On the occasion of the 89th birthday of Martin Luther King this coming Monday, the second movement of Berio’s Sinfonia.
From the Afterword, “The Author’s Answers to His Readers’ Questions,” If This is a Man/The Truce, Abacus 1979, trans. Ruth Feldman.
It is, therefore, necessary to be suspicious of those who seek to convince us with means other than reason, and of charismatic leaders: we must be cautious about delegating to others our judgment and our will. Since it is difficult to distinguish true prophets from false, it is as well to regard all prophets with suspicion. It is better to renounce revealed truths, even if they exalt us by their splendor or if we find them convenient because we can acquire them gratis. It is better to content oneself with other more modest and less exciting truths, those one acquires painfully, little by little and without shortcuts, with study, discussion and reasoning, those that can be verified and demonstrated. (p.397)
Occorre dunque essere diffidenti con chi cerca di convincerci con strumenti diversi dalla ragione, ossia con i capi carismatici: dobbiamo essere cauti nel delegare ad altri il nostro giudizio e la nostra volontà. Poiché è difficile distinguerei profeti veri dai falsi, è bene avere in sospetto tutti i profeti; è meglio rinunciare alle verità rivelate, anche se ci esaltano per la loro semplicità e il loro splendore, anche se le troviamo comode perché si acquistano gratis. È meglio accontentarsi di altre verità più modeste e meno entusiasmanti, quelle che si conquistano faticosamente, a poco a poco e senza scorciatoie, con lo studio, la discussione e il ragionamento, e che possono essere verificate e dimostrate.
dall’Appendice a Se questo è un uomo. La tregua, Einaudi, Torino 1989, p.327.
As Italy goes into total shutdown for August, I have so much work at the day job that it’s literally made me sick for the past three weeks, but spending more than four hours on the phone with lawyers every day should do that to anyone. Ironically, I have been working on a series of pieces about Scandinavia. I feel like I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on the tragedy in Norway last week.
One of the reasons I started this blog was to write about the growing wave of intolerance in Europe, which was inspired by my stay in a charmingly little intolerant town in the north of Italy in 2008 where I got to wake up to posters like this outside my apartment during election season.
I am surprised, to say the least, at what happened in Norway, and that it happened there. I didn’t think there would be a such a violent outburst — I assumed it would happen more insidiously, more politically — or maybe that’s just how it’s happening in Italy, France and Germany. And certainly, that insidious creep is what bears monitoring, because that’s how intolerance insinuates itself into policy, not through terroristic violence. I can’t say “I told you so” because, actually, I didn’t. But dropping birthrates, stagnating economies, political incompetence (especially in Italy for those of you following the usual three-ring circus; if you’re not, look up Spider Truman) and mainly just rabid fear of difference.
Terrorism’s raison d’être is to provoke a response. So far Norway’s leaders are showing an incredible amount of restraint, calling for more democracy instead of making unfulfillable promises for ramped-up (and usually cosmetic) security that we would see in bigger, more-tech-happy countries. The Nordic countries have led in redistributive social welfare and tech-driven exports in recent history. All eyes will now be on them to see how they deal with the savagery of domestic terrorism. One thing that is certain is that it won’t be with the savagery of the death penalty (which I’m sure leaves many Americans aghast at such an emotional moment), as we dealt with Timothy McVeigh. Probably they will start arming their police, but the further political repercussions will bear close watching. They could even set a good example.
May ended up being a very bad month for the intolerant: first Osama bin Laden, then Ratko Mladic, and now Silvio Berlusconi, whose coalition was dealt a serious blow in run-off mayoral elections all over Italy this past week. Of course, Berlusconi’s crimes of philandering and corruption are much less grave than terrorism and mass murder, but the effect he’s had on democracy in a country struggling with economic stagnation has not been healthy for western values.
The net effect of these three incredible events has been to clog Premesso’s news-gathering apparatus with an overload, so apologies for the lack of updates.
The campaign in Milan reached histrionic levels of fear and xenophobia, most of it coming directly from the premiere’s own party. The tactic backfired, and John Hooper, writing in the Guardian, quoted Professor James Walston of the American University of Rome, who made an excellent point mirroring my own in the case of Magdi Allam a few weeks ago:
Watson said he feared Berlusconi’s tactics could have a lasting impact on interracial and interfaith relations in Italy. “This type of language has been used by the prime minister, not some neo-fascist maniac on the fringes,” he said. “It will be difficult to bring Italian political language back to acceptable European levels.”
Seeing this tactic lose out was refreshing, and often funny to boot. (Read more of Walston’s excellent analysis, included a piece from which the above quote was taken, on his blog, or watch at interview with him shortly before the eight minute-mark here.) Young Italians may not be taking to the piazze the way their Spanish compatriots are, but they are taking to web and producing hilarious results. Web-savvy Milanesi hilariously parodied the brutish xenophobia online; check out pages on Facebook encouraging people to vote for the mayor today (June 2), a national holiday celebrating the birth of the first republic, or supporting a fictional Muslim district of Milan called Sucate.
To come: photos from the streets.
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.
Here are some recent headlines of articles written by Allam: “the duty to break the Islamic siege.” “Let’s rebel against Europe to avoid the invasion.” “The scandal of the minaret in Milan.” “Allam yells ‘never again’ to convince Milan.” A commenter on the last article writes that “there is no shame in Islamic prayer. It is an act of war; a claim on territory.”
