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The Caged Virgin: An Emancipation…
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The Caged Virgin: An Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam (original 2002; edition 2008)

by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

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5201819,468 (3.7)30
Member:deedeeinfj
Title:The Caged Virgin: An Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam
Authors:Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Info:Atria Books (2008), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 208 pages
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The Caged Virgin by Ayaan Hirsi Ali (2002)

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Despite its author usually being portrayed as some provocative, neo-conservative agitator, I found The Caged Virgin to be well-balanced and thoroughly reasonable in its views. To be sure, Ayaan Hirsi Ali is assertive and unafraid in her condemnation and criticism, but when faced with the sickening plight of many Muslim women in both the West and in societies with Islamic majorities, who could blame her? This is an awkward topic for many people, dealing as it does with taboo subjects like religion, race, immigration and sexual morality. But Hirsi Ali is defiant; her arguments will discomfort many people, and rightly so.

Because of this awkwardness, many will close off their minds to Hirsi Ali's book. But it is badly needed for people of all creeds, and both genders, to read and engage with and confront this sort of thing. The author attacks the Western doctrine of multiculturalism for its complicity and double standards which, however unintentionally, contribute to the problem (e.g. The present-day attitude of Western cultural relativists, who flinch from criticising Muhammad for fear of offending Muslims, allow Western Muslims to hide from reviewing their own moral values." (pg. 176); "Because multiculturalists will not classify cultural phenomena as 'better' or 'worse' but only neutral or disparate, they actually encourage segregation and unintentionally perpetuate, for instance, the unsatisfactory position of Muslim women." (pg. 63)). However, the failings of multiculturalism, though important, are not the main thrust of Hirsi Ali's argument.

The main thrust of The Caged Virgin is to try to get Muslims (both male and female) to confront the limitations of their own religious practices. As the author explains on page 155, "I force Muslims to face a shortcoming in their faith and to discover the meaning and importance of secular morality, which will enable them to adapt their faith to the real world." She disparages the Muslim sense of victimhood, contending that Western Muslims are not cornered or embattled or beaten-down (pp156-7), and notes their double standards in this attitude to the West ("I am amazed that Muslims are not more offended by the invocation of Allah and 'God is great' for murder [by Islamic fundamentalists] than by [the Danish] cartoons. Why do Muslims not fly into flights of rage when people who go to help Iraqis are kidnapped, tortured, and beheaded in the name of Islam?" (pg. xv); "… at present, reading works by Western [liberal] thinkers is regarded as disrespectful to the Prophet and Allah's message. This is a serious misconception… After all, the fact that the Wright brothers were not Islamic has not stopped Muslims from travelling by air." (pp xii-xiii)). Hirsi Ali contends that only when courageous and free-thinking Muslims confront and reform their religion can Islam progress and mature and cease to cause so much harm both to individual people's lives and in the international political arena.

By far the most heart-breaking assertion in the book is given very early on, and reinforced and evidenced throughout: the sad truth that, often, Muslim women maintain their own repression (pp3-4). Reading the various horror stories provided by Hirsi Ali (including, most sickeningly, the graphic accounts of female genital mutilation and the health problems that result), one would assume that many Muslim women seek to be free of their cage. As the author shows, this is often not the case. One can understand why immigrant women, often illiterate, uneducated and brought up to be obedient and subservient, and in a new and frightening country where they don't speak the language, can meekly conform, but it is more troubling that, as Hirsi Ali contends, "even educated women often have difficulty relinquishing [these] ideas" (pg. 4). On page 31, she hints at a possible explanation:

"Every Muslim is expected to submit to the will of Allah, but the girls and women have to submit most of all. This upbringing can have so great an influence that women never succeed in escaping from the cage. Because they have internalized their subordination, they no longer experience it as an oppression by an external force but as a strong internal shield… They are like prisoners suffering from Stockholm syndrome, in which hostages fall in love with the hostage takers and establish a deep, intimate contact with them. But it is an unhealthy intimacy, comparable to slaves who are subordinate not only in body, but also psychologically…"

