Rachid Benzine, a French Islamic philosopher of Moroccan origin, is one of the leading figures of the new generation of intellectuals dedicated to the study of the Koran within a context of dialogue with other Western cultures and religions. Having trained as a sociologist, in his early twenties, at the end of the Nineties, he initiates a profound conversation about Islam and Christianity with the priest Christian Delorme, which gives origin to the successful book Abbiamo tante cose da dirci/We have lots to talk about (1998, Italian translation 2000). In subsequent years, he deepens his philosophical interests, studying the works of Paul Ricoer, Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida and thus drawing inspiration when he re-reads the Koran. It is on the wave of these studies that Benzine gives shape to some of his most incisive work, like Il Corano spiegato ai giovani/The Koran explained to young people (2013, Italian translation 2016)
Letters to Nour, already represented in Belgium with considerable success and read at the last Festival of Avignon, is an epistolary drama between a father – an observant Muslim intellectual who looks towards the West and observes his religion as a message of peace and love - and a daughter, who goes to Iraq to reunite with a Muslim fundamentalist she has fallen in love with. ’Paradoxically’ moved by the same principles of love and tolerance inherited from her father, and thus not for fanaticism, the daughter ends up joining the jihadist cause and paying the hard price.
"I’ve been working on an disturbing question for months says Rachid Benzine regarding Letters to Nour, a question that keeps coming back like a recurring, familiar headache. Why do young men and women, born in my same country, from my same culture, decide to leave for a country at war and kill in the name of a God who is also mine? This violent question took on a new dimension on the evening of November 13th, 2015: a part of me had just attacked another part of me, leaving behind death and sorrow. How can I live with this torment? In response, little by little, an epistolary dialogue between a father-philosopher and his daughter, headed for the Jihad, originated. This dialogue is impossible, difficult, I imagined."
This text, in its dramatic essentiality of pure dialogue, moves with extraordinary effectiveness between chronicle and ideology: looking at recent events, it touches the deep open wounds of our contemporary society, starting from the power of a private affair, family affections shaken up by history.
While maintaining a universal element, Letters to Nour offers an innovative portrait of Islamic culture on the whole, comparing it to Western culture.
Interpreted by an exceptional actor like Franco Branciaroli, whose long path has often crossed the complex horizons of religious reflection, Letters to Nour is directed by the young Giorgio Sangati, from the school of Luca Ronconi, who is quickly attracting the attention of the public and critics. On stage alongside Branciaroli, Marina Occhionero, a young and promising actress, who has just graduated from the National Academy of Dramatic Arts Silvio d’Amico.
Nour is twenty years old when she suddenly decides to abandon her life as a brilliant student, reach Iraq to marry a fighter of the rising Islamic State, who she has met on the internet. Fetih, her father, is a university professor, an illuminist and progressive Islamic theologian who lost his wife when he was young, has grown his daughter as a widower and now finds himself alone.
Nour wants to change the world, to act, to put everything that she has studied and learned from her Father into practice. She accuses him of having shut himself in an ivory tower made of books and certainties, without any true rapports with reality.
Fetih would only like his daughter to come back home, to be safe, to realize the horror, the paradox of a vision of the world based on violence and hatred.
On the one hand, the life that is continually measured against risks, errors, death; on the other hand, the rationale that theorizes dialogue and peace, but seeks to eliminate violence and remove pain at all costs.
Evolution and stasis, adrift and stationary, youth and old age, rebellion and pride. Two opposing glances on reality, two points of view on Islam examined without prejudice.
Two years of correspondence, two years of confrontation and love, to describe an intense and troubled relationship, a generational and cultural family conflict, apparently with no way out.
An epistolary drama, a dialogue from a distance, in which the pure concept of intimacy and remoteness lose consistency and the words often hide other words, because it is difficult to really talk, to really listen and see when such a deep, archetypal bond is at stake, like the one between a father and his daughter.
On stage, in an ideal interior place, in a sort of space of the soul - simultaneously nightmare, paradise and trap- we have the the encounter between one of the greatest performers of all time, Franco Branciaroli and a young and promising actress, Marina Occhionero. Together with them, camouflaged on stage, a trio of musicians, the Mothra, to create an imperceptible sound scenography, suspended, halfway between east and west, between the future and the past, music like present, like blood, like life.
Rachide Benzine, intellectual and Islamist, is a convinced supporter of a critical and open reading of the Koran, and fights to free studies on religion from political manipulation of any type and nurture research with tools from human and social sciences.
In Letters to Nour he goes straight to the core of the matter: why do young girls and boys decide to leave their countries to participate in the senseless war of the Islamic State? What are they looking for? What was missing? Avoiding simplifications and remaining courageously within the perimeter of Islam, he creates a sort of clone of himself: Nour’s father, older than the author, thus becomes a possible projection of himself. Theatrically, Benzine splits himself and imagines he is conversing with a generation of children who cannot understand the meaning of his thought. He asks himself about the possible reasons underlying this "break", he questions himself and observes himself honestly.
However, he does not want to provide answers, but rather suggest questions, offer insights: perhaps the removal of emotion (and death) and the excess of rationality can sterilize even the most open point of view.
It is necessary to stay tuned at all times, in contact with the World (all) and not withdraw into oneself, wrapped up in one’s pride. It would be fatal in this moment to turn down a dialogue with the other, especially when the other becomes committed to a cause due to frustration, undergoing manipulation of profiteers without scruples. The suggestion between the lines is no slight matter in a world which tends to systematically divide, the good guys (us) and the bad guys (the others) in every context. Of course, there are monsters, on both sides and it is a good thing to identify them, but only by creating bridges will it be possible to resume relations within the only big family of human beings; division lines, walls are useless: because - as Nour’s Father says - the destiny of a wall is its collapse.
Letters to Nour is a story that is so personal, so private that it becomes public and universal: there is something classic in this contemporary writing that puts together Lear and American Pastoral. A text that concerns all of us: we are all children or parents or both things, we are all in this same present and to just stand by and watch now, might not suffice.