We have just had the honour of sharing in abducting and hiding away a young lady I shall call Fadija. Name it as you will - rescue, deprogramming, kidnapping. For a more detailed version of the story, you can read in the section on the expulsion of the Roma or "Gypsies" from Kosovo.
By Miguel Martinez. November, 1999.
This episode cast a fascinating light on another issue: the conflict between "cult critics" and "cult apologists" to which a large part of this website is devoted.
In this article, I shall first sum up Fadija's rescue. This will be followed by a note on the cult critic/apologist issue, and finally by an analysis of the many points in common between the former and the latter.
Before proceeding, I would like to add that the rescue operation was done with the consent of the girl. The whole operation, which cost very little, was performed at my own expense, since the family involved lives in total poverty.
Fadija is a Rom (what people commonly call "Gypsies") from Kosovo who at the age of sixteen married Kadim, a large and brutal man living in Zagreb. She had already left him once, but had gone back because of their children. Little was heard from her until about one month ago, when by an unlikely series of coincidences, we found out what was happening.
For eleven years, Fadija had been something worse than a slave. Kadim would come home at night drunk and beat her. He also had forced her to have six children in order to get State money for large families. Kadim had decided he was going to send her into the streets to become one of his prostitutes. Besides the blackmail of the children, compliance was guaranteed by physical violence; by the fact that the family lives isolated in a swamp beyond the farthest outskirts of Zagreb; by the presence of Kadim's six male brothers, and finally by the destruction of Fadija's documents. Kadim has also knifed one woman and raped another recently.
Together with Fadija's sister Leila, I went to Kadim's house to explore the situation. Kadim put on an excellent front. A bear-like but generally pleasant fellow, his wife laughing and smiling. The only sign of something unusual was the silence of the children. At dawn, the wife who had seemed so cheerful when under surveillance showed me a large blood spot on the wall from one of her recent beatings and whispered to me that she was ready to escape immediately.
The Croatian authorities were singularly unhelpful. This was a "private, family" matter according to them. Leila is a dark-skinned ciganka and speaks Serbian… in Croatia.
Thanks to a once-in-a-lifetime combination of wits, luck and support from a heroic Croatian feminist, we managed to deceive Kadim and drive off in the night with Fadija - Leila pressing the pedal on her car as hard as possible with a large gang of Kadim's friends and relations in pursuit.
We took Fadija to a well-protected hideout, with a psychologist, a doctor and support from other women who have lived through similar horrors.
I don't know whether she will be able to make it. She is one of the most courageous people I ever met. However her husband holds the children. Besides deploying his thugs throughout Croatia, Slovenia and perhaps Italy to look for her and seize her, he has already begun a public relations campaign, apparently with some success, complaining to the police and to the social workers that his wife has left him with six children.
When I came back from Zagreb, I heard that somebody else besides Kadim was looking for me: Introvigne's lawyer. Massimo Introvigne is a lawyer himself, who runs an organisation called CESNUR, "Centre for the Study of New Religions", which we have analysed critically on this website. Introvigne is also a leader of a right-wing movement called "Alleanza Cattolica", which combines medieval notions about political "Christendom" and the Inquisition with a much more up-to-date cult of private property, preferably in large amounts.
CESNUR presents what many people call "cults" as "ideas": what matters is not this or that of group of real people, with their real human relations, but the "idea" of, say reincarnation. CESNUR holds that anything which has "religious" ideas is a bulwark for protecting social order, and hence should not pay taxes or be subject to critical investigation. Former "cult" members whose testimonies spoil the clean image of such groups are branded as "apostates" and should not be listened to. Nor do groups in any way "control" people socially: individuals freely join them, and freely leave them. If groups very obviously break the law, for example by murdering people, then individual members can be put on trial, but never the organisation itself.
This, in a nutshell, is what we shall call the "cult apologist" thought pattern. None of this is presented for what is: the legitimate personal opinion of an ideological extremist. Instead, CESNUR poses as a "scientific" organisation, and as an adviser to institutions both in Italy and abroad.
