Finding balance and three reasons why people leave closed-up communities

It’s all about ‘mixing’ in life. Also, I believe that contradiction is possible. More concretely, I do not believe in destroying the orthodox young version of Dina-Perla. That won’t work. She is still here and she has an undeniable role in the whole of my being. At the same time, my being consists of so much more, which helps me stay in balance. I have created my own human blend, which allows my most authentic self to exist.

During the exhibition ‘From Spinoza until now’ about freethinking in the Amsterdam Museum, I walked past a wall that read: “Believers can also be freethinkers.” I took a picture of it, because it was such a nice contradiction.

Now, I understand why many people often compared me to Lale Gül in 2021. Although Lale Gül and I haven’t spoken face-to-face yet, I can see how we could be sort of sisters or allies if you will, who could understand a lot from each other, because we have lived through it – even the resemblances of our North African roots.

Yet, I must say: I am Dina-Perla and not Lale Gül, because of who I am and because of my family and life history, which is quite intense. It’s also lonely and grand, because my history as a whole isn’t something I’ve encountered in others around me. I accepted that a long time ago. I do come across parts that are similar: someone with the same theme here and someone else with the same theme there.

With people who are so different in terms of histories and themes, I know how to build a bridge through a wafer-thin link from their life, to a small piece of building block from mine. It can be done. Meaning, it is about finding each other inside our humanity, where nothing is more special or less special than someone else. Esoterically speaking, experiencing inner contact with each other unites us into a universal human, thus one entity.

For example, anyone who has experienced the shamanic plant ritual ayahuasca like I have in 2016 knows how this feels and how much this isn’t an abstract construct. It means that humanity is reflected in each other. Humanity is not something owned by an individual. It is fluid, just as integrity is.

We keep silent way too much

By the way, finally Lale Gül’s themes and mine are getting more mainstream. Also, harmful traditional practices are no longer ‘alien’ and something to be ashamed of. Or something people better keep quiet about after breaking free, either whole or mutilated (sometimes literally: female genital mutilation).

Apart from the fact that I chose to first be free from fear of honor crimes, to be fully healed and grown into myself as a person before I would release any of my work, society also made it very hard for me. It really is distressing. There was massive silence within the closed-up community. Outside the community, there was largely silence. The business world, especially the corporate world, was the most silent of all. How many people got sick from it? How many people are still silent for fear of losing their customers, clients and place in a business ecosystem?

Own course

In America, people can be a corporate consultant and simultaneously have a dedicated mission. Personal stories are valued much more in America than in the Netherlands. In America, quirkiness is respected. People are allowed to steer their own course. In the Netherlands, people have to fit within certain boxes. There is always this attitude of: ‘just act normal, because normal is crazy enough’. Fortunately, this is starting to change a bit with the younger generations, partly due to globalization and the digital highway.

I’m not going to give up on being a corporate consultant, because I have to earn a living somehow and I’m damn good at it. The work also gives my intellect something to work with. I will not give up being a writer, speaker and teacher, because that is what I was born to do. It comes from my deepest core and is something that no one else in the world can do the way I do it. Plus, I’m a fool who believes that I will change history and make a living with it.

Now, I can point out some crucial differences between Lale Gül and myself. Those have nothing to do with being better or worse, but with our social understanding of leaving closed-up communities. Lale Gül wrote her book while she was still living at home and in the first phase of her fight. I wrote my book at the end of the second phase, which was about the response to where I come from, slash beginning of the third phase, which is the phase I am in now and is about the most authentic self. Phase four is the phase of the status quo, in which where people come from is no longer decisive in the interaction with others and choices in daily life. Some never make it to the fourth phase, or very late in their lives. Others switch between the various phases during their lives.

Forms of coercion

Another difference has to do with the seriousness of the story. We don’t have to compare histories, because everything has the right to exist and must be cherished. When I say that my childhood was ten times worse than the childhood of Lale Gül, I have other reasons to express that, namely because people wouldn’t expect that in such an upscale neighborhood in Amsterdam and in the setting in which I grew up. Also, because in contemporary and future collective work around the problems in closed-up and (ultra) orthodox communities, we should not exclude the other varieties that exist.

The mechanisms that are in place do not differ between communities. There are forms of coercion everywhere. There is a religious law that is placed above the existing legislation and regulations and generally applicable norms and values everywhere. It is all about the leaders who determine what is best for the individual everywhere. It is about professional (civil) help that is kept outside the door everywhere. And it is about power structures, sweeping things under the rug and a lot of other matters that have nothing to do with integrity. It is all about patterns and often about transgenerational difficulties. 

Rounds of enlightenment and a fence

Certainly, there are nuances and differences in the pace at which the emancipation and rounds of enlightenment take place. Now, it is starting to become crucial for the Islam, more than for example for Judaism and Christianity. Because for the last two faiths, enlightenment has already started a long time ago and because generally speaking, the risks for the collective are less significant in case of the last two faiths. Two nuances from Judaism that I always bring across in comparison to the other faiths are the persistent duty of silence linked to antisemitism and the trillion of rules made and enforced by ‘the beards’ to regulate every aspect of life. Jokingly, I always say about Jewish orthodoxy: this is not allowed, this is not allowed, this is also not allowed, this is allowed and must be done this way, then this really must be done this way, but if we go to the right/left/up/down, we can we still debate about the exceptions and then we determine this.

I won’t provide any concrete examples, because I know that I might receive feedback from ‘Jew in the city-types’ on why my examples are stupid or very beautiful indeed, because those form a so-called ‘fence’. Those types of people can be seen as the teshuva (return to Judaism), Jewish orthodoxy warriors or brigade so to speak. If there is a fence, if people are stricter and then get off the ‘right’ path, at least they will remain in the area of controllable goodness. As a goody-goody person, I have to admit that there is some truth to this idea, only in a completely different sense in terms of the intention of this principle.

Three main reasons

Another difference between Lale Gül et moi-même has to do with the reasons why people leave closed-up communities. I’ve studied hundreds of stories and saw that there are three main reasons, namely people’s behavior (for me, this is the main reason, capital letters and exclamation mark), some form of trauma (yes) and different beliefs (yeah well). Usually, it is a combination of all three. Lale Gül’s reasons and mine are undoubtedly slightly different.

Now, I must admit that I am proud to be part of the Spinoza Freethinkers exhibition. People only know Rumi these days. Just about everything is attributed to his work. So no, let’s talk Spinoza. Also, I have no problem with ‘appropriating’, because that is really Jewish. We are and remain as it were one organ, from generation after generation. When one of us changes the world, we are all part of that change and we kind of appropriate it. That’s also why I would never do anything that would go against the good of ‘my people’. That’s like cutting my own hand. Bizarre isn’t it that this just won’t change, even though I’m that free-spirited, ulta-ulta-ultra individualist without a communal life these days. In addition, because I know Spinoza’s work well and feel that I could be an extension of that, especially when it comes to what God is and whether God exists.