Thursday, 15 December 2011

The meaning of freedom

Infidel  by Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a living document  about freedom .It is real , gripping  , living , breathing and moving  autobiography of one of the greatest living women.It has inspired me in many ways .Every woman must read it , every man should read it.And I am sure that any person who reads this book can only feel inspired to accept and  espouse the cause of freedom , values  and self realisation .Hirsi Ali's life is her message.Hers is a journey from repression to freedom.Out and out , she emerges as a passionate champion of women's rights.
Some of the truths that Hirsi tells are uncomfortable , like  torture of female circumcision ,civil war , forced marriage  and death threats. Hirsi wrote this book  of 353 pages in 2007 when she was 38 years old. At that time ,she was under the threat of death .Her journey from Mogadishu(Somalia) to Saudi Arabia,Ethiopia, Kenya , Netherlands and to the USA  ,marks the remarkable evolution of a woman from repressed backwardness to confident liberation .It was a real  transformation.She broke the shackles of her past but it required a great effort She thinks with clarity and writes with precision .The impact on reader is deep and real .She leaves the reader with  admiration about her, and unease with self.She is a woman of undaunted spirit and courage .
Her life illustrates that religious tolerance should never come in the way of basic human rights.Real experience gives birth to our beliefs, and resolves.

Ayaan was  born on November13,1969. in Mogadishu ,Somalia.she has an elder brother , Mahad .She had a  younger sister Haweya , who later on died due to mental illness .She loved her father,Hirsi Magan , though later , she refused to obey him when she decided to divorce her husband ,selected by her father.Ayaan became a member of Parliament in Holland in January ,2003.

She describes the  custom of female circumcision with disarming directness as follows:"In Somalia, like many countries across Africa and the Middle East,little girls are made "pure" by having their genitals cut out.There is no other way to describe this procedure, which typically occurs around the age of five.After the child's clitoris and labia are carved out, scraped off, the whole area is often sewn up, so that a thick band of tissues forms a chastity belt made of the girl's own sacred flesh. . ."
Her father  escaped from jail into Ethiopia and met her mother clandestinely in Saudi Arabia.Her father found a job in Riyadh , and her mother moved with children to Mecca.They were deported and asked to leave Saudi Arabia.The family moved to Ethiopia.This was in 1979.After living in Ethiopia for about a year , her father decided to move the family to Kenya.They flew to Nairobi in July , 1980.Nairobi was a place exposed to the west , and it is here that "an entire   world of Western ideas began to take shape."She read Charlotte Bronte,Jane Austen , and Daphne du Maurier.Meanwhile , her father married some other  woman and her mother had to be dependent on others to bring up her children.This had a deep impact on Ayaan ."I told myself that I would never let this happen to me.I would never be dependent on any one in this way"
She was forced by her father to marry Osman Moussa.But that first afternoon on Bonn(On her way to Canada to join her husband) a new idea crept upon her that she did not even have to go to Canada , the place of her husband Osman Moussa.She knew that another kind of life was possible.It was Friday , July 24,1992, when she stepped on the train to Holland.It was her real birth day , when she was born as a person making decisions about her life on her own..She changed her name from Ayaan Hirsi Magan to Ayaan Hirsi Ali.Later,she got a pink card to stay in Holland for the rest of her life as a recognised refugee.
She decided that she had a right to rule her own life..She was determined not to lie.When some elder asked her why she was divorcing her husband , she said ,"It is the will of the soul.The soul cannot be coerced.".Her father said that she had disgraced him.But her mother was kind."I needed my belief system to be logical and consistent".She had a great respect for truth.If what she said was true, she was not going to apologise for the truth.
She decided that she wanted to study political science.She enjoyed reading various subjects."It was such a privilege to watch people thinking,page after page.Every thing in the books was so beautifully put together,so rational.We learnt to define ,, to think clearly about what we were saying, to set out our thinking in building blocks and argue with data..In this way , we improved on older theories and expanded our understanding of the world".She graduated from Leiden in September,2000.She became a junior researcher with Labour Party."I found myself discovering my opinions as I typed."I had left God behind years ago.I was an atheist.There are no absolutes .Progress comes through critical thought" .She wanted to be like Popper: free of constraint,recognising greatness but unafraid to detect its flaws.She accepted every invitation to speak.She was and  is very fond of buying crate loads of books and reading them and thinking about what she read.

It was Neelie Kroes ,a prominent politician from Liberal Party, who  influenced her to shift from academia to active politics.She said that no matter how wonderful a PhD thesis AyaanAyaan could do with her 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.She should be in a combat of action,not ideas.She should stand for Parliament where she could truly have an effect on the emancipation of Muslim women and the integration of immigrants. .She became a one-issue politician in 2003.
As a politician , she could no longer have a normal relationship with journalists.She could not simply say what she thought,like an ordinary person .She was now a politician;the media ,rather than a source of information, was an instrument she must learn to use .

It is time for people who want to reform Islam to try not only speeches but also satire,arts , music ,videotapes,websites and books.She leaked bits and pieces of policy document, used aspects of it in other debates and gradually built a coalition .She knew it too well that "it takes a long time to dissolve the bars of a mental cage".Most of the organisations are comfortably bloated on subsidies and produce virtually no real programs .
She and the famous Amsterdam filmmaker Theo van Gogh made a film Submission :Part one in July 2004.Submission was aired on August 29,2004.On November2,2004, Theo van Gogh was killed  for his radical views contained in this film.

On May 15,2006,she was informed by the Justice department that due to the use of incorrect personal data during the naturalization process, the decree that naturalised her was declared void .She was evicted from her apartment due to  the reason that her presence made  the neighbours unsafe.
American Enterprise Institute offered her a job  from September,2006.On June 29,2006 , the Green Party called for a motion of no confidence in Rita Verdock  in Dutch Parliament.Rita had been responsible to set preconditions for Ayaan to get her Dutch citizenship back .The government collapsed and new elections were announced.
She  says that found in Holland freedom to think and freedom to express."Where I grew up , death is a constant visitor .A virus , bacteria, a parasite, drought , famine, soldiers , torturers could bring it to anyone , any time I feel privileged to be alive and free.Death comes riding on raindrops that turned to floods . . .For many women , because of the perception of lost honor, death comes at the hands of a father , brotheror husband .Death comes to young women giving birth to new life, leaving the new born orphaned in the hands of strangers."
"I  feel privileged to be alive and free.I moved from the world of faith to the world of reason-from the world of excision and forced marriage to to the world of sexual emancipation..I would like to be judged on the validity of my arguments, not as a victim."The values matter.If we face up to the terrible reality we are in, we can change our destiny.She ends the book with two powerful messages .:"We in the West would be wrong to prolong the pain of transition unnecessarily, by elevating cultures full of bigotry and hatred toward women to the stature of respectable alternative ways of life." and "People adapt.People who never sat on chairs before can learn to drive cars and operate complex machinery;they master these skills very quickly.Similarly , Muslims don't have to take six hundred years to go through a reformation in the way they think about equality and individual rights."

When I finished reading this book , I felt shocked .I had not known that even today ,in somalia and many other countries of the world , this modern world accepts , tolerates and is indifferent to the injustices meted out in routine to the little girls .One may or may not agree with all her views on religion , but she manages very successfully to provoke and question our basic belief structure.Partly by accident and partly by her authenticity and character , Ayaan Hirsi Ali changes you on many planes .