First of all, I started reading Exhortation to the Crocodiles by António Lobo Antunes. The first chapter was really confusing, but promising. When I started thumbing through he book, I noticed that my copy has a lot of blank pages in it. I am not sure if this is a production failure, but it sure looks like it. I simply do not want to read 200 pages before realising that I will not be able to read all of the book. Which is why I abandoned it. Thus, I did not abandon this book because I didn’t enjoy reading it.
Other than that, I abandoned The Caged Virgin, by Ayaan Hirshi Ali. I was hoping to be able to finish this book, despite my dislike of her approach to Islam in general. I wanted to make sure that I knew what I was talking about when I say that I do not agree with her views (apart from watching her performance in several television shows and some of her articles in newspapers years ago, I had never read anything by Hirshi Ali). I think you might say that everyone who knows me a little could’ve told me in advance that I was going to dislike this book, including me. I just wasn’t expecting it to be this extreme, right at the very start. After finishing the introduction and 3 chapters, I had to get up and remove her book from my ‘currently reading’ list. I find it hard to put into words my extreme dislike of the material Ayaan Hirshi Ali presents in this book. I want to try and be as ‘objective’ as possible about this, but I have to admit that I was very frustrated with the content.
To put all of this into perspective: Ayaan Hirshi Ali has been a somewhat controversial figure in the Netherlands for quite some time. She was raised in Somalia, than later moved to Kenya with her family. When her family decided she was to be married off she escaped the country to the Netherlands, where she was granted citizenship. She worked in several organisations, including ones that tried to help women who were beaten or abused by their husbands. Later on, she became active in politics in the social-democrat party, leaving the party for the liberals at the beginning of the 2000s. She is best known for the controversy surrounding her movie “Submission 1″, which she produced together with Theo van Gogh, who was murdered by an Islamic fundamentalist later on. His body had a death-threat to Ayaan Hirshi Ali pinned to it.
All in all, the woman has been through quite some social upheavals and yes, I can see where she’s coming from. Reading about her opinion on Islam and women, will sound interesting to many, I am sure. So what is it that made me thus hesitant to keep on reading?
It is her approach to Islam. Yes, it is true that some Muslim women suffer from abusive husbands, yes it is true that this needs to be dealt with, but not in the manner Ayaan Hirshi Ali proposes. Her argument seems rather to heat up the discussion in an unhealthy manner, than to try and solve it. The main problem to me is that she sees Islam as some sort of big repressive entity that exists outside of the people that act upon it, instead of viewing culture and religion as something that people make themselves. They apply some of the things a tradition provides, and leave some things out. It is all about people making culture to me. Culture is not something that exists outside of people. This does not mean that certain aspects of what people make of culture cannot be oppressive to women or any other human being. Certainly, this is what happens in lots of situations. I simply mean to say that it is not the Islam that oppresses women and not the Islam that is inherently violent. So when Hirshi Ali asks whether “the aggression, the hatred [is] inherent in Islam itself?” and starts answering the question in the affirmative every step of the way, I was shouting: “No” “Unbelievable” etc. in my head. Sadly, her opinions are shared by many people. And sadly, to most people this message coming from someone who was Muslim herself once, makes it all the more true.
I am not saying that I agree with terrorism, but it simply cannot be equated to something inherent in Islam. Although there is some recent discussion that violence is part of most religions (on which I have no clue whether to agree or not), Islam is not specifically worse. Also, I’m not saying I agree with the oppression of women, either out of religious arguments or not, but I’m saying that these are religious arguments, made and carried out by people.