muslim countries which would enable them to grow into such a person. Her mother for instance does not cope with life: she is tormented and explosive.

Ayaan documents her slow move away from Islam. It happens little by little, and the book portrays it most believably. Having finished reading it, I thought about Islam and how dangerous extremism is, and then realised - as if it was an entirely new thought - that this was true of all religions.

I felt as if I'd been led by the hand and given an education. It is not that I haven't thought about this often - it is a topic of frequent discussion in our home. But here I had reached a clear conclusion. It is a very good book. She is an impressive woman.

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