Recently, I was e-mailed copies of an exchange between Introvigne and others about the funding of CESNUR. CESNUR has always presented itself to the world as an entity recognised and funded by the Italian government. When we pointed out that this meant that CESNUR had used public funds to make a hilarious "study" where they claimed that all of Introvigne's critics were "extreme terrorists", Introvigne suddenly denied himself. He now appears to say he comes from a very well-off family and has become even richer personally thanks to his job as a patent lawyer, and that he pays most of CESNUR's expenses out of his own very large pockets; however he spends even more money on holidays and on collecting old books. So, according to this new version, CESNUR is not at all a sort of public service, but simply an eccentric millionaire's private hobby.
The two issues - the story of Kadim and that of Introvigne - have many points in common. Analysing these points shows what the whole conflict between CESNUR and its critics is about. Because the cult apologist thought pattern does not merely involve so-called "cults". Just because it is a "pattern", it provides a method which can be and is applied to many different situations.
We said that CESNUR's approach is based on "ideas". Kadim's is certainly a "family" in the abstract sense: a man and his wife married according to both traditional Rom custom and Croatian law; a home; children… Anybody thinking along the cult-apologist lines could easily say that "interfering" with Kadim's family means attacking every family, possibly in the name of some rival, abstract "idea" such as "secular humanism".
Unlike CESNUR, we see real human beings. Some of these human beings are more or less happy in a "family" framework; some are victims of truly horrifying situations. "Family" or no family, what matters to us are the real people and their actual relations. Which of course also applies to our approach to "cults". Whether a certain group is technically a "religion" or a "family" or anything else is of no importance to us; what does matter is whether it is a system based on slavery and violence or not.
The second important issue that divides us from CESNUR is, should we give preference to the narratives of institutions or of their victims?
In our case, it was largely Kadim's word against Fadija's. A Rom family sitting on the floor under large tapestries in a house with no running water may be far from the typical coloured photographs of smiling people that cults like to show in their brochures, but the result is the same. Of course it may be a true picture. However it is obvious that Kadim has everything to gain from this version: it will win him friends and disarm his enemies. Fadija on the other hand risks her very life by speaking. Her decision to follow us was a step into an entirely unknown world, with unimaginable costs.
This is the basic difference between us and Introvigne. We both will agree that every testimony is imperfect, that there may be exaggerations on both sides, or indeed that individual witnesses may be utterly insane. However, at the crucial moment, Introvigne will believe the Kadim's of this world, and we the Fadija's.
If the reader has any doubt about how cult apologists take the side of the Kadims, here is a typical quote by a leading cult apologist on "apostates":
"The apostate generally seeks self-justification. He tries to re-construct his past, in order to excuse his former affiliations, to blame his closest colleagues. Not infrequently, he learns how to fabricate his own "atrocity story" in order to explain how […] he was led into joining and then prevented from leaving an organization which he now disapproves of and condemns. Apostates, whose narratives are sensationalized by the press, sometimes try to make a profit out of their experiences selling their stories to newspapers or publishing books (often written by ghost writers)."
CESNUR supporters will claim that the issues are different, because Scientology for example is a "religion", "Kadim-ism" is not. This of course derives from the root notion of cult apologeticism, the notion that what fits into the religion drawer, will not have anything to do with anything else.
We disagree for two reasons. What is the religion drawer anyway? Nobody agrees on what a religion is - Introvigne's own definition of it, approximately, is as follows: a religion is anything which manages to get people to call it such; but the common people are not able to judge these matters, so "people" should actually be taken to mean the "experts". And of course Introvigne is Italy's leading self-appointed "expert." Religion in short is whatever Humpty-Dumpty decides to call a religion.
However, religion is present in this case too. Kadim's house was decorated with a large-sized tapestry showing pilgrims in Mecca and two prayer rugs on the walls, while the Qur'an was reverently kept behind a curtain. No doubt he finds justification for his behaviour in some interpretation of Islam. He also quite probably believes that Allah is on his side. This of course is no fault of Islam or of any other such abstract entity. We had a window of about two minutes only to get away with Fadija, so we had to forgo a crucial action: she should have taken the Qur'an with her, to prove how sincere and deep religious feelings need not always be used to exploit and oppress people.
