As many of you know, I am in Singapore enjoying the multi-ethnic and religious diversity of this city-state. I have also enjoyed different styles of communities’ hospitality. All marked by respect for the guest (in my case an evident foreigner) and friendly smiles. Many people here dress in their traditional clothes, their religious symbols, and speak their ethnic languages. Nobody fears the other as everybody is the ‘other’ to somebody else. Singapore can only survive if this delicately balanced harmony is maintained and preserved. To do so, one word is essential: respect.We should be honest, Singapore has its issues and problems. Racism exists, stereotypes are strong, foreigners are not always loved. Yet I live in an ordinary HDB (Public housing), stay with ordinary people and eat at ordinary food stalls, and the degree of ‘respect’ and ‘tolerance’ for the ‘other’ surely is at the highest level I have encountered in a modern society.
The interesting thing is that Singapore is pregnant with religions, rites and believers. Mosques are built one after another and there is a shari’a court and various Muslim associations, but even Robert Spencer would have a problem to argue that ‘Singaporeans are dhimmis’. There are issues and problems, but they are not discussed in the news papers, they are not exaggerated by the mass media; they are managed and controlled. It is the rational, planned, successful management of society and social life that helps to maintain the essential harmony which Singapore needs for its prosperity.
If Singapore were to experience even half of what is happening in Italy, the social economic engineering which makes Singapore one of the most successful countries in the region and world, would collapse. The truth is that, in such scenario, nobody would gain and everybody would lose.
Indeed, in Italy, in a new and unrecognisable Italy, everybody is losing. Yet only few Italians seem to notice this. Italy is today probably the most concerning and least friendly country of the EU, marked by the return, from bottom-up, of a fascination with a defeating, and defeated, past called Fascism. Notwithstanding the similarity in the terminology, dress styles, and references (the Lega Nord, the most social nationalist party of Italy, has ‘green shirts’ only because it cannot refer to brown ones), this revival of fascism is not like the historical one.
The progressive stages of xenophobia that has marked the home of pizza and ‘bel canto’ began with the fear of Muslims and their cultures. The great majority of Italians, though not hating Muslims, have formed chimerias about Islam. Fallaci helped after September 11 to develop them from ‘concerns’ and ‘fear’ of a different unknown religion, to hate for whomever practiced that religion. She wished to bomb mosques, or at least one of them. Although Fallaci and others (in particular within the Lega Nord ) were responsible for, not always cleverly disguised, ideological incitement toward violence, there were other individuals who decided (as usually happens) to make real, what Fallaci and others fantasised about.
The reality is that Italians, the majority of them, do not care. Too busy with economic issues and social instability, endemic unemployment, workers alienation and unbelievable exploitation (my sister had to work without salary for months as ‘probation’ before she was granted a temporary contract of three months), the majority of Italians remain silent; a minority celebrated the beginning of the new crusades, and a few others, often from the radical left, protested. Lega Nord, with the European MP Mario Borghezio took part in the planned, but than forbidden, Nazi event against Islam organized in Cologne. An event that even Robert Spencer felt the need to distance himself from and rejected.
Lega Nord is a social nationalist, populist party, and a dangerous one, whose main force comes from the fear of others and the idea that immigrants can take over the white-celtic man. Vulgar in its language, reminiscent in its populism of Fascism, Lega Nord, mixes a fake Celticism (to replace Aryanism) with a new idea of the— again fake and historically nonexistent— superior nation, the Padania, Lega Nord shifts recently from targeting mainly Muslims to all not-white (hence non-Celtic) foreigners.
Italy today is experiencing an unprecedented (and unusual in its violence even during historical fascism before the German-imposed racial laws) racism and xenophobia. So unexpected and violent has been the phenomenon that even a post-Fascist like Gianfranco Fini (today president of the Parliament) had to raise the alarm. There is no area of Italian civil society which has not been affected by this new wind of xenophobia and violent racism.
