Tuesday, October 05, 2010


Lettera a mia figlia che vuole portare il veloLettera a mia figlia che vuole portare il velo by Leila Djitli

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the Italian edition of "Lettre à ma fille qui veut porter le voile" ["Letter to my Daughter who Wants to Wear the Veil"] by the French-Algerian journalist Leila Djitli.

Aicha is a French-Algerrian woman who has fought hard for her freedoms and her place in French society. When her seventeen-year-old daughter, Nawel, suddenly decides that she wants to wear full Islamic dress, Aicha feels that these freedoms are threatened.

Shocked and upset, she resists the temptation to forbid her daughter to wear the veil and instead writes Nawel a long letter in which she explains her beliefs, history, hopes for her daughter's future and fears. She also sets down her thoughts on Islam and modern France.

She points out to Nawel that a Muslim man can wear a religious sign - such as the beard - without changing his whole life but that the moment a woman dons the full veil, the veil "speaks about her and before her". The veil, argues Aicha, demeans not only women but men, as it has implications for the way in which men perceive women.

Aicha feels that the veil negates her own history and, with it, the history of Algerian immigration in twentieth century France. As she awaits Nawel's coming of age, she tries to make her see that the freedoms she is rebelling against could enrich her life and help her achieve her dreams, one of which, Aicha is sure, is independence:

"Religion can give you a lot, but not everything."

We do not know what Nawel's final decision will be but the book leaves the reader hoping that she will heed her mother and not be taken in by the peers who are pressurising her to don the veil for their own reasons. Through pen portraits of some of Aicha's friends, we also learn a lot about the lives of French-Algerian women today. But most of all this is Aicha's story: of immigration, of the battle for acceptance and of a woman who values freedom.

As the "burqa debate" continues to provoke strong feelings in both France and Italy, this is a timely book.


Since the "burqa debate" is indeed, raging in Italy, I will add my thoughts on the whole sorry business here:  I of course value women's freedom to wear what they like but in a country like France where the secular state is at the heart of hard-won liberty, it is not unreasonable to ask all to desist from wearing religious symbols in certain public institutions.  In a country like Italy, whose own citizens are asked to formally  identify themselves every day in order to carry out the simplest transactions, it is not unreasonable to ask a woman to leave her eyes uncovered.   In a country like the UK, in which most schools have uniform policies, it is not unreasonable to ask all students to observe them.  These matters apart, sisters, I care not whether you wish to wear the burqa or the bikini, provided the decision is truly your own.  But remember that generations of women before you fought for your right to do so.  Please respect that heritage because all our freedoms depend upon it.


Sometimes Saintly Nick said...

Excellent book review and note, m'dear Welshcakes!

In Europe the issue seems to be a fandamentalist and increasing militant Islam at odds with society and culture that is a quandry for many. Here in the Unitded States it is a fundamentalist and increasing militant right-wing Christainity that is threatening democracy, justice, and freedom.

Years ago I read Karen Armstrong's insightful book, The Battle for God. I now preceive that fundamentalists of all religions -- Islam, Christianity, Jews, Hindus -- although at odds with each other, have identified and are fighting against the same enemy: modernity.

lakeviewer said...

Great review, and applicably great postscript too!

James Higham said...

But most of all this is Aicha's story: of immigration, of the battle for acceptance and of a woman who values freedom.

People are accepted, such as yourself, who do not go into a new society and try to live the life of their old one.

When in Rome.

It's fine to show your own culture when the local community wants to see it, not by thumbing one's nose at the locals.

CherryPie said...

It sounds like an interesting thought provoking book.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Thanks, Nick. Interesting to know how you see things there. I've read 2 volumes of Karen Armstrong's biography but not the book you mention. I will look out for it.
Thanks, lakeviewer.
Hi, James. Thanks for the compliment. I would agree with what you say but immigration is always difficult.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

It is, Cherie.

Bill said...

What is disturbing to me in the French case is the intrusion of the State into matters of dress and appearance. Perhaps I overlooked this, but I did not notice that the French government was forbidding people to wear necklaces or rings with crosses, or requiring Hasidic Jews to shave their traditional sideburns, or Sikh men to cut their hair closely. The wearing of the full burqa or a simple kerchief by women seems to trigger the anxiety that many people in France, Italy, the U.S. and elsewhere currently have about violent fundamentalist Islam. As one of the earlier posts notes, this tug of war between moderates and extremists is occurring not only inside Islam but inside other major religions as well.

Is it really a step toward understanding to have Paris police officers write 30 euro tickets to young women with burqas on the Champs Elysees because that threatens the foundations of the Republique Francaise??

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, Bill. I would agree that it is awful that the State has become involved at all, anywhere. I did say "in certain public institutions", not in the street and no, I don't think fining women in metro stations is going to help. But understanding has to come from both sides. No one is saying that you cannot keep your own religion when you emigrate - provided it is not in conflict with the laws of the host country - but you do have to make an effort to integrate. The French have banned crosses in schools, too.


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