All of this however means forgetting that every human phenomenon can fit into several categories at once. A retired widow and a yachting club are different entities from many points of view. However, for a postman they are both addresses. We do not deny that Kadim is a Muslim from the point of view of religion, which puts him in the same category as millions of decent people (including Fadija herself). However, from the point of view of his human behaviour, which is what interests us, he belongs to the same category as any other pimp. The great semantic trick of cult apologists is this - if we can show that Kadim is a Muslim, then he ceases to be a pimp. And this has a very practical consequence: that nothing may be done to help Fadija - her life becomes a "family matter."
CESNUR denies that "mind control" exists. Is Fadija "controlled" or not? Of course the unceasing physical brutality she has to undergo makes a difference from most "cults." However, we know that Fadija already managed to escape once. And she returned home because of the children. "Freely", without anybody pointing a gun at her head. And she may return again. Over eleven years, all kinds of complex relations can grow between a prisoner and her warden, especially when her body has been repeatedly used to produce children. Yet I see Fadija as a slave; CESNUR would see her as a person who "freely" entered into a marriage contract and is free to leave it at any time.
This brings us to the issue of the law. Introvigne, a lawyer himself, has repeatedly said that cult issues should be decided in courts of law - he even claimed that it is courts of law which should decide whether "mind control" exists or not!
Now, Fadija could easily have justice. She could hire a lawyer, go through divorce proceedings and then a judge would decide the future of the children. If she doesn't, it is her fault.
Real life however is different. Kadim burned all of Fadija's papers. This would be a crime on the part of Kadim. However, who can prove it? And could Fadija promote a legal action against Kadim while living in his house? Without documents, Fadija cannot cross the border to reach her relatives. When she escaped, she left the house with nothing more than her clothes on - as Introvigne boasts, good lawyers are expensive. There is little doubt which fee our good attorney would prefer - the one offered by Fadija or the one offered by a successful Zagreb pimp.
Kadim's family lives in a totally isolated area, inside a swamp - as isolated as life in any "cult". And who will ever testify in court against Kadim? His brothers who share in his "business"? His father and mother whom he has repeatedly beaten? His accomplices who occasionally come to visit him? Everybody knows that law and justice are not the same thing, but in this case the difference is only too obvious.
CESNUR claims that people join and leave "cults" freely; however CESNUR claims that there is a place where social conditioning somehow does take place: the "anti-cult movement", made up of "violent deprogrammers", indeed "lunatic fringe terrorists", who "socialise" former members into inventing "horror stories" about their past experience.
In this case, Fadija had unusual luck. She came across a team of the most unlikely and improvised deprogrammers of all time - a crippled "gypsy", a feminist and myself. If Fadija had said she was not willing to come with us, we would not have taken her away: but only because we would have all ended up in gaol and Fadija would have been delivered back to her husband (as in deprogramming cases, Fadija's parents repeatedly asked me to use physical force if necessary to prevent Fadija from going back to her children).
Those who follow the "cult" debate will not have failed to notice how cult apologists are generally extreme conservatives, yet tend to use a very liberal language when "defending religious freedom." Language as well as law may be set to any purpose. For example, our abduction of Fadija could be presented to a "liberal" audience as a violation of privacy or an act of anti-Rom racism, or to a "conservative" audience as an attack by feminists and their supporters on traditional family values. It could also be an antireligious attack on the Islamic ideas of a woman's role in life. I am sure the "cult apologist" equivalent of each of these kinds of linguistic manipulation will come quickly to the reader's mind. In his rough way, Kadim is already using this tactic by presenting himself as a victim.
Fadija would have had no chance of survival without a protective environment around her. Something very like the wildest dreams of the "anti-cult movement", a secret house where people who have been through the same horrors can allay her fears and heal her wounds. If this is going to "socialise" her into "fabricating atrocity stories", then thank God such socialisers exist. At their own expense and their own risk, and with nothing whatsoever to gain from it. Just a note - Introvigne has actually boasted of holding "closed door" meetings with US law enforcers to invite them to take measures against them. Not only would CESNUR support Kadim, it would even call in the police to break up the place where Fadija has found refuge.
