Ayaan Hirsi Ali was born in Somalia, from an assertive (for a Muslim) mother and a progressive, but largely absent, father. Her father had been educated at Columbia University in NYC.
Her father's political activism against the Somali government made it necessary for the family to leave the country, first traveling to Saudi Arabia, where blacks are referred to as "slaves" by their classmates and teachers, then briefly to Ethiopia, then to Kenya.
As a teenager and young adult, Ayaan sought Islamic teaching, eager to get to the "core of Islam" and reach the point where it would begin to make sense, but she generally found the answers she was receiving to be unsatisfying. Since most of her education occurred in Kenya, she spoke English very well, and read many western books.
By Somali custom, all marriages are arranged, and one day her father returned home to happily announce that he had found a great husband for Ayaan, a Somali man who lived in Canada. When the suitor came by and visited Ayaan and her siblings, they found out that not only were his Somali language skills deficient, but he didn't speak English all that well either! Further conversation showed that he was an idiot. Ayaan pleaded with her father to be released from this arrangement, but he turned a deaf ear to her. The wedding ceremony happened with no women, not even Ayaan, present.
Ayaan was shipped to a relative in Germany, where she was to spend a few weeks before proceeding to Canada. Determined to run the first chance she got, she told her uncle she was going on a brief trip to Holland to visit a friend, and once there, applied for asylum status, and was shocked at how generously the Dutch welcomed her into their welfare state. Her clan and her father disowned her.
European society seemed better in every way than the one she came from. It was more prosperous, less violent, the people were kind, and civil servants were cordial and uninterested in bribes. Lessons in Dutch were available, and she acquired it quickly and was able to earn a comfortable living as a Dutch-Somali translator. In her translation work, she was constantly exposed to the dysfunctional nature of her native culture, in contrast to the more advanced Dutch culture around her. She attended a university, and, determined to understand how such a great society could be created and why the other societies she was familiar with were doing so badly in comparison, majored in political science. She moved in with a white boyfriend, living with him for several years.
She kept asking herself, if Islam was the one true religion and Allah the one true God, why were these societies of infidels doing so much better than the Islamic societies? And as, in her studies, she read the history of Europe, it seemed to be the history of the Catholic church losing more and more of its power, and of the secularization of governments.
Very slowly, she became not only an unbeliever, but developed a strong belief that, for progress to occur in the Islamic world, someone had to criticize Islam, as Christianity had been criticized in Europe, and bring about the secularization of those countries. But who was to criticize Islam? Any white European who did it would be dismissed as a "racist". Anyone who did it in Somalia would quickly be killed. She had studied the Koran extensively, and understood well what she was rejecting and why. Ayaan did what she felt was right and began to make her voice heard.
As she spoke out, she began to receive death threats from Muslims. She switched political parties as her own Labor Party was too politically correct to be comfortable with her views and won a seat in Dutch parliament with the more conservative Liberal Party.
She continued to speak out, and it became clear to everyone that she was a full-fledged infidel. According to Mohamed, any Muslim who renounces their faith is to be killed. Her life changed radically, as she found herself surrounded by burly bodyguards, her whereabouts a secret.
Still determined to speak, she wrote the script for a 10 minute movie about the oppression of women by Islam which was directed by Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh. Van Gogh was murdered in the street by a radical Muslim, who left a note on the body saying that Ayaan was the next target.
Holland erupted in rioting -- Mosques and Islamic schools were burned down, and in retaliation, Christian churches were burnt.
The book ends with Ayaan moving to the US to work for the American Enterprise Institute.
It should be made clear that Islam did not oppress Ayaan particularly badly for a Somali girl. The female circumcision and arranged marriage were strictly normal for that society, and she received a pretty good education. Her father did not beat her mother. The family was quite progressive for that country, and would have been more so had her father been around more (the circumcision of his children occurred in his absence and against his express wishes).
It is important to understand the courage it must have taken for Ayaan to criticize the religion she had been raised to believe had a monopoly on goodness. As Richard Dawkins says, this woman is a hero. (show less)