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.
Hat-tip to Eleonora Bianchini of Il Fatto Quotidiano and author of The Book the Northern League Would Never Let You Read for also writing on the folly of Allam’s rigid bids for assimilation via conversion this week.
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.
As Italy struggles to accept massive flows of refugees from the Arab Spring, one hopes that the G7 country has learned something in last 20 years. As Berlusconi’s channel report that the refugees are complaining about the quality of food and as leghista Roberto Maroni makes doom-laden statements about a biblical exodus, I urge contemporary Italians to look back to the events of early August 1991, when mass looting, rioting, and total loss of civil society led Albanians to flee their country — which was, like Libya, a former Italian colony.
By way of trying to get Italians to look beyond their own bell-tower in these days in which the country’s biggest trade partner has become the focus of international news, I quote award-winning Italian journalist Enzo Biagi from the Corriere della Sera of 12 August 1991 (quoted in Paul Ginsborg’s indispensable Italy and its Discontents). Substitute “Libyans” for “Albanians” to try and get a picture of today.
The dream of the Albanians has dissolved, but so too has that of the Italians. The fifth industrial power in the world has not been capable, in three days, of distributing ten thousand cups of coffee… Those plastic sacks of water thrown from above to the dehydrated immigrants, those sandwiches scattered by the solders into the scrambling mob — it was like being at the zoo.
As Fyodor Dostoyevsky said, “the degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering the prisons.” Consider the refugee from a war-torn place as a prisoner of circumstance, and let us hope that the degree of civilization that Italy offers its non-citizens is as high as what it promises its own.
As Sylvia Poggioli reports from Lampedusa:
The people here are angry and they suspect the government wants to exploit the crisis for electoral aims. U.N. officials have criticized the government for being extremely slow in moving the migrants away from this tiny island to bigger and better equipped facilities on the mainland.
Now, keep in mind that the coalition, the ruling coalition, includes the powerful Northern League, which is virulently anti-immigrant. The interior minister, Roberto Maroni, is a member of the Northern League and he’s been warning for weeks of what he calls a biblical exodus from North Africa.
Now, the foreign minister [Frattini] went to Tunis yesterday to try to negotiate with the new authorities there, ways to monitor more carefully the Tunisian coast to prevent the exodus. And Italy went so far as to propose a payment of up to $2,500 to each Tunisian who voluntarily returns home. But the Northern League leader [Umberto Bossi] blasted the idea, saying why should we pay them? We should just pick them up and send them back.
Read and listen to the whole interview here.
Bossi and his similar-indignant followers — “paying immigrants?! But the state doesn’t pay us hardworking Italians! They’re treating immigrants better than their own people!” reeks of a selfish insularity that isn’t hard to imagine in the land where one needs not look beyond one’s own family home, or town steeple at best — one that should be brought into sharp relief by the disturbing images of Iman al-Obeidi‘s silencing and forced evacuation from the Rixos Hotel yesterday.
There are more compelling anti-war arguments out there that take diminishing state resources into account; here is Bob Herbert’s American perspective.
That the two countries have different interests regionally goes without saying. But what Italy and her elites — different to France and Britain, for example — seem to have a hard time realizing is that the degree of involvement that the country has in the region and in Libya specifically means that the country cannot continue to idly sit by. The lamentable reaction to the many (non-Libyans) coming ashore in Lampedusa reflects this idleness.
Some have said that Eni is essentially the foreign policy arm of the Italian government. Be that as it may, it would be heartening to see the government doing more than simply throwing its hands up into the air, occupied — as usual — with the naval-gazing exploits of a philandering prime minister.
(Video primarily in Serbian although the judge speaks in English.)
Readers of yesterday’s post, which quoted Rory Stewart questioning the ability of the UN and similar organizations to do much of anything, might’ve detected a hint of disappointment. This view was informed in some measure by the inability of the UN to prevent carnage in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. That drama is still being played out at the ICTY in the Hague, and although there are sometimes questions to be raised about the institution, when it convicts those like the former assistant minister of the interior Vlastimir Đorđević of crimes against humanity and war crimes it is redressing a real wrong.
Đorđević, as assistant minister of interior, was head of Serbia’s police forces and paramilitaries who played an active role in using violence and intimidation to force Kosovars out of their homes and off their land. In additional to charges of mass killing, the judge also brought up the removal of the victims’ bodies to mass graves inside Serbia proper, and sentenced Đorđević to 27 years’ imprisonment.
Belgrade’s silence on the matter bodes well for Serbia’s European future.
Perhaps international justice comes out ahead of international development here because the results are so much easier to measure. One can debate the merits of the sort of justice it is, but for those familar with Kosovo and the Milošević regime, Đorđević’s sentencing is just.
The ICTY’s indictment of Đorđević can be found here. Names of the victims, including the 47 members of the Berisha family who were killed on a single day in March 1999, can be found in Schedules A-L, pages 25-48.
You may be thinking of Ben Franklin as you dig into your turkey. Recall — as a graffito artist in my neighborhood apparently has — that the founding father also noted, as many a revolutionary did, that “they that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” And so witnessing the colossal flop of the anti-TSA “no-fly day” (and noticing also TSA at least playing nice for the press), I leave you with this somewhat revolutionary message from dance musician M.I.A. (Is it over the top? You might think so. More than anything else it reminded me of the Dr. Seuss story the Sneetches.)