Introvigne has publicly called us "extreme terrorists" because we disagree with him. This is a slight exaggeration. I would never have used physical violence against Kadim. First of all, he is at least three times as big as I am. Second, I have no intention of spending years in a Croatian gaol. Third, I have no experience in disposing of bodies, especially such bulky ones.
Introvigne has always claimed that his militancy in an extremist group has nothing whatsoever to do with his "work as a scholar." This statement sounds a bit foolish, when we consider that nearly all of the Italian CESNUR people just happen to also belong to the same extremist group… however, it is clear how cult-apologeticism falls into a much larger ideological framework: the notion that institutions are always right, that victims are basically to blame, that any attempt to rebel is "terrorism." Ideas which were all laid down explicitly by the fountainhead of Introvigne's thinking, Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, founder of the Brazilian group "Tradition, Family and Property" (TFP). Introvigne has repeatedly denied that he receives "orders" from this organisation. We never claimed he did. What matters is that his entire approach to these issues is steeped in the thinking of TFP. Plinio's writings unashamedly express what Introvigne tends to hide behind lawyer-like hair splitting and long reference bibliographies.
We take this opportunity to repeat the obvious: it may matter little whether a mathematician is a Communist in his free time. In the case of so-called "social sciences", where personal viewpoints are everything, it is crucial to know as much as possible about the ideological background and professional involvement of the author.
Finally, a comment on Introvigne's wealth, his books and his holidays, which he boasts of in his e-mail correspondence. Old books and travel are some of the lovely things of life, and anybody who had the misfortune of growing up inside Alleanza Cattolica, the gloomy group Introvigne belongs to, deserves enjoying at least these.
The image Introvigne gives of himself is that of someone who is constantly in the company of businessmen, famous academics, fellow lawyers, government officials, cult leaders and adoring journalists. The kind of suffering he can immediately understand, and become indignant about, is that of the US televangelist who spent one million dollars on opening a TV chain in Spain, to find they wouldn't let him start broadcasting simply because he had not bothered to get a licence. Introvigne called that one a case of "religious persecution."
Introvigne's world sounds like a soap opera. Of course, it may be a soap bubble rather than a soap opera. Any débutante knows that the true rich and mighty never boast of their acquaintances or their wealth. Before our website opened, Introvigne used to appear everywhere as a "sociologist", and we all know the real story about that one by now. Some suspicions about his self-presentation as an "extremely successful lawyer" arise from the fact that he admits - in English, on his study's website - he is allowed to practice law only "locally"; this should be what used to be called a "procuratore" in Italy, a kind of apprentice lawyer (I am sure Introvigne himself can give us all a much more exact definition of the term).
However, this is the world Introvigne likes other people to think he lives in. Every one of us chooses what kind of people interest us, whom we want to be associated with. Introvigne wants to be associated with millionaire televangelists and billionaire Moon and Scientology leaders. Now this is a very personal but fundamental matter - I feel close to quite different people.
Here is Fadija, with her desperate Indian eyes, her teeth broken in by blows from an enormous fist. Here is Isnija, whose hair is falling off for lack of vitamins, her husband in a German gaol for having broken some incomprehensible law on immigration. Here is Bajram, who tomorrow will be driven out of his tiny yet spotless home because he cannot pay the rent. Here is Llulli, his house burned down by the Albanians, fleeing across the Adriatic. Here is Murad whose wife lost thirteen relatives, drowned in the same sea while escaping from the KLA, when the broken-down ship they had been herded into by the Montenegro Mafia capsized.
And here are other friends. Lina, who every night receives death threats from a multinational corporation whose "religious freedom" she has interfered with by trying to find out what happened to her daughter. Here is Franco, who one day found out by pure chance that his wife had died of cancer without any care, because the multinational corporation (the same one) she had given her life to was not interested in her anymore.
One of these days, I shall get around to seeing what it is that Introvigne's lawyer is fussing about this time. But at the moment I could not care less about Introvigne's reputation, his holidays or his book collection. Somehow, I suspect they can all take care of themselves quite well.
NOTE: Our friend today is more or less safe, as far as one can be after a life like hers. Her husband is now in gaol for homicide, having killed and then burnt the body of a young man from Zagreb. Massimo Introvigne continues acting as a cult apologist, but his lawyer seems to be taking life more easily: I have not heard from her for several months.