Recently during the match for the World Cup qualification in Sofia, the Italian supporters started to invoke the ‘Duce’, sung ‘Fascist songs’ and attacked the hosts because they were ‘communist’, despite the historical changes in Bulgaria. Children are not spared from this white supremacist new culture: finger prints for little Roma (Gypsy) even when they are Italian, vandalism of children’s work representing their perception of multiculturalism, attempts to form ‘migrants only’ classrooms and impose an ‘Italian-ness test’ for entry into Italian schools on children of legal migrants. I have been informed of racism within school and even Sunday Church schools.
What began as a hate for a religion, Islam, has moved on to race, ethnicity and old fashioned hatred of different skin colours. Of course, this is the normal development of Islamophobic campaigns, they, despite the fact that Robert Spencer may dislike this, end in white supremacism, dislike for liberal democracy, racism and often, in the worst of cases, genocide. Indeed, the history of the Holocaust provides the best example of this progression: from the dislike of a religion, Judaism, to the dislike of an entire population, the Jews, to the extermination of them and also the other ‘undesired’ elements of the ‘nation’.
Why is Italy swiftly stepping back into the darkness of its tragic history? After my month-long visit to Italy this past summer, I can say that we may find the reason in what has been a long process involving three ‘I’s: Ignorance, Intolerance and Injustice. Italians are, among the Europeans, those who are less familiar with other cultures and religions.
I have checked the bookshelves in popular bookshops as well as the suggested reading in university courses – even those, often pretentiously, entitled ‘World Religions’ or ‘anthropology’ – and found much to be desired. The mass media do not help either. There is a lack of correct information about religions and other cultures, and very few documentaries. The mass media, and politicians, indirectly, or even directly as in the case of Lega Nord, use the fear and ignorance of Italians for political and monetary gain. In other words, ignorance (in the Latin meaning of to ‘ignore’) is just as widespread as intolerance.
Italians in the past twenty years, though having experienced a very different kind of migration to that of France or the UK since migrants tend not to settle in Italy but use it as point of passage, have never addressed the situation. Migration was something Italians used to, and today again do, perform. I am a product of it. But in a country which is suffering an identity, economic, and social crisis, tolerance is a distant word. Indeed, Italians often do not tolerate even each other (e.g. Capanilismo), how can they learn, without the right educational programs both at school and in the media, to learn about others? Intolerance, for more or less everything and everybody, is becoming for a consistent minority of Italians, a trade mark like Ferrari or Valentino.
The last ‘I’ is part of the long history of Italy. Injustices (social injustice, political injustice, economic injustice and even juridical injustice) have marked the history of Italy with both well known events as well as unknown stories. Italy is far behind other European states. I can speak for the reality, for example, of prisons. Compared to the European prison systems, an Italian prison shares more in common with a Turkish one than, for instance, a British one. Of course, in such a contest, it is not surprising that at the top of the experience of injustice we find immigrants, in particular those classified as ‘nero’ (Blacks). Racism and xenophobia is unsurprisingly used even by Mafia to scare, and hence control, immigrant workers (and possibly to force them into criminal activity).
The three ‘I’s of Italy are helping to develop a new Italian society, fragile, fearful, and missing, beyond the issues that exist, the real opportunities of a changing global world. Italy is missing the advantages of a multi-ethnic society and only experiencing the issues that this may entail. The alarmist culture that has existed for a decade within the country, is defeating rationalism. Lacking a real sense of national identity, Italians seem increasingly to believe that it is only by ‘excluding’, when not ‘executing’, the different and the other, that the decaying Italic society can survive. Gone are the times when Italians believed that their creativity, sense of business, fantasy and intelligence could make their country renown and loved. Italy, in reality, never recovered from Fascism.
Indeed, the Cold War froze the political life of the country. Only from 1992 could Italy face new political challenges, and this continuous instability has defrosted what WWII defeated, and then the Cold War had frozen. Today we can see the development of this, still unknown, but surely dangerous, Italian hydra, which is fighting with its different heads. We cannot know, at this stage, which one will be left, but the glimpse that we have makes me fear for the worst.