A generation ago, Betty Friedan wrote "The Feminine Mystique" to expose the misery of American housewives living in what she scorned as a "comfortable concentration camp." Gloria Steinem put on a bunny suit with a fluffy cottontail to dramatize the way the male customers regarded the bunnies at the Playboy Clubs.
Together they enlisted millions of followers and ushered in a feminist revolution on behalf of the most privileged women in the world.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is trying to spark another revolution, one that reveals Western women of that earlier revolution as engaging in child's play. In her memoir, "Infidel," Ms. Hirsi Ali targets the tortured legacy of Islam, the way in which a literal interpretation of the Koran makes it difficult for women in many Muslim cultures to thrive, or even survive.
Her odyssey takes her from Somalia in her younger years to Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Kenya, always seeking a larger vision for her life. She endured painful female circumcision at the age of 5. As a teenager, she took pride and pleasure in wearing the hijab that covers the entire body in black, declaring her faith to all. Her intellectual odyssey finally takes her to Holland, where she studied writers of the Enlightenment and began to understand and appreciate democracy and the freedom to think for herself. She began to question her faith.
The world first heard of Ayaan Hirsi Ali when filmmaker Theo van Gogh was murdered on the streets of Amsterdam by a Moroccan-born Dutch Islamist who pinned a note to van Gogh's body with a dagger. Ms. Hirsi Ali had worked with van Gogh on a documentary titled "Submission," describing how Muslim women are often forced into arranged marriage and beaten if they disobey what the men understand as the teachings of Mohammed.
In Holland, she worked as a Somali translator and listened to many accounts of Muslim women who had been beaten, bloodied and raped by the men in their lives. She became an aggressive advocate. She pushed the Dutch government to keep records of "honor killings," and the findings of a pilot project initiated by the Dutch parliament astonished the public. In only eight months in just two small regions of the country, 11 Muslim girls were killed by their families for bringing "dishonor" to the family. (Such offenses range from going out with a non-Muslim, running away from an arranged marriage, or wearing lipstick and modern dress.)