A Broader Horizon

Ophelia Benson

Infidel, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali (New York: Free Press, 2007, ISBN 978- 0-7432-8968-9) 353 pp. Cloth $26.


The issue of Islam and women’s rights is both a hot topic and a neglected one—a subject some people worry about and others ignore or sweep under the carpet. It is, in fact, an issue on which progressive opinion is split between multiculturalists, Third Worldists, and postcolonialists on the one hand, and liberal universalists, secularists, and feminists on the other. The latter group pays attention to the ways Islam opposes women’s rights; the former murmurs about Eurocentrism and cultural imperialism.

There are, fortunately, many women, both ex-Muslims and reformist believers, who are working hard to inform the world about what life is really like for women under Islam: women such as Seyran Ates and Necla Kelek in Germany, Fadela Amara in France, Homa Arjomand and Irshad Manji in Canada, Maryam Namazie and Azam Kamguian in the UK, and Taslima Nasrin in India. One of the best-known is Ayaan Hirsi Ali, born in Somalia, raised in Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, and Kenya, and married to a stranger against her will; refugee, graduate student, translator, junior researcher for the Labor Party, and MP; author, screenwriter of the film Submission, campaigner for the rights of women under Islam, target of death threats. Her colleague in making Submission, Theo van Gogh, was shot and stabbed to death on an Amsterdam street in November 2004; since then Hirsi Ali has been under twenty-four-hour protection.

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