Apropos of the histrionic tone towards immigration that Italy’s runoff elections took recently, it’s interesting to take a look at how the issue was approached in Britain 43 years ago by Enoch Powell, the conservative firebrand best remembered for his “rivers of blood” speech. James Walston has a good bit about this up in one of his posts this week, which I again encourage interested readers to peruse.
Older English readers will remember Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of blood” speech in which he used Virgil’s phrase (“the Tiber will flow with blood”) to threaten Britain with the consequences of immigration. It was a racist speech which cost Powell his career; Berlusconi and his supporters are using far more inflammatory language and few seem to mind.
The BBC has a fine documentary presentation up which you may watch in six parts on YouTube.
In an effort to provide a little context for Magdi’s provocative posters, some reading from the archives in order to illuminate exactly what happened:
The praying at piazza Duomo was connected to protests against the Gaza War and happened on January 3, 2009. Organizers of the protests say that the prayer was spontaneous. Coverage in the Washington Post is here. There was no violence, and the Archibishop of Milan refused to condemn the prayers. As the Guardian reported, the Muslim community actually met with the archbishop and apologized for the prayers.
In the US, the first amendment to the constitution guarantees right to petition, or freedom of public assembly. In Europe, it is guaranteed by article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights, if one believes in the authority of European law.
The riots along via Sarpi on April 12, 2007 started when city authorities in Milan began applying fines to the many wholesalers who operated along the street.
Milan’s administration has taken care of this issue recently by completely refurbishing the street, and making it pedestrian-only. Without cars and vans, and with bikes replacing pushcarts, the neighborhood is much more livable now — but arguably one effect the improvements had was to make it more difficult for wholesalers there, who simply moved their operations to side streets.
According to the story, the Chinese rallied around the flag for lack of a better symbol. Since some commentators have pointed out that laws in Italy are often unfairly applied, I wanted to highlight the penultimate paragraph:
Some experts say that the Chinese in Milan have been unfairly singled out by the authorities, and that the authorities have been considerably more lax with native Italians. When laws are enforced in such an inconsistent manner it becomes a case of discrimination, Lanzani said.
Inconsistent enforcement is at the heart of any debate about immigration anywhere, but above all in Italy, where networks of power flout the very laws they are supposed to abide by time and time again.
Some readers have criticized my use of the word “nutjob” to describe Magdi Allam. That is admittedly an imprecise description of a journalist-turned-demagogue whose views are nativist at best and racist at worst. Like Oriana Fallaci before him, Allam has a deep and abiding fear of Muslims in Europe. Unlike Fallaci, Allam was born in Egypt.
Allam made a reputation writing for the mainstream Italian press in support of multiculturalism, the positive effects of immigration, and against the clash of civilization, but had a rather radical change of heart in late 2002. Since his baptism by none other than the pope himself in 2008, he has acquired a fervid fear of Europe’s Islamizication that now dominates the pieces he writes for Berlusconi-owned il Giornale now.
It is a shame that a cosmopolitan writer of such insight now resorts to the kind of ugly race-baiting that garners support from the most virulent and provincial supporters of an ethnically homogenous Italy.
As he says in “Let’s Rebel Against Europe,” Allam has given himself the noble struggle of protecting Judeo-Christian values in Italy. That Christian Europe finds itself in an identity crisis thanks to low churchgoing and low birth rates I do not dispute. That the Catholic Church can use its influence for the good – as the Pope did yesterday in Venice, speaking of compassion of refugees and immigrants I do not dispute either.
But when Italy’s right to display crucifixes in classrooms was upheld using some supremely contorted legal reasoning, the fact that it was an Italian and a Fin that brought the case to court was overlooked by the Italian press. Equating all Italians with Catholicism and integration with religious indoctrination is regressive identity politics. Allam happily practices this.
Allam’s posters offer no proof that he makes a distinction between legal and illegal immigrants. Showing different-looking faces and habits with NEVER AGAIN emblazoned above them feeds but one instinct: fear, a powerful driver in Italian political life. Once sown, what strange fruit does such fear yield? Read about it in the papers, or in Human Rights Watch’s report that I wrote about when it came out: Africans beaten with bars, Indians set on fire while sleeping, Roma driven out by mobs, mafia exploitation of Africans in Rosarno, further ghettoization and political irrelevance.
Immigration presents massive problems in Italy that are different to the problems in the US, UK or even France. Italy’s late entry into the colonial game, rapid rise to wealth and a tradition of xenophobia based on local rivalries all present extreme problems for newcomers. As a 2008 Brookings paper pointed out, though, low growth, lower birth rates and the lack of willingness of Italians to do low-skill jobs, however, means that immigrants are not only necessary but the only bright spot in an economy that stagnates year after year. Strife all along Italy’s borders, from the Mahgreb to the ex-Yugoslavia, for the past two decades means they are inevitable.
Italy’s immigrants are struggling to find a voice as they come of age, many of them raising children who are passing to adulthood now. But other than a handful of newspapers in the bigger cities and a good website, there is little unity or political voice, and nothing like the Southern Poverty Law Center or Anti-Defamation League in the US or Anti-Racist Action in the UK, in part because immigrants have not ‘made it’ yet. Suspicion of people with different colors and accents runs deep.
