SPOILER WARNING: These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points if you have not read the book.
Author: Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Page Count: 353
Genre: Political autobiography
Tone: Candid, thought-provoking, impassioned
1. Was this book what you expected? How so? How did it surprise you?
2. The publisher’s description reads, “Ultimately a celebration of triumph over adversity, Hirsi Ali’s story tells how a bright little girl evolved out of dutiful obedience to become an outspoken, pioneering freedom fighter. As Western governments struggle to balance democratic ideals with religious pressures, no story could be timelier or more significant.” Is this a fair representation of the book?
3. In your opinion, who is the intended audience for this book?
4. The Guardian published an article entitled, “Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Taking the Fight to Islam” in which it addresses the claim that Ayaan moved from one extreme to the other primarily because she was ‘traumatized’ by her upbringing. Ayaan responded that she finds this idea patronizing and wrote Infidel partly to combat that assumption. In her words, “People can see that there is not much trauma in my story.”
a. Is there trauma in her story?
b. Does it surprise you that she would characterize her experiences this way?
c. How does the way she relates difficult events illustrate her perspective?
d. She even acknowledges that her account is subjective, that her family may remember things differently. Do you trust Ayaan’s story?
e. Do you think her past experiences color her present activism? Even if so, does that make her points any less valid?
5. Were there actions Ayaan took at any point in her life that you questioned or that made you uncomfortable? If so, does that color your opinion of her character or politics?
6. What stood out about her family relationships?
7. Contrast the character arcs of Ayaan and her sister Hawaye.
8. Did Ayaan have friends?
9. Did the events of Ayaan’s life shock you? Did they seem real? Does reading about this have impact for American readers?
10. What would you say are some of the more memorable scenes or events from her life?
11. Are there any respects in which you might say Ayaan has had a fortunate life?
12. Was there a country or setting that seemed a little more vivid to you? Was it her depiction of the area or the events that happened there?
13. Would you go so far as to characterize Ali as a role model? For whom?
14. The fact she lies on her application for Dutch citizenship becomes a recurring issue. Do you agree with her decision to do so? Would you have done the same? How did you feel when that was explained away – both at the time and when it caused difficulty as a political leader?
15. Hirsi is a self-described rationalist. How is this evident in her life and relationships?
16. How did you react to her inclusion of her father’s letter?
17. What would you say is her “big idea(s)”? What argument is she trying to advance?
18. Even Ayaan’s allies and friends tried to caution her that she was being too provocative; too explosive in her comments and criticisms. Why didn’t she just back off a little, espouse a little more tact? Should she have? Does she help the cause? Harm it?
19. The event that brought her notoriety outside of her home was the brutal murder of Theo. Discuss him, their project, the reaction, and the repercussions of his murder.
20. How did you feel about the security issue – the around-the-clock bodyguards, housing issues, loss of freedom. How did Ayaan adjust?
21. Did you find the style of writing to enhance the narrative? How would you characterize it?
22. Is this a personal story? Do you feel you know her?
23. Maria Golia, an Egyptian-based academic, wrote in the NYT supplement that “Hirsi Ali seems far more interested in indicting Islam than helping damaged women, whose horror stories she conveniently trots out whenever she needs to bludgeon home a point.” Based on what you know, is there any truth to this? Does it matter?
24. Does she speak for Muslim women? Does she believe she does?
25. Is there room for feminism in Islam?
26. At a time when we are urged to embrace tolerance, especially as Americans, Hirsi Ali seems set on exposing Islam as flawed [at least in current state]. On Colbert, “I want us to judge. We should say that one religion is better than another; one culture is better than another.” How do you feel about this?
27. Does the fact that she was devout when younger give her the right to criticize Islam? The credibility?
28. In your opinion, does her persona advance or inhibit her agenda? Would her ideas be received the same (pro or con) if she were male? Older? Less forthright? Less striking?
29. Did you like Ayaan?
30. Infidel spent 31 weeks on the NYT bestseller list. What explains the interest? The appeal? Do you think it has/had/will have a lasting impact? In what way? Is it a positive contribution to the ongoing conversation?
Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Wikipedia page
AHA Foundation reading group guide
Lit Lovers book discussion questions
Interview with the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne
Interview with the Boston Phoenix
Infidel reviews on Goodreads
Infidel review by The New York Times