In my project we also work with a lot of teenagers and young adults that are Muslim. Unfortunetly, I understood very fast that there are some serious problems with Anti-Muslim racism which they have to face here besides of the other problems they already have as migrants who came to Europe without their parents. During the quarantine, I became aware of the case of Silvia Romano that is a worrying example.
After being imprisoned for 18 months, Silvia Romano finally returned to Rome on 10 May 2020 after being kidnapped in the village Chacama in Kenya on 20 November 2018 by the jihadist group Al Shabaab. She immediately confirmed to be in good health, mentally as well as physically. “I’m serene. During the kidnapping I was always treated well. They assured me that I would not be killed and so it was.”, Romano told the Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and the Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, directly after her arrival (Di Maio, 2020a).
Instead of leaving it at the reporting about the safe return of Romano, that was made possible by negotiations of the Turkish intelligence with Al Shabaab (del Re, 2020), Italian mainstream media took it one step further. The predominant subject in the news after Romano’s arrival has been her converting to the Islam and wearing the hijab. The Repubblica – a significant Italian newspaper with a center-left political stance – titles one of their articles “The redemption and the return of the image. The double victory of Al Shabaab” and continues to state “The least expected success of the whole enterprise was [Romano’s] adhesion to Islam” (del Re, 2020). Other titles state “Islamic and happy – Silvia the ungrateful […] We paid 4 million [annotation: that number has not been officially confirmed] to save her but the volunteer returned with the jihadist uniform’ ” (from the conservative newspaper Il Giornale; Sallusti, 2020) or “We liberated an Islamic - the young woman tender with the terrorists of Allah” (from the right-wing newspaper “Libero”; Senaldi & Feltri, 2020).
The predominant assumption seems to be that Silvia Romano converted as a response of a trauma that the kidnapping caused her. The newspaper Corriere Della Sera – another important Italian newspaper with a liberalist, centrist political alignment–for example wrote “Why is [the Stockholm syndrome] discussed along the case of Silvia Romano? It was discussed since the news emerged, that […] she converted to Islam. Investigative sources do not exclude that it may be a “psychological situation linked to the context in which the girl has lived in the past 18 months, not necessarily destined to last over time”. In short, the Stockholm syndrome.” (Marrone, 2020). While surely, Silvia Romano has experienced a difficult period of her life, it is not known whether she is traumatized. In fact, a diagnosis concerning Romano’s mental health can only be made by a psychiatrist or a psychologist (Nowak, 2018). Furthermore, her mental health and especially the way in which she is coping with die current events should not be a topic to discuss by the public as the public is not to judge here.
Anyways, in a country that is so closely tied to the Catholic Church, this debate seems rather hypocritical. It is arguable, if the reaction to Romano’s conversion would have been the same, if she converted to Christianity. In fact, recent surveys (Pew Research Center, 2018) as well as reports from international and civil society organisations (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, 2018) indicate persistent intolerance and racism against Muslims in the EU along with structural forms of discrimination that include for example access to education or employment. Women are particularly affected. This goes to further prove an anti-Muslim background of the public discussion. To further address the discussion of her wearing the hijab, it is to be said that, while it surely can be a form of oppression to force women to cover up, it is not to be forgotten that forcing a woman to undress is none less oppressive. True freedom only lies in a liberate choice. This also goes out to the so-called feminist Nadia Riva who called Romano’s dress “a garbage bag” and continues to say “No, like this you don’t defend the body of a woman” (Dazzi, 2020).
While the media above all talked about Romano’s conversion, it is also to be mentioned, that many young people were criticising this kind of reporting on social media and newspapers as for example the newspapr Avvenire (Spagnolo, 2020) that also directed the criticism and talked about “a subtle wave of “victim blaming” that is poisoning the media”. The journalist of Il Fatto Quotidiano, another big newspaper with a stance against corruption, commented on the previous mentioned articels of Libero and Il Giornale with the words “Distgusting. Horror. Indecency. The worst of the worst of the worst” (Sepe, 2020). To finally conclude with the words of Luigi Di Maio (2020): “Silvia is a young girl who lives as a prisoner for 18 months. […] Today she is back in Italy in the arms of her family and that is the only thing that matters. Silvia is alive and fine. Now have some respect please.”
To conclude, I think also for us as volunteers it is important to learn about the realities with which the children, teenagers, or adults whom we work with have to deal. Only like this we can reach what really is the goal of our service: solidarity.
Dazzi, Zita (2020, May 13). Lite tra femministe sul velo verde di Silvia Romano: "Sacco della spazzatura", "No, così non si difende il corpo delle donne". La Repubblica. Retrieved May 16, 2020, from www.repubblica.it
Di Maio, Luigi (2020a, May 10). In Facebook ial Facebook Page of Luigi di Maio]. Silvia Romano è in Italia. Retrieved May 16, 2020 from www.facebook.com/watch/LuigiDiMaio
Di Maio, Luigi (2020b, May 11). In Facebook [Official Facebook Page of Luigi di Maio]. Retrieved May 16, 2020, from www.facebook.com/LuigiDiMaio
del Re, Pietro (2020, May 10). Il riscatto e il ritorno d'immagine. La doppia vittoria di Al Shabaab. La Repubblica. Retrieved May 16, 2020, from www.repubblica.it
Marrone, Christina (2020, May 11). Che cosa è la sindrome di Stoccolma (e cosa c’entra Silvia Romano). Corriere Della Sera. Retrieved May 16, 2020 from www.corriere.it
Nowak, Laurel (2018, December 13). Who Can Diagnose Mental Illness? Bridges To Recovery. Retrieved May 16, 2020, from www.bridgestorecovery.com
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (2018, February 22). Hate crime against Muslims. Retrieved May 16, 2020, from www.osce.org
Pew Research Center (2018, October 29). Eastern and Western Europeans Differ on Importance of Religion, Views of Minorities, and Key Social Issues. Retrieved May 16, 2020, from www.pewforum.org
Sallusti, Alessandro (2020, May 11). Islamica e felice Silvia l’ingrata. Il Giornale. Retrieved May 16, 2020 from www.ilgiorale.it
Senaldi, Pietro & Feltri, Vittorio (2020, May 11). Abbiamo liberato un’islamica. Libero, p. 1.
Sepe, Alessandro (2020, May 11). "Abbiamo liberato un'islamica", titolo shock di Libero in prima pagina. Scanzi: "Schifo e indecenza". Area Napoli. Retrieved May 16, 2020, from www.areanapoli.it
Spagnolo, Vincenzo R. (2020, May 13). Finalmente libera. Silvia Romano e le altre, perché diventano vittime due volte. Avvenire. Retrieved May 16, 2020, from www.avvenire.it