“Sometimes, a scarf is just a scarf, it's not a symbol for a country,” says Laila Lalami, recounting a reading she recently did of her book, Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, at one of Morocco's more conservative universities in Kenitra.
While discussing the characters with the audience, the author found that their interpretations were a bit lacking: “During the Q&A, a student raised his hand and asked why the father character in “The Fanatic” tries to stop his daughter from covering her hair. “This is strange, ” he said, “because most of the time the fathers do want their daughters to cover.” I wasn't sure exactly what he based this statement on, particularly since he was a man and did not really know what a daughter's experience is like. I pointed out that, in the amphitheatre where we sat, there were many women who covered, and many who did not. I said that no one, least of all my father, had ever asked me to cover. It's a woman's choice, I said. A bearded young man behind the questioner interrupted me, “Actually, it's not a choice.” A few people laughed at his temerity, and then I explained that, above and beyond the debate over the veil, the story dealt with a very specific father, a very specific daughter, certainly not people who represent every gamut of experience in Moroccan society.