It is this denial of the outside world, of other ways of thinking – a sort of intellectual cowardice, if you will – which is most troubling as it perpetuates these ideals among the next generation. Unable or unwilling to discard the idea that a good Muslim girl is an obedient one, these decent and honest Muslims – both men and women – indirectly provide succour to the fundamentalists who give their religion a bad name, and allow for the continued sexual and psychological abuse of other women. Who in good conscience could wear a hijab, or a burqa, or consent to an arranged marriage, however freely they may choose to do so, knowing what these same things mean for countless disenfranchised women around the world? Surely someone else's brutal oppression trumps your own desire to display your piety? At the age of 22, Hirsi Ali was given in an arranged marriage to a distant cousin (pg. 1), yet bravely chose to value her independence above all, and fled. Regrettably, many other women in a similar position have submitted and will continue to submit to these "socially-sanctioned rapes" (pg. 24). As Hirsi Ali notes, cuttingly, on page 7: "Is it not hypocritical to trivialize or tolerate those practices, when you yourself are free?"

Dealing forthrightly and compellingly with these ideas, it is therefore a shame that The Caged Virgin, as a piece of writing, is rather average. It seems wrong to deal with such a book on these terms, so I will keep such criticisms brief, but I was disappointed that the book failed to live up to the praise given by Christopher Hitchens on the book's blurb, which described it as "written with quite astonishing humour and restraint". It is important writing, to be sure, and, as it is written by a Somali Muslim woman, largely immune from the cheap shots and misguided cries of bigotry and Islamophobia which an offended party might direct, for example, at someone like me, a young white male atheist. But I could find no evidence in The Caged Virgin of the humour that Hitchens claimed, and the book is also, unfortunately, rather fragmented (it is largely compiled from previously-published articles by Hirsi Ali). This means it is often repetitive, and lacking a single consistent narrative argument that would strengthen the force of the author's ideas. It is neither readable enough to satisfy as a polemic, nor thorough enough to serve as a more in-depth academic treatise. Nevertheless, despite its lack of fluency, it remains a powerful and thought-provoking book, with ideas that should challenge and stimulate readers from any background." ( )
  MikeFutcher | Jun 3, 2016 |
The ideas in this book are important. But the mixture of interviews, fictionalised transcripts, essays and biography don't work very well together to put the case forward. ( )
  LynleyS | Feb 8, 2014 |
FTC NOTICE: Library Book

REVIEW: The moment I started reading Ayaan Hirsi Ali's, " The Caged Virgin: An Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam," I realized that I missed her style of writing, having previously read "Nomad--From from Islam to America: A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations" and "Infidel." The beginning of her book reflected an assertive manner without being offensive, a consistent characteristic offered in all three texts. This approach compelled the me to want to walk in-step with the author while she described her journey and goals. These items included, but were not limited to, the following:

Description of her credentials;
Definition of Muslim absolutism;
Contrasting of Islamic fundamentalist ideology to the Western paradigm;
Depiction of gender-based abuse of women;
Caution to countries to be watchful of fundamentalism;
Summarizing legal, regulatory, and operational barriers to reform;
Advising how martyrdom became established;
Utilization of sociocultural visual models;
Referring to examples by germane experts;
Creation of a valuable list to escape domestic abuse; and,
Elaboration of her film.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali performed her goals without making the reader of previous books feel as though the author was simply doing an inexpensive re-write. The examples, visuals and references the writer provided were solid and easy to understand. A case in point was that I did not remember learning about the sociocultural triangular models prior to reading this book, and I found myself wanting to learn more about them. It caused me to add such books to my reading list.

However, with the author's goals accomplished and the reader wanting to learn more, one must wonder why this book earned only three stars in lieu of four or five of them? I found the "Part One," scene-by-scene description of the author's film, "Submission" to be redundant and unnecessary. It treated the reader as though he/she could not have understood what was already communicated (repeatedly) throughout the book. Progression through the chapter enabled me to graphically envision her scenes, which served as her goal; but it was as if I could not walk out of the movie theater. I was already too invested in (most of the way through) the book. This chapter came across as an over-the-top plug of self-promotion. If she wanted to promote her film, she could have increased the cost of her book and included a CD/DVD of the scene in a pocket/insert.

