Introduced and translated from the Italian by Bruce Bawer
Angelo Pezzana, born in 1940, is a journalist, writer, and political activist who lives in Turin, Italy. His books include Dentro & Fuori (In & Out), a 1995 autobiography, and Quest’anno a Gerusalemme (This Year in Jerusalem), a 1996 history of the immigration of Italian Jews to Israel. He is a frequent contributor of op-eds to the Milan newspaper Libero and is editor-in-chief of the influential website informazionecorretta.com, a daily newsletter which monitors the Italian media’s reporting about Israel and the Middle East. In the following essay, written exclusively for rights.no, he provides a critical overview of the current situation in Italy vis-à-vis Islam, immigration, and Israel.
Letter from Italy
By Angelo Pezzana for HRS
I will begin with one bright spot: Italy is one European country, at least, whose news media (and that includes newspapers as well as both state-run and privately owned television stations) are not entirely hostile to Israel.
When it comes to immigration, however, there is a widespread lack of understanding of the problem. There is surprisingly little awareness of what is going on, and the media tend to keep news of what has already happened in other European countries – where entire cities or neighborhoods are under Muslim control – carefully under wraps. By generally avoiding this issue, the news media have achieved the desired results – namely, the majority of Italians remain blithely unaware of the steady increase in the immigrant population, which tends to be concentrated in peripheral neighborhoods. (It is, by the way, impossible to determine how many immigrants there are, since so many of them are unregistered.)
To be sure, a handful of newspapers, most of them to the right of center, do present a reasonably objective picture of reality where immigration is concerned. But the majority of the news media – which range in their political orientation from the moderate left to the extreme left – most decidedly do not. This is also true of the Catholic newspapers, which address the problem of immigration, especially Islamic immigration, exclusively from the perspective of human and social development. They take a similar approach to Islamic terrorism, whose perpetrators in Italy find their inspiration at mosques. The most famous of these mosques is Viale Jenner in Milan, which is often at the center of investigations by the police but which nonetheless continues its activities unabated. Meanwhile the public, as a rule, views the demands of Muslims in Italy exclusively through the prism of civil rights, and accordingly has no objection to the building of mosques even by groups with proven connections to international terrorism. People might have learned a thing or two from a book like Walter Laqueur’s book The Last Days of Europe, which predicts what Europe will be like in the coming decades and offers detailed forecasts of how each country will have changed by 2025 and 2050. But when the book was published in Italian translation last year, it went unreviewed in the newspapers.
In Italy, immigration is defended – regardless of its consequences – not only by the extreme left (whose numbers are not very large) but also by grassroots organizations that are allied with the Catholic Church and that exhibit almost total agreement with everything anti-Western and anti-Israeli. Across Italy, church parishes regularly play host, in association with far-left and Catholic NGOs, to meetings and conferences whose sole purpose is to serve up pro-Palestinian propaganda, The guest speakers at these events often include Israeli intellectuals, journalists, professors, and writers of the sort who travel around the world vilifying Israel. They are few in number but fierce. Who better to delegitimize Israel than an Israeli?
The center-right, which currently runs the government, might take a sensible approach to the problem of immigration, but the Catholic elements in the government are disinclined to confront these issues in (as it were) a secular fashion. It must be said, however, that the foreign policy of the Berlusconi government is strongly pro-American and pro-Israel, even though the Prime Minister enjoys maintaining cordial relations with many non-democratic world leaders, such as Khaddafi, Putin, and Erdogan. But all in all, this government is probably as good as any we could reasonably hope for under the circumstances – those circumstances being that in Italy we are saddled with a non-secular tradition in which political power has routinely been divided between two forces, the Catholics and Communists. It has long been common here, in fact, to speak of the «two Churches» – the white and the red.
After an extensive investigation in the early 1990s by the judiciary, which in Italy is strongly linked (at its highest levels, anyway) to the old Communist Party, all of the country’s other parties were decimated by a series of trials. At the end only the Communist Party was left standing – though it had changed its name after the fall of the USSR. It was this state of affairs that inspired Silvio Berlusconi to enter politics and create a party, Forza Italia, whose election victory prevented the left from gaining power. Prior to that, Berlusconi had been the entrepreneur who broke the monopoly of state-run TV (which is financed by obligatory license fees) by providing free, privately owned TV. Ever since, Berlusconi has been regularly accused by the judiciary of every imaginable crime – but so far he has managed to survive. In our democracy – which, despite all its shortcomings, guarantees freedom – the citizens voted for Berlusconi in 2001, but also for the center left in 2006. When we chose to return him to power in 2008, the choice was a free one.
In Israel, Berlusconi is considered the best prime minister that Italy has ever had. This verdict is obviously based on his Middle East policy, which is highly attentive to the national interests of the Jewish state and very tough on terrorism. When Hamas was declared a terrorist entity by the European Union, it was as a result of a proposal by Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini. Italy has maintained business ties with Iran, but the Italian government’s attitude toward that country is anything but friendly.
Then there is the Vatican, which shares with Islam a profound opposition to modernity. Last December, at the UN, the Vatican joined Muslim countries in voting against a resolution that would have banned the death penalty for homosexuals – which is, of course, in effect in many Arab countries. Indeed, the Church – which opposes abortion, bans any form of birth control, condemns homosexuals because it considers them sinners, and prohibits the use of condoms to prevent ‘AIDS – gets along quite well with the theocratic states of the Muslim world, and plainly misses the days when it, too, wielded temporal power. Italy is, in short, a country rich in resources and possibilities. But it remains under the influence of two currents, Catholicism and communism, that have always prevented the development of a more secular – and more open – society, and that have restrict the ability of Berlusconi and his supporters to deal more productively with the challenges of immigration, Islam, and Israel-hatred.