The Guastalla Park in Milan, about thirty meters from the great Synagogue of the city. It is the last day of high school. Hundreds of students are playing the traditional game of throwing eggs and flour. But in a corner of the garden there is a more simple form of teasing and deceit. Two students - one in the final year, the other in the third year, 19 and 17 years old. The former is Andrea. He has fallen in love with a girl from the second year. But the girl doesn’t feel the same; she likes the other and younger boy. This is Andrea’s last opportunity to challenge his rival. Teenage love games as usual; nothing remarkable. But the younger boy is Muslim; his name is Omar. His father and mother are Italians, but Muslims. Andrea is very abusive: “You should leave. Dirty Jew! Circumcised Jew! I will hit you!”
Andrea cannot distinguish between Jews and Muslims. For him they are “others”, unlike the mainstream. He wants to manifest his physical and “cultural” superiority, his Islamophobia and his Anti-Semitism. Omar is surprised, but not submissive. And he is not afraid of the older guy.
|The following day newspapers report a student-brawl. Not a word about the real reason of the fight. Not a single world about Islamophobia or Anti-Semitism. There is no Islamophobia in Italy|
Omar says “You have overstepped the mark. You have to apologize!”
But Andrea replies “I do not beg! I’ll pulverize you!”
Omar is quite a bit shorter, but he is the fly half in a city rugby team and used to rough physical activities. He knows that if he does nothing, this will bring shame on him, and he doesn’t want that, so he decides to react. Omar’s fist goes straight for Andrea's chin. Before he can understand what happened, Andrea crashes down amidst the flowers. Four or five of his friends arrive to support him. Omar does not find this difficult to deal with, and there are some young players from the same rugby team. Team fellowship is stronger than the clash of civilizations. They only think about standing up for their teammate Omar. A few seconds and the last day of school has been transformed into a real battlefield. The younger students pitched against the older. David against Goliath. Fortunately for the Islamophobes, the synagogue is very near and the police soon arrive. Andrea and one of his friends have to be given first aid. The following day newspapers report a student-brawl. Not a word about the real reason of the fight. Not a single world about Islamophobia or Anti-Semitism. There is no Islamophobia in Italy.
|In the Mediterranean area, the idea of a pure “race” is pure fantasy. This sea has been an area of exchange for centuries, for millenniums: the exchange of goods and people. The same food, the same dress, the same mentality, the same vision of life and death; there are far too many shared aspects to contemplate a clear diversity|
A fear of “others” is not exceptional in modern nations. Although this was not the case in the past, in recent times it has become a widespread problem. The Mediterranean area has been perceived as a place of common identity for centuries. Spain and Sicily were points of exchanges between East and West. In the more Christian regions of Europe it was not uncommon to find Jews and Muslims living. The IV Lateran Council of 1215 stated that Jews and Muslims had to dress differently. They were not to be confused with Christians. And Jews were not given duties as public officers in municipalities. They were to be immediately dismissed. These are not positive rules, but we do not know to what extent they were applied.
An abrupt change in politics occurred in 1492. The same year that America was discovered. The expulsion of Jews and Muslims was justified for preserving the limpieza de sangre: the purity of the “true” Spanish blood. It was a racist premise for nationalism, the beginning of the national fear of the “others”. A few years later, on 14 July, 1555, the papal bull Cum Niminis Absurdum created Jewish ghettos in Rome and Western Europe. These remained places of segregation until World War II.
In the Mediterranean area, the idea of a pure “race” is pure fantasy. This sea has been an area of exchange for centuries, for millenniums: the exchange of goods and people. The same food, the same dress, the same mentality, the same vision of life and death; there are far too many shared aspects to contemplate a clear diversity. Any such difference has been artificially created. In 16th- century Spain the Catholic kings stressed differences in religion. In Nazi Germany of the the XX century, nationalism and anti-Semitism were both used for the same purpose In 21st-century Italy and Europe, Islamophobia is the leading instrument to strengthen the weak identity of the ancient mainland.
The first aim of Islamophobia, its first law, is the expulsion of foreigners. If a general expulsion is not possible, then more demonstrative actions should be resorted to. In May 2009, the Italian government started to turn back boat people arriving from Libya and North Africa. This was definitely a futile attempt to fight illegal immigration. Only a few thousand people, but it was very well accepted by the mainstream mentality. However, this was totally useless as most illegal immigrants arrive in Italy through land borders or by plane. Only 10% arrive from the sea. Among those that arrive from the sea, most arrive from Somalia, Eritrea or the Congo. They are refugees protected by the 1951 Geneva Convention. But Libyans were turned back by the Italian government, with bullheaded determination. And this, even though it was clear that most were destined to torture in Libyan prisons, or to be abandoned to die in the desert.
When repulsion is not possible, the second rule is segregation. In Italy, immigrants without documents or residency permits are detained at CIE (Centers for Identification and Expulsion). With modern identification systems – photographs and fingerprints - the procedure still takes some 30 days. At first the time of detention was expanded to 60 days. Recently this was increased to 6 months. 6 months in such places is nothing less than a nightmare.
CIEs are the worst types of prisons. No private visits, except from parents. No books. No form of education. No spiritual assistance. A CIE detainee told me about the difficulties of attaining a valid legal defense. Some people try to commit suicide. Their friends go on suicide watch to prevent them. CIEs are a disgrace of human rights. But they, with the fear they inspire, are considered to be a sort of revenge against immigration.
When it is not possible to prevent or segregate immigrants, they are then encouraged to live in restricted areas of major cities. Ethnic quarters are nothing but modern ghettos. The first one was the Chinese ghetto of via Paolo Sarpi in Milan. More recently, the Equilino and Centocelle ghettos in Rome have been created, and the ghetto of via Padova, in Milan. There is an Arab ghetto near the Central Station in Brescia, as well as others in Turin and Prato. Ghettos are very dangerous. It has been proven that they create problems of integration. Such places encourage criminal behavior. The ethnic criminals tend to combine the mafia. According to a commission of three experts appointed by the Italian Senate on November 2008, when this happens, the result is really a catastrophe. This commission should have made statements about how to prevent the springing up of ghettos. But they were totally swamped with work. I know this story very well, as I'm one of the three.
In march 2010 a Roman gang of young people destroyed an internet café in the Magliana quarter. Four Bengali were wounded. Magliana is at the extreme periphery of Rome, but it is not an ethnic ghetto. The message is clear: Bengalis should stay in their own ghettos.
Andrea wanted to give the same message to Omar: “This is not your place; go home.”
Ahmed Gianpiero Vincenzo was born in Naples in 1961 and became a Muslim in 1990 after a journey of long and in-depth religious research. Vincenzo, who is considered to be a leading representative of Italian Muslims, lives in Milan and is one of the founders of theIntellettuali Musulmani Italiani (Italian Muslim Intellectuals). Vincenzo teaches History and Law of the Islamic civilisation” and “Religious Laws”.University at the University of Naples. In 2007 he became professor of “Aesthestic of Eastern Religions” in the Accademia di Belle Arti (Fine Art Academy) of Catania