Dead writer’s words fan flames of Islamophobia

Dead writer’s words fan flames of Islamophobia

By Alfio Bernabei

Searchlight, February 2007

A RACIST CALL to blow up a mosque made by Italy’s best selling writer Oriana Fallaci seems to be achieving some of its intended effect, with a little help from rightwing parties.

In that famed part of Tuscany nicknamed Chiantishire, Islamophobia, fanned by Fallaci’s incendiary remarks, reached a peak in December with a second demonstration against the building of a mosque in Colle Val d’Elsa, a town of 14,000 inhabitants near Siena.

While the majority of the protesters recited the Lord’s Prayer, neo-fascists acted as Fallaci’s foot soldiers. The building site came under attack, not for the first time. Metal barriers were torn down and metal poles, which were part of the foundations, uprooted. Among the attackers police identified Forza Nuova militants who had vowed to launch a crusade “to protect our traditions”.

In a separate incident a few days earlier, the severed head of a pig was thrown at the entrance to the building site. Around 1,000 Muslims live in the area, working in farming.

Such protests are nothing new – they have occurred in Genova, Lodi and Padova, among other places, over the past few years. Rightwing political parties, such as the xenophobic Northern League, the neo-fascist National Alliance and Forza Italia, can count on hundreds of their members to take to the streets when demonstrations are called against the erection of mosques. The nazi-fascists always rush to the scene, eager to be seen at the forefront of such protests. Forza Nuova has issued leaflets linking all mosques and Muslims with terrorism, saying: “There is no such thing as a moderate Islam, no mosques to be allowed in our land”.

The current incidents at Colle Val d’Elsa have acquired special significance because of the ghost of a celebrity hovering in the background and questions about the role that certain media can play in fanning the flames of racism, whether through editorial misjudgement or, as some have suggested, by design, wanting to espouse the doctrine of a clash of civilisations.

Fallaci, who died last September, had a house in the area. Interviewed in June 2006 by The New Yorker she said that rather than see a mosque intruding in her beloved environment, she would obtain explosives and blow up the building. “I will go to my friends in Carrara, you know, where there is the marble. They are all anarchists. With them, I take the explosives. I make you juuump [sic] in the air. I blow it up! I do not want to see this mosque – it’s very near my house in Tuscany. I do not want to see a 24-metre minaret in the landscape of Giotto … So I BLOW IT UP!”

Where there isn’t a Giotto there might be another artist. So why not blow up other mosques as well, and make people (well, certain people) “juuump” in the air, given that Fallaci’s real objective seemed to be the “ethnic cleansing” from Europe of Muslims who, she wrote, “breed like rats”, bring syphilis and Aids and behave like animals since “invading and conquering and subjugating” is “the only art at which the sons of Allah have always excelled”. Describing Muslims as delinquents, filthy and untrustworthy, she appeared to treat them as subhuman, rather in the way the Nazis viewed Jews.

As Luciano Scagliotti, head of the Italian branch of the European Network Against Racism, put it: “Fallaci and others like her are using their popularity to create hatred. She is effectively telling thousands of people they must chase the Arabs out of Europe. It’s a kind of racism that was unacceptable in Europe until a few years ago. It’s exactly the same thing we saw in Italy when the laws were brought in against the Jews in 1938.”

Some responsibility for spreading such racist literature on a national scale lies with the media that turned a violent Islamophobe into an iconic figure (“our greatest writer”) to the extent that even when Fallaci spoke like a terrorist, advocating the use of explosives, hardly anyone dared criticise her. It was Italy’s leading daily, Corriere della Sera, way back in 2001, that gave her a very special platform – four whole pages – for her aggressive “rage” that is still evoked as an example to follow at demonstrations in Colle Val d’Elsa.

The local authorities there are trying to calm things down. “Our objective is to create a place of civil interchange between different cultures with a view to bringing about unity not strife,” said the local mayor Paolo Brogioni. Far from being the kind of architectural threat Fallaci imagined, with “a 24m minaret” (in reality it is 8.3m high), the project, first announced as far back as 1999 but only now under construction, is for a study centre with a mosque attached. Representatives of the local Muslim community have been asked to sign a protocol of intent under which the centre would be closed immediately “in the case of penal condemnations of any association executive directly or even indirectly involved in illegal activities connected to what occurs in the cultural centre”.

Happy with this arrangement, the local authorities have rejected a petition calling for a referendum signed by 4,300 people who oppose the mosque. The atmosphere remains tense. Apart from Forza Nuova’s promise to continue the “crusade” to disrupt works, there are the Islamophobic taunts of representatives of the Northern League, such as the MEP Mario Borghezio, who, invoking Fallaci, visited the area dangling pork sausages. The pig’s head came later.

Mayor Brogioni has asked the President and Prime Minister of Italy to visit the site and lend their support to the project.