Rome, 19 April (AKI) – The short, but highly controversial film which cost its Dutch director – Theo Van Gogh – his life on November 2, has been screened in the Italian parliament. ‘Submission‘, which lasts almost eleven and a half minutes, is about the treatment of women in Islamic society. It was aired in full in the Italian lower house on Monday and was being shown in the Senate on Tuesday, organised by a member of parliament from the successionist Northern League party, Edouard Ballaman, as part of what he calls a “campaign against censorship”.
The film also forced its writer, Somalian-Dutch refugee-turned-MP, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, into hiding. She is now living under police protection. Van Gogh was shot and had his throat cut in Amsterdam when he was attacked as he cycled to work. His killer also left a letter pinned to his chest with a knife, in which he threatened Hirsi Ali. Last week, Mohammed Bouyeri, a 27-year-old Dutch-Moroccan man charged with the murder, made his first appearance in court.
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The film features a young woman, naked, but covered from head to foot by a transparent veil. She has writings from the Koran drawn on her back and legs, which are scarred from the 100 lashes she says she received for adultery after telling Allah of her love for a young man she met called Rahman. She also talks of the man she was forcibly married to at 16 who hits her, and says: “Allah, I obey his commands, sanctioned by your words.” She also talks of being raped by her uncle in her parent’s house and of her dream of feeling the wind through her hair and the sun on her skin. At the end she prays, saying: “I have done nothing my whole life but turn to you and now that I pray for salvation under my veil, you remain silent, like the grave I long for.”
‘Submission’ – which was broadcast on Dutch television in August last year – is due to be screened at the European parliament on Wednesday. Parts of it are also due to be aired on Tuesday night by a TV channel in the north of Italy, despite the film’s producers banning it from being publicy broadcast. Plans to show it at the Rotterdam Film Festival had to be dropped at the request of the production company, who says it doesn’t want Theo Van Gogh’s image, because of the scandal, to remain linked to this work, which was made to be shown in a particular televisual context, accompanied by discussion on the subject. They believe that screening the film at an event with major media exposure, such as a festival, could be dangerous for all of those linked to it.
While some members of the Muslim community in Italy are opposed to Ballaman’s initiative to air the film, others believe hiding the film away is wrong. Saida Ahmed Qacle, a Somalian immigration lawyer who lives in Turin and knew Hirsi Ali’s sister – who used to study and work in Italy – told the Italian daily Corriere della Sera: “Not giving into terrorism is a matter of principle. I am against any kind of censorship. The film should be seen.” Souad Sbai, a leading figure in Italy’s Moroccan community is equally adamant that the film should not be censored: “Not screening Van Gogh’s film would be like killing him twice. It would be a grave error to give in to the ransom of the terrorist who killed him,” he said.