A young Italian aid worker named Silvia Romano was recently released by the Islamic terrorist group Al Shabaab after being held hostage for the past year and a half. Al Shabaab was paid an undisclosed amount of ransom in exchange for the girl’s freedom, and has announced that it will use the money to finance jihad.
Ms. Romano converted to Islam during her captivity. Upon her return to Italy, she told her debriefers that her conversion was sincere and voluntary. It’s still to early to assess the likelihood that what she says is true, especially since she could well be suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, and may be unable to evaluate her own sincerity with any reliability.
She was almost certainly raped by her captors as a part of her ordeal. The level of psychological trauma she has endured is difficult to imagine.
Below is an article from Il Giornale (also translated by FouseSquawk) about the conversion of Silvia Romano:
Islamic expert on the conversion of Silvia Romano: “She could have asked for the Koran to better understand her kidnappers.”
Upon her return, the Milanese aid worker confirmed that her conversion was by choice. The Islam expert Paolo Branca tried to explain the passages of the story. “It is evident that had the kidnappers been of another religion or atheists, it would have been less probable that there would have been a request for of a copy of the Koran, not to mention followed by a conversion.”
by Giovanna Pavesi
May 11, 2020
She arrived at 2:10 pm on a Sunday afternoon in May at Ciampino [Rome airport] after 18 months in captivity divided between Kenya and Somalia. Silvia Romano, the Milanese aid worker kidnapped in the village of Ghakama, 80 kilometers from Malindi, on November 20, 2018, and freed two days ago near Mogadishu, was able to embrace her family again.
The first image of her descending the steps of the flight that brought her home was one of a girl tightly dressed in a long, green, traditional Somali dress and a veil on her head, which was never removed.
For the psychologists in the secret services, who first listened to her story in Somalia, Silvia Romano reportedly told them that she had converted to Islam. Without, however, any duress on the part of her kidnappers. The young aid worker, in fact, was interviewed by the public prosecutor’s office of Rome, Sergio Colaiocco, and by anti-terrorist offices, who, in these months, have followed her case, and who have reportedly confirmed her choice.
“It’s true; I converted,” the 25-year-old reportedly explained during her long interview yesterday afternoon. She reportedly told the Ros [Special Operations Group] Carabinieri that she cried through all the initial months of captivity and had embraced the Islamic religion halfway through her kidnapping without any duress: I asked to be able to read a Koran and I was accommodated.” As reported this morning by Corriere della Sera, the aid worker also reportedly chose to change her name to Aisha. “I read the Koran, and prayed. My reflection was long, and at the end, a decision was made,” the young woman reportedly explained. Paolo Branca, an Islam expert and a teacher of the history of religions at the Catholic University of Milan, was consulted by Il Giornale. He explained how, in cases like this, there is often a trauma at the origin of the detachment from the faith, perhaps, from their own family members, and Branca tried to interpret the signs (visible and hidden) based on what Silvia said in her first hours of freedom.
Professor Branca, the conversion of Silvia is the object of great discussion in these hours. Are cases of this kind frequent in the history of kidnappings?
“In my personal experience, having known both Christians who converted to Islam and Muslims who became Christian, I think I can say, in general, that a step like this is never banal. You don’t change religions like drinking a glass of water. Even in ‘normal’ conditions, there is often a trauma at the origin of the detachment from the faith of their own parents, and it is not a coincidence that many see themselves as being obligated to denigrate the abandoned religion more than to glorify the new one.”
Amanda Lindhout, the Canadian freelance journalist kidnapped in August 2008 by an Islamist cell in Somalia, was set free in 2009 after months of captivity in which she was tortured and raped. She also appeared veiled, and only declared some time afterwards that she converted in order to survive. Up to what point can a hostage be said to be free to choose and totally free of the pressure of her captors, in your opinion?
“It is impossible to say. Also in the video messages in which military captives are forced [to convert], the singular personalities emerge, giving life to an infinite series of distinct cases.”
Why, in your opinion, did the aid worker ask for a Koran and not the Bible, for example?
“I don’t think they would have given it to her. And in any case, knowing the sacred texts of her kidnappers could have helped her better understand them and use a parlance known to them. Given her parochial commitment, I also think she already knows it well.”
