The following story describes the dilemma of a Turkish-Dutch girl who wrote a book denouncing her strict Islamic upbringing, and then decided to quit writing after the resulting outcry. Gary Fouse, who translated the piece, says:
This Dutch article is getting a lot of attention. A Turkish-Dutch girl named Lale Gül has published a book on how bad it was being raised in a Turkish Muslim family.
The translated article from the Dutch daily De Volkskrant:
Lale Gül wrote a book about her strict Islamic upbringing and was denounced: “I was called a nest befouler”
With her debut novel I am going to live, Lale Gül gave a glimpse into the Islamic community in which she grew up. After publication, the community turned against her. Now Gül is putting her pen down out of fear of being cast out.
by Ashwant Nandrum
February 25, 2021
Two weeks after the appearance of her book, Lale Gül has to acknowledge that she has been naïve. She had planned to write a story based on her own life. A book about an Amsterdam girl who breaks free from the grip of a strict Islamic community. She was not afraid of causing a stir at home. Her parents speak broken Dutch: They wouldn’t understand anything from the book. And if, unexpectedly, they heard about it, Gül would claim that she had made it up. It was just a novel.
That plan has failed miserably. The day after she appeared on the talk show Op1 the Gül family phone was glowing red. Family members, acquaintances, even strangers were inquiring. The book would bring shame to the community. “With hands shaking, my father spoke with everyone. At home, I said that I had written a love story. But with every telephone call, my father got a better picture of what was really in the book. He said, ‘Child, what you have done is put our entire family life out on the street.’”
The book entitled I am going to live reads like a long tirade by the principal character. Her parents don’t allow her to listen to music or watch movies with kissing. No wearing of jewelry or makeup, and no taking of selfies. No birthday celebrations and certainly no going out. Not on school trips, nor vacations without a male family member. Friendships with boys are inappropriate, let alone having a boyfriend.
While the main character feels the need to live that way. She asks herself in the book what she is supposed to do with the desires. “Do I have to live like a house plant? Do I have to immediately enter into a marriage where all sex is set out before it has begun because my creators have chosen a completely humorless, Koran-bound a**hole for me? Is God happy with my tragedy?”
The book offers a staggeringly honest look into Gül’s life experience. Fights between mother and daughter are described in detail. Unvarnished descriptions of how the main character has secret sex with her Dutch boyfriend alternate with reflections on Islam. Her parents are disdainfully called “creators”, the mother is nicknamed, “Carbuncle the Cockroach” and “Islamo-fascist despot.”
The poisonous tone was not originally the aim, says Gül. “The plan was to describe the events as factually as possible and leave the judgment to the reader. But during the time of the writing, I became angry with my parents again. Then I decided: Let the reader taste the anger.”
Gül’s parents immigrated in the 1990s to the Netherlands. They live in an Amsterdam working-class quarter. Her mother occupies herself as a housewife raising three children; her father is a postman and train cleaner.
“But in their heads, they have never left the Turkish village. In Amsterdam, they surround themselves with Turks. They watch Turkish TV programs and cannot let go of their traditional norms and values. They are afraid that when I wear blue jeans, their reputation in the community will be affected.”
In addition, faith plays a large role. “As devout Muslims, they believe in Heaven and Hell. They don’t want their children to burn in the eternal fire, so they lay down restrictions on me. Besides, my mother believes that my sins will be borne by her. On the Day of Judgment, God will ask, ‘What did you do when your daughter followed the Devil?’”
According to Gül, most young Muslim girls, just like her, have to deal with a strict upbringing. However, she finds it striking that the majority do not seem to be burdened by it. “At the Free University of Amsterdam, where I study Dutch, I regularly speak with well-educated Muslim girls who are not allowed to go out or have boyfriends. They feel the need less to openly rebel. At school, they remove their head coverings and secretly take boyfriends. But they go out of their way to avoid strife in the community.”
Gül’s struggle began in Koran school at the Turkish foundation Milli Görüs. From age 6-17, she studied there every Saturday and Sunday learning Koran texts by rote. There were also lessons and teaching in Islamic norms and values. What struck her was the lack of space for personal development. While in public school, she was encouraged to express herself, but on the weekend she kept her opinion to herself. When she asked why girls had to cover their heads while the boys did not, it was dismissed. “According to the teacher the question was whispered to me by the Devil.”
In her book Gül describes the way the main character continues to try to reconcile Western ideas with the teachings of the Prophet. “When I was 16 I looked at YouTube films by leftist Turks. They believe that you should not take the rules of the faith literally, but you should reinterpret them in our ‘zeitgeist’. I was so happy: Finally, I found people with whom I could identify.”
“One week later, I was sitting in class. When I expressed doubt that homosexuality was a disease, I was harshly spoken to. Those were thoughts of a hypocrite, said the teacher, and hypocrites are many times worse than unbelievers. Because while an unbeliever lays his cards on the table, hypocrites are traitors from inside out, dressed in the same uniform.”
Since she was 18 Gül has considered herself an Islamophobe. “I have come to worry about the influence of faith. I know no Islamic land where life is pleasant for gays, apostates, or feminist women. Each attempt to modernize Islam, from female imams to mosques where gays are welcome, is thwarted. The reinterpretation of religious texts is seen as a weakening of the teaching — one of the reasons why the Turkish-Dutch community is still seen as so conservative, a kind of Oriental SGP*.”
She calls it disappointing that hardly any progressives appreciate her insights. “The Left thinks: Immigrants have it hard. So let’s offer a counterweight to the hard words from the right and praise the multicultural society. But believe me, you are doing us no service. Dare to say: You don’t see men and women as equal. Koran schools stand in the way of integration.”
