3 June 2017, 8 victims. Youssef terrorist in London, the mother: God has not left me
Giorgio Paolucci saturday 2 June 2018
The testimony of Valeria: “There is something that hides from me because it is unbearable: the atrocity of the gesture accomplished, to which I am not able to find a reason. I have surrendered my pain to God”
Last year on June 3, eight persons were killed in London in a terrorist attack, claimed by Daesh. One of the three culprits, later killed by London police, was Youssef Zaghba, 22 years, son of a Moroccan father and an Italian mother, Valeria Kadija Collina. We met her after a year, in her house at Fagnano on the hills of Bologna, where she lives alone. Listening to what has happened to her after that tragic day could not but leave an impact on us: from a great pain, something positive has come forth in a mysterious manner; from a seed soaked within an unutterable suffering, sprouts of life has been generated that do not cancel the evil done, but tell that the evil is not the final and definitive word over existence.
The great absence
The wound she bears within is something that continues to bleed, and may be, would never be healed. It was impossible for her to forget the moment when she opened the door only to find police officers who communicated to her what had consummated few hours before at London Bridge. It is impossible to cancel the torment of a mother, the nostalgia for that beloved son; she was not able to grasp the reason that had made him to fall into the abyss of nihilism, into that foolish conviction of meriting eternal life in paradise by killing men. “I live each day his absence, contemplate him in the bed in which he slept, in the children I meet on the road, and remember the days in which nothing had still occurred. In the depth, there is something that hides from me because it is too painful: the atrocity of the action done, for which I am not able to find a reason. ”
The great presence
Yet, in the days of pain, change begins to happen. “I surrendered my pain to God and God did not leave me alone: He made himself present by gifting me inner serenity that I could not imagine. It is not simply intimate but it began to be shown in the affection of many Muslim women like me, here in Fagnano, and from other Islamic communities. From the beginning, I felt within me a desire for ‘reparation’ towards those who were victims of the hatred of Youssef, and of the whole society. Along with some of the Muslim women, we have founded an association Rahma for religious formation and dialogue. There was a need to amend also the instrumentalization of Muslims, who are unjustly branded as inclined to violence. Moreover, I understood that I too needed a change: after many years of being immersed in a rigid and closed Islam, I began the search for the Absolute, the one who is constant in all of my life and has led me to fight against extremist youth, to feminism, and then to experimental theatre and finally to Islam. I have learnt to accept diversity, to enrich myself from those who have found the meaning of life in a way different from me.”
A Mass for Youssef
In this path of unexhausted search, I met Catholics who became my companions of the path and a friendship blossomed with Ignazio De Francesco, monk of the Piccola Famiglia dell’Annunziata in Bologna. He is a scholar of the ascetical sources of Islam and together with him I have participated in the gathering convoked at Collevalenza by the office of CEI (Episcopal conference of Italy) for ecumenism and interreligious dialogue, wherein I shared the convictions that have grown in me through experience. “Few days after the terrorist attack some of the friends have prayed for Youssef and for me during the pilgrimage on foot to Macerata, to the shrine of Loreto, where Mary is venerated as mother of Jesus, a figure dear to us Muslims. They had promised me that they would pray again during the next pilgrimage in 2018. Tomorrow, on the first anniversary of my son’s death, I will be present at the requiem Mass that will be celebrated at Forli. I know that it could be scandalizing to some of the Muslim brethren but I will be there with great respect, deep sentiments and gratitude. It is in this way these friends pray to God that He may have mercy on Youssef and to show me their closeness and affection. And I continue to hope that God may forgive my son”. Gestures such as this – and others that Valeria treasures in the secret of her heart – make true also for her the words of the singer Leonard Cohen: “There is a crack in everything, and thus enters light”
Nine hundred students
Her desire of reparation brought her to the University of Insubria for two meetings, at Como and Varese, with cultural and jurist intermediaries on the theme of Islamic radicalism. It had made her the protagonist of a video prepared for the exhibition ‘New Generations. The young faces of multiethnic Italy’ inaugurated during the meeting at Rimini 2017 and transmitted in many schools. Again, in Rimini, in March, she was the protagonist- together with some second-generation youth – in a meeting with 900 students of high school. An intense dialogue on education, terrorism, faith and violence. “An unforgettable experience, where I touched with my hand the desire for knowledge and the passion that animates the youth often told to be a superficial world and dominated by what is fleeting”. She related to them “a young boy like them, with the illusion of arriving in an imaginary heaven had turned the religious experience hard like a fossile, renouncing the search for truth and beauty. His Islam had become a cage made of dos and don’ts, where he was living a mechanistic vision that had suffocated him and drove him to destruction of others and himself”. In the book written together with the journalist Brahim Marad, – ‘In the name of who’, edited by Rizzoli, in which she narrates her odyssey – Valeria recalls the words of the archbishop of Bologna, Matteo Zuppi. He had desired to meet her and had defined her declarations as “words of a mother who discovers something of her own son, that show the virus of extremism can deform the reason of a young boy like him”. She is firmly convinced that the Islamic tradition that proposes a literalistic approach to Koran needs to be revisited, because it has become more invasive due to the pressure of wahhabism. Priority should instead be given to a critical sense, historical exegesis and the use of reason. “It is the challenge of modernity, tackled before us by Jewish and Christian religion, and we cannot continue to defer it if we desire not to be suffocated by a religiosity drenched only by rigid and unchangeable prescriptions”
The time of witnesses
From her conflict, she continues to enter into light. Just like the friendship with the chaplain of the Beccaria, juvenile prison of Milan, don Claudio Burgio who hosts in the community Kayros the young people wounded in life. Two of them, after being lured in the Web, disappeared in order to enroll themselves in Daesh. One of them, Tarik, died in the fight. “Don Claudio and I, both have lost a son and we want to collaborate in controlling and preventing the nihilist drive in which many young people are victims”. There is a great educative role to be done in the schools, in places where young people gather, in the oratories and mosques. “A task that cannot be exhausted in supervision, in the multiplication of rules and prohibitions – some of them however being a must. Something that would reach to the hearts of the youth is necessary, even though we need to be aware that in the end freedom remains decisive, which even our love for them cannot substitute and, of which we cannot deprive them. Above all credible witnesses to whom they could look at is needed, persons who present an attracting personality, capable of eliciting desire for good – of which I am convinced – abides in the heart of every person”.
A fruitful journey, Valeria.