Explain to us the concept of “better understand” her kidnappers. Silvia, for example, during her hours of interrogation, reportedly declared that she also learned a bit of Arabic.
“Knowing the language of others is always an advantage, also in a defensive way. Mohammad, for example, said, “Whoever knows the language of a people takes shelter from their tricks.”
Therefore, you think it was more an adaptation or a choice?
“Given that it was not said that the kidnappers spoke Arabic, but perhaps more of a dialect with some Arabic words (as the young aid worker explained during the interrogation), learning a bit of the language of my adversary helps me know him better, of course. Learning the language of him with whom I am interacting helps to understand him.”
What psychological mechanism could have started in her in 18 months of captivity? Why a conversion right in the middle of the kidnapping? Is it possible she was “victim” of that syndrome that connects the hostage to the reality of her kidnappers?
“Not knowing the girl, it is impossible to say. But the so-called ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ is known, the mechanism by which a prisoner can even fall in love with their jailer.”
Therefore the conversion to Islam could be influenced by the fact that her kidnappers belonged very probably, to a fundamentalist group?
“It seems to me evident that had the kidnappers been of another religion or atheists, the request for a copy of the Koran, followed directly by a conversion would have been less probable.”
Is there a risk of a form of radicalization in cases like this? Is it too soon to say?
“In general, the newly-converted are more scrupulous than common believers, but there are also forms of spiritual coming together that involve neither resentment towards the previous faith nor radical attitudes”
Silvia Romano landed at Ciampino (airport) with a long dress that, perhaps, more than any other element, has aroused the attention of many. In cases like this, could the clothes be considered a symbol? What significance does it have?
“The veil, in its various forms, for example, is a symbol of modesty and chastity, as well as submission to God. Beyond this, however, I believe that whoever comes out of a similar experience could also feel ‘protected’ by the veil from many looks that you would see directed at her.”
The young aid worker, during her long interrogation yesterday, reportedly referred to having heard the call to prayer more often in the day, during the phases of her captivity. Do you believe that could have influenced her in her embrace of the Islamic faith?
“In situations of grave deprivation of liberty, any sound, image or even smell could become obsessive or consoling. A lot of modern Arab concentration camp literature testifies widely to this.”
Could the Koran have had a consoling function in her case?
“All of the sacred texts of each religion have words of comfort and hope for every human being who lives the experience of limit, of pain, and death. The Koran, in particular, stresses faithful abandonment to the divine will, also in adversity, up to a certain level of fatalism, which, in extreme situations without possibility of escape, can be consoling.”
To the psychologists who received her in Somalia and who flew with her in her return trip, the Milanese aid volunteer reportedly confided in having changed her name to Aisha. What do you make of this choice?
“Aisha is the name of the youngest and most beloved wife of the Prophet, who was possessed, however, of a strong character, lively, and even a bit rebellious.”
Professor Branca, there has been talk of a propaganda victory for al Shabaab, in these hours, whether due to the conversion (without apparent duress) of the girl, or to the “compassionate” behavior they demonstrated towards her. In all, now, they fear that the fundamentalist group could be seen in a different light. What do you think?
“Even the Nazis asked Freud for a written declaration of having been treated well before letting him leave Vienna for Great Britain. The genius that he was, he frustrated it adding to the text already written a sentence in his own hand: ‘I can sincerely recommend the SS to anyone.’ In the future we will see if Silvia adds particulars to the story, of which, for now, we know little, perhaps reversing its apparent meaning.”
|00:01||Silvia Romano, the aid worker who was kidnapped in Kenya and yesterday returned to Italy,|
|00:05||was treated well by her kidnappers, and her conversion to Islam was voluntary, explained|
|00:09||the Milanese aid worker to investigators who are investigating her kidnapping,|
|00:13||which happened 18 months ago. “They told me that would not kill me, and that’s how it was,”|
|00:17||said the young woman, who then focused on her conversion.|
|00:21||“It was my free choice. I asked for the Koran. It is not true that I was forced to marry.”|
|00:25||As to the places of her detention, she was often moved,|
|00:29||always having the same captors.