I had hoped that the chapters that followed the film scenes would enable the author to redeem herself. Unfortunately, such a thing did not occur. It did not destroy Ayaan Hirsi Ali's message; it simply reduced how I valued this book. The author's message is conveyed much better in her other books "Nomad" and "Infidel." I highly recommend those texts. ( )
  StreedsReads | Oct 29, 2013 |
Her writings are something people need to read more of. The questions she challenges both Muslims and the West with are things that we all should be thinking about. She speaks eloquently and passionately about a very controversial subject. I especially liked her challenge to Western journalists and leaders who are afraid of criticizing Islam. ( )
  amandajoy30 | Jan 30, 2012 |
Hirsi-Ali goes into detail about her journey from Islam to apostasy in well-written, fluent prose. A quick and easy read, though painful in its heartrending story. ( )
  quantum_flapdoodle | Apr 11, 2011 |
Showing 1-5 of 16 (next | show all)
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Ayaan Hirsi Aliprimary authorall editionscalculated
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The attacks on the United States of September 11, 2001, prompted the West to launch a massive appeal to Muslims around the world to reflect on their religion and culture.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Please do not combine the Dutch edition De maagdenkooi with the English edition The Caged Virgin or any other international editions. Without limitation, the English edition includes articles not appearing in the Dutch original. Thank you.

-- Breaking through the Islamic curtain
-- Stand up for your rights!: women in Islam
-- Why can't we take a critical look at ourselves?
-- The virgins' cage
-- Let us have a Voltaire
-- What went wrong?: a modern clash of cultures
-- A brief personal history of my emancipation
-- Being a politician is not my ideal
-- Bin Laden's nightmare: interview with Irshad Manji
-- Freedom required constant vigilance
-- Four women's lives
-- How to deal with domestic violence more effectively
-- Genital mutilation must not be tolerated
-- Ten tips for Muslim women who want to leave
-- Submission: part I
-- The need for self-reflection within Islam
-- Portrait of a heroine as a young woman
-- A call for clear thinking.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0743288335, Hardcover)

Muslims who explore sources of morality other than Islam are threatened with death, and Muslim women who escape the virgins' cage are branded whores. So asserts Ayaan Hirsi Ali's profound meditation on Islam and the role of women, the rights of the individual, the roots of fanaticism, and Western policies toward Islamic countries and immigrant communities. Hard-hitting, outspoken, and controversial, The Caged Virgin is a call to arms for the emancipation of women from a brutal religious and cultural oppression and from an outdated cult of virginity. It is a defiant call for clear thinking and for an Islamic Enlightenment. But it is also the courageous story of how Hirsi Ali herself fought back against everyone who tried to force her to submit to a traditional Muslim woman's life and how she became a voice of reform.

Born in Somalia and raised Muslim, but outraged by her religion's hostility toward women, Hirsi Ali escaped an arranged marriage to a distant relative and fled to the Netherlands. There, she learned Dutch, worked as an interpreter in abortion clinics and shelters for battered women, earned a college degree, and started a career in politics as a Dutch parliamentarian. In November 2004, the violent murder on an Amsterdam street of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, with whom Hirsi Ali had written a film about women and Islam called Submission, changed her life. Threatened by the same group that slew van Gogh, Hirsi Ali now has round-the-clock protection, but has not allowed these circumstances to compromise her fierce criticism of the treatment of Muslim women, of Islamic governments' attempts to silence any questioning of their traditions, and of Western governments' blind tolerance of practices such as genital mutilation and forced marriages of female minors occurring in their countries.

Hirsi Ali relates her experiences as a Muslim woman so that oppressed Muslim women can take heart and seek their own liberation. Drawing on her love of reason and the Enlightenment philosophers on whose principles democracy was founded, she presents her firsthand knowledge of the Islamic worldview and advises Westerners how best to address the great divide that currently exists between the West and Islamic nations and between Muslim immigrants and their adopted countries.

An international bestseller -- with updated information for American readers and two new essays added for this edition -- The Caged Virgin is a compelling, courageous, eye-opening work.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:34 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Muslims who explore sources of morality other than Islam are threatened with death, and Muslim women who escape the virgins' cage are branded whores. So asserts Hirsi Ali's meditation on Islam and the role of women, the rights of the individual, the roots of fanaticism, and Western policies toward Islamic countries and immigrant communities. This controversial book is a call to arms for the emancipation of women from religious and cultural oppression and from an outdated cult of virginity. It is a defiant call for clear thinking and for an Islamic Enlightenment. But it is also the courageous story of how Hirsi Ali herself fought back against everyone who tried to force her to submit to a traditional Muslim woman's life and how she became a voice of reform. She relates her experiences as a Muslim woman so that oppressed Muslim women can take heart and seek their own liberation.--From publisher description.… (more)

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