The opportunistic and the cynical gladly tap these fears for their own narrow self-interest, and I fail to see how monitoring images that appeal to this cynicism is buonismo. A better example of buonismo would be to dismiss criticism of Allam based on his earlier writings in praise of immigration, multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism. It is a shame that Allam followed in the great tradition of Italian politicians and leaders before him in choosing to pursue his own narrow self-interest that bound him to Berlusconi rather than to found what could have been Italy’s first multi-cultural or pro-immigrant party; a sort of anti-Lega proving that immigrants could successfully integrate. But perhaps such cynicism is part of full integration.
There are good arguments to be made for preserving Italy’s cultural heritage and for stopping the flow of dangerous, cheap, or illegally made goods. Demagoguery that sustains the politics of fear is not the way to do it. I will give Allam the benefit of the doubt that perhaps the “Department of Identity, Citizenship, Integration and Development Solidarity” that he says he would found might help matters. American citizens do have to submit to a short 10 question test before they can put their hands on the flag and take a short oath. But such ceremonies, like baptisms, are largely symbolic. True integration is cultural and economic, based in tolerance and understanding and not bureaucracy. The test of adherence to a symbolic creed is in the actions it produces. In the case of Magdi, his actions speak far louder than his words or his images.
Journalist-cum-politican Magdi Cristiano Allam loves Italy, he tells us. The Egyptian-born Italian, who made a publicized conversion to Catholicism, seems quick to absorb Italian values — if rampant, no-holds-barred race baiting is an Italian value. Going far beyond provocative and into offensive, his images of Muslims praying in Milan’s piazza Duomo, Chinese rioting against shop closings on via Sarpi, and of a Roma family on a riverbank near a resettlement camp with the legend NEVER AGAIN in Italian above them can be found all over Milan, especially near its Arab and Chinese neighborhoods. I’m not sure, especially in the Chinese case, what the ‘never again’ refers to — cheap labor, goods, shops, and an entrepreneurial spirit and work ethic that the Italians seem to have left in the 1950s?
Mere meters away from the Chinese consulate and from via Sarpi, the Chinese-themed posted shows up. On Corso Sempione, not far from the Egyptian quarter around viale Jenner, the Arab poster shows up. Roma wash windows nearby on via Procaccini. (The perverseness of ‘never again’ is especially offensive in the Roma case.)
The message is clear, and it’s not a tolerant one. The posters assure us that he loves Milan (presumably one in which immigrants make their contribution to the economy and then shut up and stay out of sight) and that he loves Italy (a monoethnic one with silent workers).
If an obvious nutjob like Allam were to be relegated to political sidelines, he would be easy to ignore. But what is disturbing is that he is heartily endorsing incumbent Letizia Moratti in her bid for mayor. Moratti also has the hearty support of the prime minister. That such a mainstream candidate in the financial, industrial and supposed ‘moral’ capital of Italy (an old horse now picked up to flog by PdL, Berlusconi’s party) is anywhere but on the fringes along with the neo-Nazi Forza Nuova where he belongs is incredible. What if David Duke or Nick Griffin actively campaigned for Michael Bloomberg or Ken Livingston? (Such an analogue is, of course, happily unthinkable in Washington, DC.)
But perhaps such sentiments are to be expected in a country where the Lega Nord is in the ruling coaltion, and where Gianfranco Fini is seen as a viable and sane alternative to Berlusconi or Bossi.
Until the opposition is able to do more than make commuting hell on Friday afternoons and mobilize a few columns of art school students to march around Duomo, who carry banners announcing that they are ‘back’ (I presume to the barricades, of which there were none) and nothing more, expect more of the same.
Further down the street, a series of flags of all nations put up for the Expo 2015 showcases Milan’s cosmpolitan nature and promises of worldliness. At the end of one encounters Lega’s tent, where a woman curses the students as delinquents. One wonders what her take on the flags and what they represent is. Among them I note Egypt and Turkey. I half expect Allam or the Lega’s next posters to show off this morning’s tragic crash off of Lampedusa, where another rickety boat spilled 500 migrants into the sea [update: 400 rescued]. That is truly something that should never happen again, but I think that point would be lost on Allam and his backers.
Perhaps they will next celebrate the death of Osama, if they are even that tuned into happenings beyond Italy’s borders. With Lega’s 2009 Indian poster in mind and bizarre violence that it did to notions of race, hegmony and power in the West, one almost hopes that they are not. Geronimo indeed.
BREAKING: The pope in Venice has told Catholics “not to fear others.” Given pious Veneto’s strong LN base, one hopes that this won’t fall on deaf ears. Maybe even Allam will listen.
Italy’s political situation, overshadowed lately by events in Middle East, is grim. Berlusconi’s coalition totters. Fini’s breakaway group seems waiting for the right moment. Indeed this fall March was bandied about as the right time for a vote. More power has flowed to Lega Nord’s Bossi, whose ministers voted again making the 17th a holiday, and Berlusconi even showed up tot he vote with a handkerchief in green — breakaway Lega’s color.
