Islam in Italy: Acting out
Nathalie Galesne - 30/01/2009
Considering that the Italian media is becoming increasingly dominated economically, politically and culturally by power, it’s no surprise if journalists turn into secret agents. This is the case of Renato Farina, a fervent Catholic, a formerly acknowledged journalist, deputy director of the right wing paper “Libero”, but also a SISMI agent (Italian secret services) since 1999, as he admitted himself.
On December 2006, Milan’s Procurator Armando Spataro indicted him and 34 other persons in the investigation on the kidnapping of Abu Omar. Milan’s antiterrorist Prosecution accused the CIA, as well as the Egyptian secret services and issued an arrest mandate for 13 agents of the Central Investigation Agency. The latter were accused of “seriously undermining State authority and international treaties”. These proceedings are a unique case in the history of the relations between the USA and Italy, an ally of Washington in the war against Iraq.
The facts: on 17 February 2003, in the suburbs of Milan, two fake police officers intercepted Abu Omar, a political refugee resident in Italy since 1997. They forced the imam into a van and took him to the Italian-American military base of Aviano where he was deported to Cairo, without informing his family. Suspected of having connections with
international terrorism, Abu Omar was imprisoned without a trial and tortured for several months. He was liberated only in April 2004, strongly weakened by the tortures he had suffered.
During the investigation, Renato Farina organised a fake interview with the magistrates in order to gather as much information as possible for his investigations. On June 2004, he was also tasked to recover at the Al-Jazeera head office the video of the murder of Fabrizio Quatrocchi, one of the first Italian hostages to be executed in Iraq. Lastly, the secret services handed him a false report on Romano Prodi, from which he extracted elements for his articles. First suspended, then discharged from the order of journalists for having published false information for money (30.000 Euros in two years), in 2007 Renato Farina was condemned to 6 months of prison, immediately commuted into a fine of 6.800 Euros. Since 30 March 2007, Renato Farina collaborates as simple columnist for Libero. During the last elections of April 2008, the former journalist and SISMI agent was included in the lists of the PdL (2) and was elected as a deputy of the present Berlusconi government.
This pernicious atmosphere is now the backdrop of Italian politics. The powerful are awarded regardless of their legal misdemeanours, or the level of illegalness they may cross, often in total impunity. The racist or xenophobic actions they commit can then only appear as harmless pranks.
The recent provocations of Roberto Calderoli, former Deputy President of the Senate of the Italian Republic and presently Minister for the “semplificazione normativa” (normative simplification) of the 4th Berlusconi government, say a lot about Italy’s racist and Islam phobic abjection.
The day after the assassination of Fabrizio Quattrocchi, Calderoli, then Minister of Institutional Reforms, made a preposterous proposal: “We must react to these crimes, by refusing to submit to blackmail or accept any compromise, and by imposing our conditions to fanatics. I want to make a proposal that should start off in Italy, but could then be extended to all Western countries: for each day of captivity of the hostages, each country should revoke the permit stay and deport 1000 Muslim immigrates coming from the so called rogue countries. An eye for an eye is a cruel law, but this is all these criminal beasts can understand.”
“Such words”, notes Algerian writer Amara Lakhous “are a symptom. They clearly show that international events, such as the Iraq war, are exploited in favour of the internal Italian debate on immigration, in particular Muslim immigration. Therefore, a question for Calderoli rises spontaneously: why should you deport 1000 Muslim immigrants, who are regular residents in Italy or Europe, and not involved in Iraqi events? Why should they pay for crimes they didn’t commit? These questions only denounce an ethic concept and an idea of citizenship and identity that are primary to say the least, yet this representative of the Northern League is coherent in evoking the “eye for an eye”: this law denies any individual responsibility and clings to a reductive representation of the collective responsibility and of criminalisation, according to the religious faith. We are undoubtedly witnessing the rise of an Italian style phobia of Islam.”(2)
Calderoli also carries the prize list for the tragic incidents occurred in Benghazi. During the Danish cartoon scandal, he wore a T-shirt on TV that made fun of the Prophet. The scene was broadcast on Libyan television, sparking a riot in front of the Italian Consulate in Benghazi, where 11 demonstrators were killed. The Minister had to resign. However, this didn’t prevent this sinister clown from repeating himself. On September 2007, he proposed to organise a beauty contest for pigs on a land destined to the construction of a Mosque in Bologna. “From now on”, he declared, “I’m available for the committee against the Mosque to take a walk with my pig on the land where it should be built, just like I did before in Lodi”. In the year 2000, Calderoli had guided the operation organised by “Lega Nord” with several representatives of the “Casa delle Libertà” (former right wing coalition under the 3rd Berlusconi government). This raid worthy of a fascist squad consisted in pouring pig urine on the land of the small Lombard town. The idea was to dirty the soil by making it impure and therefore unsuitable. This abysmal ignorance of Muslim religious practices gave rise to provocations that simply spoiled the relationship between the communities up to the point of interrupting the works. Oriana Fallaci, from her part, threatened to go to Carrara among the anarchists and get hold of explosives to blow up the mosque in Colle Val d’Elsa, a town of the Siena Province in Tuscany.
