Friday, September 1, 2006
Mary Rizzo - Shaping Opinions by Constriction
In a functional democracy, one of the basic principals is that there should be the recognition of the right of individuals to hold their own opinion. This is often extended to groups, as is natural, since groups are nothing more than individuals who share things in common. The right to hold an opinion also entails the right to express that opinion, even if it is in dissent from the dominant or majority one. There are many ways to express an opinion, especially a dissenting one, and two of the most civil and therefore, most popular, are writing them down and allowing people to read them and manifesting them by marching in demonstrations. Last 19 August, the Union of Italian Islamic Communities (UCOII) expressed their opinion through a paid advertisement published in three newspapers having local distribution in the national territory. In the advertisement it was written that the massacres that saw the Lebanese population killed indiscriminately in massive carpet bombing campaigns that also created a refugee population of a million, at the hands of Israel, as well as a land invasion in their territory with tanks, (in addition to the occupation of the Sheeba Farms), were comparable to Nazi war crimes.
On 26 August, a pacifist march in Assisi also saw several protesters carrying a photo of Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, and the slogan “Leader of Arab Dignity.”
In the current climate, with Italy about to send 2,496 soldiers on a peacekeeping mission in Lebanon, the mass media and the government itself is scrambling to show themselves “worthy” of leading the mission. That means that there is a relentless campaign to reinforce the series of “Italian” values, which happen to coincide with the hegemony of the current world order and the maintenance of its dominant worldview that is blatantly biased in favour of Israel.
The magisterial branch of the State has already opened an investigation as to whether to proceed in accusing the UCOII of “incitement to racial hatred” for their advertisement, a criminal offence. The charge was brought forth by two Parliament members. This appears absolutely ludicrous in a regime of democracy, especially considering that the advertisement was directed against the policies of a State and not a race. In addition, Italy is the country of Oriana Fallaci, the woman who makes a decent living by writing bestsellers that are little more than invective against the entire Muslim world, attacking their values, culture and beliefs. If Fallaci’s opinion is acceptable and legitimate to express, why is the idea expressed in the advertisement, criticising the actions of a State that was reducing another sovereign State to rubble and killing their people arbitrarily for the simple crime of living in Lebanon, at that moment, an enemy of Israel, not given the same right of legitimacy, even if it does not mention race or religion at all?
What has been the reaction that the political world and the mass media have been inducing the general public to follow? The “opposition” political parties, on the Right, naturally have followed the line drawn by Riccardo Pacifici, leader of the Roman Jewish Community of “Unanimous Condemnation”.
What is rather more interesting is the reaction of the Left and its government. Marco Pannella, leader of the Radical Party, a person who stopped making sense a long time ago, telephoned the Corriere della Sera from Cambodia, where he was attending an event commemorating Gandhi’s Satyagraha, non-violent resistance. Showing disgust for the advertisement and especially the marchers in Assisi he said, “…often they don’t understand who is the aggressor or the reasons of those who have been attacked.” To Pannella, the leader of the campaign to add Israel to the European Union, clearly, poor little Israel is the victim of the war, not the aggressor.
Piero Fassino, the leader of the major Left party, Left Democrats (DS) said, “… our soldiers in Lebanon are not going merely to guarantee that the government of Beirut is fully sovereign and can work on the disarming of Hezbollah, but also to protect Israel from whoever wishes to destroy it.”
Wait a minute… that mission that even the pacifists, the pro-Palestinian left has supported is not designed to disarm Hezbollah, but to guarantee the ceasefire and let the Lebanese government resolve according to their own will the internal turmoil that is the aftermath of the Israeli invasion once Israel has returned within its own borders from the entire territory of Lebanon. Fassino is either confused, or he is showing the cards in hand without being aware of it.
Coming from a still higher place, we have the next move to condemn the UCOII. The Ministry of Internal Affairs has called in an ad hoc meeting the group known as the “Consulta” to sign a “Statement of Values”. Who is the Consulta? It is an official organ of the Ministry itself that deals with the theme of dialogue between the State and the Islamic community in Italy and integration of those practicing the Muslim faith. It is composed of 32 members, half of whom are ministerial functionaries and the remainder are representatives of the leading Islamic communities in Italy. The UCOII is one of the major groups, connected to the Muslim Brotherhood and active in 124 mosques out of a total of 250 and in 70 Islamic Centres in Italy. Of the 16 representative members, even before having the text of the Statement, 15 have said they would sign it. Whoever does not sign will be expelled from the Consulta. How’s that for democratic! If they do sign, but at a later date do not “respect” the points of the Statement, they will be immediately expelled, with the media clamour that will follow. The Statement is a severe preventive disciplinary measure and mechanism, and therefore, if any Muslim community wishes to be recognised by the State, to be accepted as a legitimate interlocutor, they have no choice but to acquiesce.