As the case was in WW2 and the anni di piombo, the north is again the battleground for Italy’s future. Lega parliamentarians are in the middle of passing aggressive decentralization reforms that could be completed as early as May. If so, Berlusconi will lose ground as Bossi’s secessionists take Italy back to a past of campanilismo and freedom from taxation.
With typical Italian flair for a big show, Turin is prepped for an unlikely show of Italian nationalism. Italian’s lukewarm sentiments towards their nation are legendary. The political crisis going on for the better part of a year highlights this, especially when a member of the ruling coalitions regularly insists that unification is not worth celebrating. It leads one to ask, what’s all the fuss about?
2. As the holes in the immigration walls get harder to plug, shifting from Ceuta and Melilla to Lampedusa to the Greece-Turkey land border, Greece talks of suspending the Dublin Convention for asylum seekers. The Economist’sCharlemagne comes out with the following sound idea: “A painful compromise might be tried: if Greece wants to suspend Dublin II, it should accept a temporary suspension of Schengen and the return of border controls.” Me likey.
4. In Lexington, Obama’s handling of Egypt gets a look. Much howling and gnashing of teeth from John Bolton, Niall Ferguson and Michael Scheuer, among others. But maybe No-Drama Obama was the Decider?
Obama is said to have been more certain in private that Mr Mubarak’s jig was up than America’s public pronouncements (especially those of Hillary Clinton, his sometimes behind-message secretary of state) let on. He flatly rejected the Israelis’ analysis that the Egyptian president could hang on and that America should do everything to help him. Mr Obama’s conversation with Mr Mubarak on the evening of February 1st is said to have been the toughest between an American president and an ally since Ronald Reagan’s scolding of Menachem Begin during Israel’s bombing of Beirut in August 1982.
5. In Schumpter, the uneasy art-business axis is examined. Damien Hirst is one shrewd businessman.
Damien Hirst was even more audacious. He not only realised that nouveau-riche collectors would pay extraordinary sums for dead cows and jewel-encrusted skulls. He upturned the art world by selling his work directly through Sotheby’s, an auction house. Whatever they think of his work, businesspeople cannot help admiring a man who parted art-lovers from £70.5m ($126.5m) on the day that Lehman Brothers collapsed.
And following in his footsteps in Venice, perhaps the Zero Group? Stay tuned.
This site isn’t meant to break news. But there’s been a near-perfect storm of events — so much excellent newsworthy material on Italy, the Balkans and international relations in general, and not nearly enough time to bang out a coherent thought with me being swamped with both typical and atypical end-of-year responsibilities. Some points: Berlusconi’s survival may well lead Italy into a speculative attack on the order of 1976’s run on the lira, the WSJ has a better handle on Lega Nord than the NYT, Thaci might actually be extremely bad for Kosovo, and Wikileaks will change a lot of things. More germane to my task, blogs like Aaron Bady’s show how good analysis can get one noticed.
With an eye towards the skies, I leave you with this video from the brilliant Taiwanese animators NMA. Merry merry. (Although with what’s going on in London and Paris, it seems that the weather is far greater cause for concern than security.)
A student passed me this joke on the Chilean mine disaster, which also plays on a lot of other recent Italian news (Sarah Scazzi, Giancarlo Tulliani‘s house, the Naples trash crisis, the electoral crisis). Mainly it’s funny, if you get it all. Deep Italian current events, knowledge, sure, but enjoy:
If it had happened in an Italian mine, things would have gone like this.
Day 1: everyone’s together in an effort to save the miners. Live TV 24/7, Bertolaso on the scene.
Day 2: on Bruno Vespa’s show, a model of the mine, with Barbara Palombelli, Belen and Lele Mora co-hosting.
Day 3: at the first signs of difficulty, the hunt for guilty and responsible parties begins.
BERLUSCONI: It’s the communists’ fault!
DI PIETRO: It’s because of conflicts of interest!
BERSANI: Uh… what happened?
BOSSI: they’re all hicks; leave them there!
CAPEZZONE: It’s not a tragedy, is a great opportunity, and deserving of this government and this prime minister!
FINI: My brother-in-law has nothing to do with this.
Day 4: TOTTI: I’ll dedicate a goal to the miners.
Day 5: THE POPE: Let us pray for zee miners who are in deez day wery close to the devil!
Day 6: With ratings falling, Chi l’ha Visto (Italy’s version of Unsolved Mysteries) does an episode. Hostess Barbara D’Urso interviews the children of the miners: “Tell me, do you miss your daddy?”
Day 7-Day 30: All attempts fail. Bertolaso is named worldwide head of civil protection. After a month, the miners get out by digging with their hands.
A year later, the 33 miners, fired long before, are prosecuted for damage to the mine site.
And last but not least, here’s a fine one from Gotham’s rag on rising income inequality, the reality of which we really all have to confront. It’s something my Italian students complain about a lot, but the numbers show that Europe has less to worry about than the US in this regard. As Leonardo DiCaprio mock-quotes Hawthorn in The Departed, “Families are always rising or falling in America.”