Among the stereotypes that participate to the social representation of the migrant, that of the foreigner as a Homo Islamicus is central, and results from a veritable “racialisation” of the religious belonging to Islam. Now the anti-Islamic prejudices, founded on a close link between securitarian ideology and criminalisation of immigrants, increasingly affect the practices of the Italian Judges and police forces (3).
In the country of political impunity, foreigners have in fact a hard time: “Foreigners are the privileged object of control and repressive activities of the police forces, they end up in jail with impressive ease, and are sometimes arrested on the grounds of a mere suspicion, or for minor crimes… The latter usually suffer exemplary sentences and do not benefit from alternative measures of detention. On official figures, foreigners count for 28% of the prison population, rising to 50% in some Italian regions such as Veneto”, notes anthropologist Annamaria Rivera (4).
The good words of Minister Calderoli
“It’s the victory of the Italian identity, of a team made of Lombards, Neapolitans and Venetians that won over a team, France, which to get some results sacrificed its identity with negroes, Muslims and communists.”
Following to the protests of the French Embassy in Italy, Calderoli refused to apologise and persisted:
“When I say that the French nationality is composed of blacks, Muslims and communists, I only state objective evidence. France is a multi-ethnic nation, due to a colonial past that would not make me proud. It’s not my fault if some were perplexed to see a team composed of 7 blacks out of 11 players, if Barthez sings The Internationale instead of the Marseillaise, and if the others prefer The Mecca to Bethlehem”.
“The sewers must be cleaned up, and since Naples has become a sewer, we must eliminate all the rats, with every mean, and not act as if it’s being done just because even rats vote.”
“Let them go back to the desert to speak with their camels or in the jungle with their monkeys, but here they have to do what we say.”
“I don’t think that giving the right to vote to immigrants is a good idea, civilised countries can’t let any “bingo-bongos” vote. Come on, not long ago they were still living on trees!”
“If we could shoot on them, clandestine boats wouldn’t leave anymore”.
“Some ethnic groups are more prone to work than others. Some have a greater tendency for crime.”
From the literature of the Crusades to the tales of the travellers of the XIX century, from the images of the Abu Ghraib prison to the daily clichés on Muslims, examples abound in showing us how the Western perception of the Arab world has become deformed, biased and downright racist.
In the case of Italy, myths are hard to die and the country keeps on spreading a series of truncated representations of it. It’s frozen on the idea of representing a land of emigration, while it hosts since the last 30 years an increasing number of immigrants, and it fails to mention its colonial past. It’s hard for Italy to consider itself a national territory, today a plural one, and responsible in the past of perpetrating horrors under Mussolini, in Ethiopia, Somalia and Libya (5). The recent agreements signed by Berlusconi and Kaddafi certainly won’t give back to Italians this extremely violent page of their recent history, still widely unknown by most of them.
The image of “Italiani: brava gente” is disclaimed by the historic truth of a ferocious colonialism that resorted, as with all imperialist conquests, to its own string of horrors: repeated massacres, mass deportations, concentration camps, torture, racial segregation laws put into practice by the Fascist regime starting from 1936, the year of the annexation of Ethiopia and the proclamation of the Empire. And while there is a proliferation of TV programs on the “Bel Paese”, on its cooking, the artistic richness of its regions and its good-natured people, repressed violence regularly breaks out in the Italian reality.
