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?