I Married a Terrorist
By Paul Cruickshank
Her interest piqued, Maureen raised the subject with the wife of Rachids new best friend, the budding jihadist. She told Maureen that wearing the burka would be the ultimate show of faith, and handed over one of her own. Maureen tried it on, then stepped outside to meet her husband, feeling a little rebellious. I was afraid of his reaction, she says, watching me closely as she speaks. He asked why I was wearing it, and I said, Because I want to.
She tells me all this very matter-of-factly, her hands calmly resting on the table, as if its not unusual for a young Western woman to swap her miniskirts for the burka. But she felt the garb gave her a certain power, and a sense of mystery. People look at you, but they dont see you; men dont know if youre pretty or not they dont see anything at all, she explains. But some people think youre dangerous or crazy.
That included her own parents, who stopped speaking to her immediately after she married. Eventually, however, they grudgingly agreed to attend their daughters civil ceremony (necessary under Belgian law to legalize a marriage). My own mother was scared of me when I arrived at the town hall in my burka, says Maureen. She started to cry and was telling me, Take it off! Take it off! My father was like, Why have you done this? Why? Why? It was very hard for me and for Rachid.
Maureens social universe very quickly became restricted to the wives of Rachids new circle and only the wives, because the group believed in segregation of the sexes. But she didnt miss the company of men much. Its strange at first, but you have to adapt, she says. Then its beautiful: a quiet life, a nice life. We spoke about children, food, meals; we laughed a lot. We were all the same age, in our 20s. She particularly appreciated the tight-knit groups support structure.
After prayers at the towns mosque, the wives would stream into the adjoining medieval market square. Wed say hello to people in the street, but everybody was scared of us, she recalls. One day, while shopping, Maureen bumped into a passerby. Go back to your country! he snarled. But this is my country! Im Belgian! she shouted back. Complaints flowed in to the local mayor, Jan Creemers. Eventually, to assuage the concerns of residents, the town started a controversial fine of 120 euros (about $180) for women caught wearing the burka a symptom of fear of Islamic extremism after 9/11. The feeling of being under siege only deepened Maureens sense of separation from society.
Rachid, meanwhile, influenced by his new radical friends, became more zealous in his views, reaching a point where he couldnt tolerate the idea of other men seeing his wife at all even in the burka. Over the months, the marriage grew strained, and sometimes even violent, if Maureen did something to displease him. Soon she was a virtual prisoner in her own home. He forced me to close all the curtains, she says, so nobody could see me inside.