In 2004, Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh was heading to work in Amsterdam. On his way, he was stopped in the street by a man — a Muslim fundamentalist angered by a film van Gogh had produced titled Submission, on the oppression of women in the Muslim world. The man shot van Gogh multiple times, cut his throat, and stabbed him. The attacker also left a five-page note stabbed into van Gogh’s chest.
That note was addressed to the woman who co-produced Submission, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who, like van Gogh, is an outspoken and brave fighter against the oppressive radical Muslim belief system. In the letter, van Gogh’s attacker threatened Ali with death, and ranted incoherently against Jews and the West. Ali, who had immigrated to the Netherlands from her home country of Somalia, understandably feared for her life, and went into hiding.
But she was not silenced. In 2007, Ali published an extraordinary book documenting her life under the harsh strictures of radical Islam. Infidel is her biography — her personal story of growing up in a devout Muslim family in Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, and Kenya. While we often see the tragic impact of radical Islamic beliefs in world events, we less often see the impact it has on individual lives. It is just such a perspective that makes Infidel so powerful.
The harsh realities women live with every day in countries where radical Islam holds sway are, for many of us in the West, hard to fathom. Ali describes the plight of some of the women she featured in the movie Submission:
There is the woman who is flogged for committing adultery; another who is given in marriage to a man she loathes; another who is beaten by her husband on a regular basis; and another who is shunned by her father when he learns that his brother raped her. Each abuse is justified by the perpetrators in the name of God, citing the Quran verses now written on the bodies of the women. These women stand for hundreds of thousands of Muslim women around the world.
There are parts of Infidel that may shock some readers — the cruel treatment Ali receives as a matter of custom, even from family members, is indeed appalling. But it is precisely her honesty that makes this book essential for our times, when terrorism and violence motivated by radical Islamic beliefs seems to have become a permanent feature of our world.
To this day, Ali is under fire for her beliefs, and threatened by Islamist fanatics willing to kill her for her views. But her response to those who ask if she has a “death wish” is bold and uncompromising: “I would like to keep on living. However, some things must be said, and there are times when silence becomes an accomplice to injustice.”
Eloquent and powerful words — to which I can only add: Amen.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein,
International Fellowship of Christians and Jews