Muslims in the crosshairs: Islamophobia in Italy

Muslims in the crosshairs: Islamophobia in Italy
3 min read
27 May, 2015
Comment: Muslims are the target of an increasingly hysterical campaign by the public, media and politicians that paints them all as extremists and terrorists, says Angela Lano.
Many Muslims in Italy face harassment in their everyday lives [Getty]

Last Friday, Maurizio Gasparri, vice-president of the Italian Senate, tweeted that "Islam brings destruction and incivility".

This blunt statement from the right-wing politician followed the news of the Islamic State group's takeover of the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra. According to him - and to some important Italian media outlets - there is no difference between Islam and IS.

An entire religion, and a culture that taught medieval Europe about the scientific heritage of ancient Greece and Rome, and added a great deal of its own scientific revelation, is reduced in a single tweet to a violent, and limited, geopolitical phenomenon.

However Gasparri's disturbing tweet isn't the only one that has been in circulation in the Italian media and social network.

Gasparri's Islamophobic tweet "Islam brings destruction and incivility" [Twitter]

On May 20, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and Interior Minister Angelino Alfano hailed the arrest of a young Moroccan, Abdelmajid Touil, for the attack on the Bardo Museum of Tunis in March.

Soon after, it was discovered the boy had an alibi: he was at school the day before and the day after the terrorist raid. Italian investigators said it may have been a case of mistaken identity.

The irresponsible declarations released by Italian authorities and spread by the media have helped build the already well-rooted Islamophobia in Italy.

Islamophobia became a large-scale phenomenon in Italy after September 11, 2001.

Talking up 'Islamic terrorism'

Since then, much of the mainstream Italian media has talked up "Islamic terrorism", transforming Islam and Muslims into something dangerous, even monstrous.

A monster that, as Noam Chomsky wrote in his book Manufacturing Consent, is useful to get the peoples' consent for wars and to act as a scapegoat for social, political and economic crises.

On Facebook, veiled women of Arab origins or converts to Islam often complain of being the target of unpleasant verbal attacks while walking on the street in Italy. "Go back to your country", "Take off the veil", they report people shouting.

It is a short step from insults to physical aggression.

Veiled women complain of being targeted by verbal abuse on the street: 'Go back to your country', 'Take off the veil'.

A few days ago an Italian Muslim writer posted on Facebook that she had received an anonymous letter containing traces of faeces.

While walking or shopping, she is a daily target of violent verbal attacks, especially from women, she says.

A young Italian-Palestinian mother said one of her daughter's teachers advised her to study more and pray less, because her classwork wasn't good. The little girl returned home very upset.

Stories like these are becoming more and more common in Italy. They show intolerance, racism and intellectual poverty. They are the effects of negative information spread on Middle Eastern issues, related always to al-Qaeda or the Islamic State group, and associated to Islam.

Let's go back to the case of the young Moroccan.

This story was created from the beginning by the media and politicians. Investigations are still ongoing, but it seems likely that he is innocent. Why, then, did TV and newspapers publish his name and pictures on the front page without further investigation?

Xenophobic parties and the public reacted by indiscriminately attacking Islam and Muslims.

Blogs, Facebook and other social networks are full of insults against Muslims and immigrants. Some called for the resignation of the interior minister "due to inability to provide security from Islamic terrorist infiltration..." But the boy is likely to be innocent.

As happened in many other similar cases, in the collective imagination he will forever be a Muslim - and a terrorist.

Opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.