Italy is a geographic and symbolic body that now more than ever is split in two: the economic and political North fiercely denies the South, while the Mediterranean identity of the peninsula is demonised and marginalised in comparison to the widely acclaimed North of Europe, assimilated to the US. This is the reality driving the anti-Muslim offensive that brews and explodes at regular time intervals. The subservience to the United States, despite the flash of some judges for the Abu Omar affair, and the military support given to the American occupation in Iraq only partly explain this hateful relationship with Islam. On the other hand, on a domestic level: “what the political creators of xenophobia want”, explains Annamaria Rivera “is not an unrealistic zeroing of immigration (without which, a good part of the Italian economy, especially the North Eastern one, would stop running), but a limited immigration made up of a frightened, docile and silent working force…, incapable of claiming its rights, concealed in the folds of the illegal working market. They don’t intend to set themselves free of Islam or Muslims, but of the perspective of their citizenship…” (6).
From the pamphlet full of hate of Oriana Fallaci to the conversion of journalist Magdi Allam, from the Ratisbon speech of Pope Benedict XVI to the fascist drifts of the Italian right: an increasingly organic web is growing to fuel the hatred of Islam in Italy, and more generally the hatred of the Other. It works, as on the last electoral campaign of the Italian right wing party was largely founded on the demonization of immigrants, most often Muslims. This climate of anxiousness shaping the mentality of Italians, finally worked: since his return to power, Silvio Berlusconi carried out his securitarian policy on which his political campaign was based: a detachment of 3000 militaries was dispatched in the main cities of the peninsula, slums were razed to the ground, a law that turned clandestines into criminals was approved, while debate was seething with the EU on the legitimacy of taking the fingerprints of Roma children. In his weekly column for “L’espresso” magazine, Umberto Eco limited himself, last June, to quoting a text by Cesare Lombroso and some excerpts from the review “La difesa della razza” (The Defence of the Race) to which collaborated Giorgio Almirante, a deceased far right politician who is soon to have a Roman road dedicated to him (7). The theme of this small anthology of revisionism that the Bolognese intellectual intends to propose throughout his articles, this time covered the gypsies. 60 years later, the terms used by some troublemakers of the current government are identical (8).
Under the sun of the boot, quite a sombre future comes forward.
(1)Il Popolo della Libertà (PdL) is the centre right forming constituted in 28 February 2008, which won the highest votes at the last elections. This political party essentially regroups Forza Italia, the party founded by Silvio Berlusconi in 1994, Alleanza Nazionale, the Italian right wing party, and several liberal and Christian formings. On the last elections of April 2008, the PdL allied with Lega Nord that presented its own lists in the northern regions.
(2)Amara Lakhous, « islamophobie à l’italienne », article published in the site www.babelmed.net
(3)Annamaria Rivera, « il fantasma del Musulmano », in L’imbroglio etnico in quattordici parole-chiave by René Gallissot, Mondher Kilani, Annamaria Rivera. Edizioni Dedalo, Bari 2001.
(4)Annamaria Rivera, « L’invenzione del clandestino », op.cit.
(5)The colonisation of Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Libya took place at the end of the XIX century and at the start of the XX century. The atrocities committed under the Fascist era by Italy during the various colonial wars undertaken by Mussolini are today largely unknown in Italy. At the time of the recent agreements with Libya that foresee, among others, the construction of a coastal highway longer than 5000 km in turn of petrol and of several Italian-Libyan agreements, Silvio Berlusconi apologised in the name of Italy to Colonel Kaddafi, however no in deep information on the Italian colonisation in Africa was provided. To read on this issue, the precious work by Silvana Palma, L’Italia coloniale, Editori riuniti, Roma 1999.
(6) Annamaria Rivera, « il fantasma del Musulmano », op.cit.
(7)Giorgio Almirante (1914-1988) : politician, representative of the MSI (National Italian Movement), far right party until 1988. Signatory in 1938 of the Manifesto della razza, Almirante collaborated from 1938 to 1942 with the magazine “The Defence of the Race” to divulge in Italy the racist theories of Nazi Germany. Recent controversies sparked in Italy when the Mayor of Rome Gianni Alemanno, enrolled in the MSI then AN, proposed to dedicate a street of Rome to Giorgio Almirante.
(8) Umberto Eco, « la bustina di Minerva », L’espresso (19 June 2008). The article starts: “I keep submitting texts to be included in the new revisionist anthologies for the Italian youth. Subject of this column, the gypsy.”
The beginning of these selected excerpts: “They’re the live image of an entire race of delinquents, reproducing all its passions and vices. They abhor anything that could require the slightest effort; they would rather stand hunger and misery than subject themselves to the least regular job… Cesare Lombroso, L’uomo delinquente, 1876, I, 2).