The first part of Hirsi Ali's book describes her life growing up in Africa. She had a pretty terrible childhood, and it's rather agonizing to read. I don't really like her writing style, which sort of goes like, and then this terrible thing happen, and then this terrible thing happened, and then this terrible thing happened...
I think she spent so much time describing her horrendous childhood for two reasons - she's trying to illustrate how difficult life is for young girls and women in the various Muslim countries and communities she lived in, and also because (she's very upfront about this) she lied in her process to get refugee status in The Netherlands, and was trying to justify her right to be there.
The second half of the book explains her experience in Holland, her intellectual awakening, her feminist awakening, and her entry into politics. Particularly after 9/11, she starts to question Islam. She writes:
I didn't want to do it, but I had to: I picked up the Quran and the hadith and started looking through them, to check. I hated to do it, because I knew that I would find Bin Ladin's quotations in there, and I didn't want to question God's word.
While so many in the west were concerned about a general backlash against Muslims and all basically all Middle Easterners, she holds that it's not a faith of peace, but a faith that's rooted in violence and, in practice, not only tolerates but encourages treating women badly and beating children. Again, she writes:
Most Muslims never delve into theology, and we rarely read the Quran; we are taught in in Arabic, which most Muslims can't speak. As a result, most people think that Islam is about peace. It is from these people, honest and kind, that the fallacy has arisen that Islam is peaceful and tolerant...True Islam, as a rigid belief system and a moral framework, leads to cruelty.
I'm all for questioning organized religion. Hirsi Ali rightly points out that the messages of religious texts we have today have been heavily influenced for centuries by the writings of men. Her message, that Islam is wrong, strikes me (who has a small amount of respect for the freedom of religion) as a simplistic response to outrageously complex reasons for violence in various societal groups. The fact that she now works for a right wing "think tank" in Washington DC (that also boasts Newt Gingrich as a "fellow") makes me wonder what her intentions really are. She certainly is for more integration of immigrants into the lands where they immigrate - but is she for the dissolution of Islam?
She's supposedly motivated by improving the lives of Islam women. How Feminism and ultra-conservativism got so mixed up, I'll never understand. But, no matter how frustrating I found her book, she made me think about these issues a little more. Even though I think she's a little bit of a crackpot, she did make me question a few of my own opinions about these issues.
Here's the short film she made with van Gogh. It's about 10 minutes long.