When Gül put her opinion on social media in 2019, she was hoisted on a shield by the right-oriented tweeters. She received invitations to dine with, among others, Telegraaf journalist Wierd Duk, Forum for Democracy leader Thierry Baudet, and talk show host Fidan Ekiz. They were nice encounters, she says, in which admiration was expressed for her courage. Baudet invited her to come and speak at campaign meetings. In retrospect, the 23-year-old is happy that she didn’t accept. “I then had the hope that Baudet would take a constructive position. Now it is clear that was not the case.”
After the publication of her novel, Gül was in the spotlight. She receives reports from young women who see themselves in her situation and who ask for advice. Readers who thank her for the insight into the culture. And letters from writing colleagues such as Franca Treur, who herself, wrote a novel about her religious upbringing, and who encourages the new writer to continue writing.
But at home, things are different.
The day after the performance on Op1, things broke out. Someone presenting himself as the chairman of Milli Görüs called her father and promised to take her to court, Gül says. (Milli Görüs denies this.) “An uncle came by and called me a ‘filthy whore’s daughter’. He promised to knock the teeth out of my head. My mother said, ‘I can’t even blame your uncle; you asked for it with your book.’”
On the street, she was recognized and followed, whereupon, she filed a report for intimidation. Since then, she has been rarely out of the house. And her father prefers not to go outside, in order to prevent people from coming to argue. Since the appearance of the book, he no longer goes to the mosque. But due to his work as a postman, he has to go out on the street.
Gül: “When he goes around the neighborhood delivering letters, he is looked at. Strangers say, ‘Your daughter has become a second Ebru Umar (Editor: outspoken Turkish-Dutch opinion-maker). Why have you not stopped her?’ My father then says, ‘What do you want me to do, slit her throat?’ When he comes home, he says, ‘You know how our people are. Can’t you take that into account?’”
Her father, younger brother (20), and a cousin (22) protect her from outsiders. “My little brother warns people, “Whoever touches my sister has to deal with me”. Without his support, I would have been lost. I would have long since been beaten.”
Gül had hoped for the support of other family members, but they have turned against her. It is hard on her. “I was called a ‘nest befouler’. But what I have written is my life. Isn’t it my right to tell this story? I keep repeating it but it isn’t accepted. It is as though we are talking past each other.”
At the same time, she feels guilty. “First, I thought: I had no bad intentions, I only wanted to tell my story. But it doesn’t work that way in practice. I see that my parents are getting sick. My mother has been lying in bed lamenting for two weeks. To my 10-year-old sister, she says, ‘If I get paralyzed or commit suicide, it is Lale’s fault.’ That makes that child upset. Yesterday, my sister came to me. ‘Promise me you won’t do it anymore,’ she said crying. ‘I don’t want anything to happen to Mama.’”
“When I tell this to my Dutch friends, they say, ‘You shouldn’t feel bad. It shouldn’t be like this.’ And then I have to take into account, ‘because a large part of her family has rejected her. Her parents not yet.’ That has cost my father and mother the greatest effort. They offered me a choice. They said, ‘We assume you have regret. We forgive you for the book provided that you are no longer in the public debate.’”
“I am happy with the reaction. I have written a book, and with it thrown my story out into the world. The Netherlands has gotten an insight into my community, and the goal has been attained. Now the shutters are closing again. To accommodate my parents, I have stopped publishing.”
Whether that is an easy decision? “It keeps gnawing at me. It has been said that I have talent. Last week I was called countless times. If I want to write columns for the monthly Elle. Or if I want to appear on Op1 to talk about Turkish President Erdogan. Then I begin to dream of a career as a writer or opinion-maker. But I shouldn’t do that. Then I would only be rubbing the stain. That would no longer turn out well.”
Through years of rebelling, she has gained certain freedoms, says Gül. “I don’t have to wear a head covering anymore, and I can go around with make-up. In the summer I can lie on the beach. I have read a lot about how other Turkish-Dutch women have broken free from the grip of the community. I read that the theater producer Nazmiey Oral and the presenter Fidan Ekiz both have come home with a non-Turkish friend. The stories are hopeful. I thought, ‘there is thus a thinkable path where I can choose a Dutch friend without my parents turning away from me.’
“Now I know: Nazmiye and Fidan were exceptions. I cannot come home with a Dutch boy, and I cannot publish anymore. I am reconciled to that. It seems like mouse steps, but this is the most far-reaching concession that my parents can make. And I don’t want to break with my parents. I don’t want to have to meet secretly with my little brother and little sister. I want that my children will soon have grandparents.”
Thus, Gül, without her parents’ knowledge, gives the last few interviews about her book. And then comes the end of the writing career of the 23-year-old before it has really begun. She will finish her Dutch studies and wishes “to fall into oblivion”. She will find a Turkish marriage partner and try to live a happy life. Maybe she will pick up the pen again. But she must not think about that now.
Lale Gül: Ik ga leven ( I will live) Prometheus; 304 pages; €19.99
Ayaan Hirsi Ali
With her book, Lale Gül joins other writers who have criticized Islam. One of them is the former politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali. In 2004, together with Theo van Gogh, she made the short film, Submission, which led to the death of Van Gogh. Since then, Hirsi Ali has lived in the US. There she is associated with the Hoover Institute, a conservative think tank. In recent weeks her book “Prey” appeared. In it she argues that the flow of Muslim immigrants is a danger for the rights of women.
Amendment: In an earlier version of this piece, it was stated that the chairman of the Turkish foundation, Milli Görüs, threatened a lawsuit. Milli Görüs denies this.
|*||SGP: Reformed Political Party (Dutch: Staatkundig Gereformeerde Partij), a conservative Calvinist political party in the Netherlands.