“I want to live”
When her book was published, all hell broke loose. Relatives and friends distanced themselves from her. In her fight for a life in freedom she was left all alone. Lale Gül – a name to remember.
It is almost twenty years ago that Somali-born Ayaan Hirsi Ali made her entrance into Dutch society by telling a group of devout Muslims on national TV what she thought of extremist Islamic belief. She called it cruel and unfair towards women, openly expressed her disgust at the way homosexuals are treated in Islamic countries, and fumed about how apostates are doomed to be killed. She even openly and briskly called Islam a backward religion and pleaded for an enforced enlightenment. Her frankness came with a price. After the broadcast Ayaan had to go into hiding. From that moment on, she needed permanent surveillance, threatened by the Somali community and by Muslims from other backgrounds in the Netherlands of Turkish and Moroccan descent.
Ayaan did not let herself be silenced, though. On the contrary. She went into politics and became a member of Parliament, where she was at last granted fulltime protection against her aggressors. Every move she made in Parliament seemed to evoke controversy. A few years into her political career she made a bold film with filmmaker Theo van Gogh, titled Submission, about the condoned cruelty and mistreatment of women prevalent in various verses in the Koran. Not long after this, Van Gogh was murdered, historically and tragically proving the reality of the dangers Ayaan had been warning the world about. The murderer was a radical Muslim man. Ayaan moved to the US, wrote the bestseller Infidel and other startling books. Her rise to fame inspired me to write my latest novel The Voice, which is bound to come out in Germany and Switzerland next spring.
And now there is young writer Lale Gül (1997). A new phenomenon in the world of rational and atheist thinking and writing, who once again is exorcising the oppression of religion and petty old rules. Lale was born in Amsterdam in a predominantly Turkish neighbourhood to illiterate Turkish immigrants, who still can’t speak Dutch after more than twenty years in this country. Despite her upbringing, Lale managed to become a student at the Amsterdam university, majoring in Dutch literature.
As admirable as this achievement may be in and of itself, on top of that Lale Gül just recently wrote and published her completely and openly autobiographical j’accuse. I want to live. It is a brutally honest novel about the resentment she feels for her religious mother and father who try to force her to abide by the rules of the Koran and the community. She’s merciless about her beliefs on the antique mores of the Turkish Muslim community. I want to live explores the gap between the old world and the new one, the desire to embrace joy, education and progress over clinging to depressing old-fashioned simplicities. It is a bold, shameless, funny, chaotic, harsh and aggressive reckoning over the restrictive customs of life in a Muslim Turkish family. For one Lale Gül hilariously ridicules the many rules applying to girls only. In glorious detail she depicts the terror she feels of having to wear a headscarf, mercilessly describes the absurdity of her mother’s tantrums about modesty and obedience, partying, wearing makeup, going out unaccompanied. She bitterly analyzes how the old and hypocritical fear of the ultimate disgrace, losing one’s virginity untimely, leads to imprisonment and unbearable unequality between boys and girls. The pages about her many sexual encounters with her secret boyfriend are nevertheless endlessly graphic and extensive. She keeps finding opportunities to oppose and sabotage the rules her mother tries to have her live by, as thoroughly as she possibly can.
When the community started to read the book, hell broke loose. Friends and family did not support her at all, no one from the Muslim world stood by her side. After Gül started receiving photos of guns in her mailbox, and got into terrible fights with her family, she got sad and scared. She made public that she would no longer write and would retract from publicity. This evoked an immediate and indignant response in the intellectual world. A petition signed by writers, politicians and other prominent people was published to support her. It stated that it was intolerable that Lale Gül felt silenced by force and the book became a bestseller even more. Film producers are now fighting to making it into a movie, many translations are being initiated. It has been number one on the bestseller list since. But behind the scenes there was not much joy to be found. After controversial politician Geert Wilders praised Gül’s bravery for political reasons, her parents could no longer tolerate her living at home and kicked her out officially.
Lale Gül currently lives in a hotel. She is alone, hardly as free as she aspired to be while writing her book, but at least she has been convinced she must continue writing. You cannot deny this girl’s guts. I wish her freedom, no new prison. Hopefully the need to hide will not continue to be the sad proof of the righteousness of her fight, like in the lives of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, or journalist Zineb el Rhazoui, the only journalist who survived the attacks on Charlie Hebdo.
May Lale Gül live, write and be free.
Jessica Durlacher (1961) is a wellknown Dutch writer. Her novels Das Gewissen, Die Tochter, Emoticon, and Der Sohn are published in German by Diogenes Verlag. Her latest novel The voice was just published in the Netherlands. Durlacher lives in Bloemendaal and is married to Dutch writer Leon de Winter. They have a son and a daughter.