Subject of Femen's Topless Jihad Questions the Group's Tactics

The Tunisian woman who sparked the feminist group's nude protest last week says it was the wrong approach. But was she speaking freely?

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An activist from the women rights organization Femen shouts at an Interior Ministry officer during a rally outside of the Iranian embassy in Kiev, on November 3, 2010. (Konstantin Chernichkin/Reuters)

For the first time since her disappearance after posting topless photos of herself on Femen's Facebook Tunisia page almost three weeks ago, Amina Tyler, the 19-year-old Tunisian aspirant to Femen, spoke to the press, granting, on Saturday, a brief interview to the French satellite television station Canal+.

Dressed in a v-neck sweater and looking ill at ease, she thanked those who have supported her, her speech at times sounding hesitant and impaired.

"Only their words of encouragement have encouraged me to be strong," she said in French, adding that "everything with me is fine, I'm doing fine with my family." She has been threatened at the public school she was attending, but would like to return to finish her studies "possibly in a private school. But nothing is certain. Private schools might not accept me."

"I have to leave Tunisia, because I've received a lot of death threats, and I'm afraid for my life and for my family here."

She professed to have no regrets, apparently in reference to her topless postings, but "I don't know what will happen in the future . . . I have to leave Tunisia, because I've received a lot of death threats, and I'm afraid for my life and for my family here, especially since there are a lot of rumors about what the Salafists and Islamists are going to do to me." Menacing messages, she said, have come via telephone and her Facebook page. "'You're going to die! We're going to throw acid on your face,' things like that."

Had she in fact been kidnapped by her family, as was widely reported, after uploading her pictures to Femen's page? She implied as much.

"My family found me in a café and took me home. My cousin broke my cell phone and beat me." She was then moved "to another city in Tunisia." Had she been forced to stay with her family? "Yes, of course. I don't want to stay in Tunisia . . . I hope to leave Tunisia and leave my family and all these threats." Now and then she smiled uncomfortably, her voice sounding mostly flat and expressionless.

She declared that she still supported Femen. "I encourage their acts, as I have ever since I saw the first Femen photos on Facebook and up till now."

She then complained that Femen had "carried out a protest" - on April 4, which Femen declared Topless Jihad Day in support of Amina - "during which they burned the flag of Islam in front of a mosque in Paris. I'm against that. It will do me harm, since they had written Amina on their bodies." (In fact, her name figures nowhere among the slogans the three activists involved painted on their chests and backs; and the flag was the Salafist banner inscribed with the Shahada, or the Muslim profession of faith.) "Everyone will think I encouraged them to do that." Tyler found it "unacceptable" that Femen would "insult . . . Muslims who are extremist . . . they have insulted all Muslims. It's not acceptable."

FIRE OF REVOLUTION! by femen_org

She concluded saying that "I want to become a journalist, so one way or another I'll join Femen . . . even if I'm eighty years old. Because they are the real feminists."

A man sitting with his arms crossed at a table next to Tyler then appeared in the frame, his face blurred to protect his identity. Tyler said, "I was really lucky, because another father would have killed his daughter for this act. But my father was rather open with me. He has every right to think what he wants to think. He thinks I'm still watching cartoons . . . I've grown up and he'll believe it one day or another."

Her presumed father then spoke in heavily accented French. "We fear for her and for the threats on Facebook and for what has happened at the mosque in Paris." He added, "we can express ourselves in favor of women's rights, but an image that can shock society, it's an image that scares us and hurts us."

Tyler then livened up, smiling and squirming in her chair.

"During the past days she wasn't smiling," he said. "Only now is she beginning to smile. She's very cute when she smiles."

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Jeffrey Tayler is a contributing editor at The Atlantic and the author of seven books.

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