Commentary. The 25-year-old captured aid worker arrived in Italy Monday after a year and a half of captivity in Somalia. Right-wing politicians and media unleashed their outrage that she converted to Islam.

After 535 days a hostage, Silvia Romano faces the brutality of the right

The woman who returns after being kidnapped is never the same as she was before. And that is true for Silvia Romano as well.

I believe her first reactions after her release were still affected by her state of shock. For this reason, I think that the statements that “came out” from her questioning on Sunday should also be taken with a high degree of caution. It takes time for the details of a life lived in captivity to take shape. There are details that we have perhaps kept hidden from ourselves at an unconscious level, just as others were probably only reactions to suggestions by the questioners.

Of course, every kidnapping is its own individual story, but I believe that for a woman to find herself isolated in a cultural and religious context so different from the one she grew up in presents a greater difficulty in understanding the behavior and reactions of the kidnappers, who are always male and murderous.

They often fail to understand the needs of a woman, especially those related to the menstrual cycle, during which they stay away because they consider you “dirty.” However, the taboo over a woman’s body has one positive aspect to it: no Western woman who was kidnapped—at least in recent years and as far as I know—has ever suffered physical violence, at least if we don’t count the extreme violence of death. This is of some importance; however, psychological violence remains. And sometimes the latter is even more devious and traumatizing.

The context in which captivity is taking place is also important: whether isolated, together with other prisoners, or with the possibility of communicating with another woman, etc. Of course, when it comes to communication there is also the language barrier, and I don’t think that today’s members of Al Shabab know Italian like their elders did, who had suffered colonization and felt the Italian presence even after the country’s independence. In addition to Somali, Arabic has spread widely, especially through the Koranic schools, which—as far as I saw the last time I was in Somalia—were teaching the history and geography of Saudi Arabia! These Koranic schools trained many jihadists. Even then, Sharia law was already in force in Mogadishu, applied by an Islamic court that cut off hands and feet without the anesthesia hypocritically used by the Saudis.

It would not surprise me, therefore, if Silvia found herself in an “Islamic state” environment.

That doesn’t mean that I was not struck by what she was wearing when she got off the plane that brought her back to Italy. However, the questions I immediately asked myself about that took second place to the joy of seeing her free. This freedom must also apply to the choices she has made—even as I doubt that in a state of captivity—and one which has lasted for so long—it’s possible to maintain lucidity and freedom in your choices.

My kidnapping—fortunately—lasted for “only” a month, during which I always maintained an antagonistic attitude—without shedding a single tear—against my kidnappers. I was still communicating with them, as how could one remain for days without talking at all, even if running the risk of not being understood? And there was also the suggestion of making me convert to Islam by having me recite a prayer—in my case, with a scarf put on my head—to show me how easy conversion would be after all. However, fortunately, my kidnappers were not fundamentalists, and while one of them said I was “godless,” the other one, who was more political, said he saw me as a “fighter” rather than as a woman who must be subjected to Islam.

In fact, the only outcome was that I was confirmed in my atheism.

But 535 days is a long time, practically endless—and how could one endure for so long without trying to adapt in order to survive? Furthermore, my context and hers were different—Iraq is not Somalia—as were our respective kidnappers.

But the uproar that has been unleashed against Silvia because she has converted to Islam has no limits, violently clashing against her innocent and disarming, almost naive smile.

Comparing her to a prisoner in a concentration camp who returns home dressed as a Nazi is an incomprehensible outrage, and it should offend anyone who has any sense of history, but unfortunately this is not the case: there is not the slightest trace of shame detectable in the statements of those who feel entitled to pass such judgment.

As always happens when a woman returns home after a kidnapping, the right has unleashed its ire against the fact that the ransom was paid. Is that lawful or unlawful? How much is a human life worth? Should all Italian citizens be saved, or does it depend, let’s say, on their convictions? Is it lawful to pay a ransom that will end up in the hands of jihadists, and maybe also in the hands of those who acted as intermediaries—in this case the Turkish secret services, which got their free advertising with the branded bulletproof vest worn by Silvia when she was released?

These questions are all putting a human life in second place, and they only come up when it is a woman who must be brought home—in this case, Silvia, “the ungrateful one,” who, because of her conversion, cannot be counted among the “lively Teresas” from Salieri’s poem, innocently chasing butterflies, or even the “silly gooses,” but rather among those who “were looking for trouble,” or—even worse—who put the lives of those who tried to save them at risk.

I will never forget that I owe my life to Nicola Calipari, and it will take more than a lifetime to process this trauma.

I am writing about kidnapped women in particular, because when a male photographer who was taken captive came back after having converted to Islam, no one regretted having freed him, and no one ever says kidnapped men “were looking for trouble.”

P.S. About the whole Conte-Di Maio dispute about who was supposed to meet Silvia at the airport—for what it’s worth, when I arrived at Ciampino airport, Berlusconi was the one who came to greet me, not Minister Fini!

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