What, therefore, went on at the meeting, and what is contained in the “Statement of Values”? From today’s papers, it seems that the initial encounter was basically to discipline the UCOII and to express dissent to the advertisement they wrote. This is what the news dispatches say at the moment, although the point of the meeting is to establish the articles of the document which includes the recognition of the uniqueness of the Shoah (that word is used, as a matter of fact, even though there were also many non Jewish victims of Nazi crimes). Mario Scioloja, Vice President of the Italian branch of the World Muslim League adds, “… and I think that in addition to the uniqueness of the Shoah we have to consider appeals for peace in the Middle East, the right of Israel to exist, respect for women. It will be important that everyone does sign.”
Improvements to the statement are offered by Magdi Allam, Vice Editor of Corriere della Sera, Italy’s leading mainstream national paper, prophet of the “moderate” Muslim, staunch defender of Israel, and a man who I heard with my own ears state at a book presentation that the pacifists of the world were the cause of the war in Iraq, because they gave Saddam false confidence that peace would prevail. In a way, he was right. Peace will never prevail, no matter how much the people want it, and they were given a good lesson that it is utterly useless to dissent from the superpower and its lapdog. These powers do what they wish in spite of world public opinion, even their own.
Allam suggests as an article of the Statement, “The recognition of the right of all, including the right of Israel to exist and the condemnation of every appeal for its destruction, even under the form of the evil proposal to substitute Israel with a single Palestinian State where Muslims, Christians and Jews live together.”
It is pretty shocking that he sees living together in peace and democracy as evil, but this is a moderate for you…He continues, “The condemnation of Palestinian terrorism perpetrated by Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and other groups, of the Lebanese terrorism of Hezbollah and other groups, of the terrorism of Al Qaeda, the Talibans and other groups who massacre Muslims in the world and attack the multinational (yes, you read it right, he wrote multinational and not international) forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.” (Corriere della Sera, 28 August 2006, Magdi Allam, “Islam, Sostantivo plurale italiano”.) Naturally, if a non-Arab invading force kills Arabs, they are not terrorists, even though the techniques sure terrorise the civilian population and make them the first victims. It seems as though there will be no space for the Italian Muslims to publicly support the right of resistance that is guaranteed by international law to an occupied nation against its invader. Too bad!
Therefore, there will first be stigmatisation for not adhering to the document, even if Arabs are forced to recognise Israel when Palestinians’ right to exist is still unrecognised. Nor are they to consider that their own “Shoah”, the Nakba, is unique. They had better always remember the correct hierarchy of victims, under threat of being considered aligned with terrorists. Much more significant than the pressure put upon the Muslims to sign a document proclaiming the values of Israel as being primary and more vital and urgent than the interests and history of the many people they represent, is the message being sent to the general public. Not only Muslims, but all Italians are being told to negate the evidence of the reality of the destruction that our own soldiers are about to walk into and witness firsthand. Everyone is being informed that there will be a price to pay for expressing criticism of Israel. One dare not do it!
It looks as if the groups will sign the Consulta document, with the exception of the UCOII. I think that they realised that dissent just doesn’t pay in the war waged in the mass media. It is not worth the stress for them, and they want to keep their affairs private and not constantly be threatened with expulsion and ostracised from the Italian power community. What is worrying is that even without the pressure, I fear that sooner or later all Italians will be required to sign such a thing. This may be the first time that an opinion is forced upon a category, and it possibly serves as a testing ground for other such initiatives.
A question remains: judging the recent events in Lebanon and Gaza, the Italian public doesn’t seem to share the view of the Internal Affairs Ministry. They seem shocked and disturbed by the invasion of Lebanon. I don’t think that they would have otherwise tolerated the deployment of so many soldiers into new theatres of war, given the recent Italian victims in Iraq and Afghanistan that have rocked the public opinion. They would only approve if they felt that what was going on had to be stopped at all costs, that it was a threat to world peace. If the European survey that caused a scandal a few years back, where Europeans expressed in an overwhelming majority that they considered Israel to be a major threat to world peace were to be made again, would these opinions be censored even in the reality of the war Israel has waged on Lebanese soil? Would we be called anti-Semites again if we simply declare what is before the eyes of the entire world as an act of war, and therefore a threat to world peace, despite the heavy campaign of lies and propaganda to make us see Lebanon as the aggressor?
Italian intellectual Pietro Citati has declared that he was a Cassandra, having predicted four years ago that there would be an upsurge in anti-Semitism in Europe. For Italy he refers to the over the top rants of Umberto Bossi of the Northern League party as well as the UCOII and the marchers at the peace rally. In the leading nationwide Centre-Left paper, La Repubblica, on a front-page editorial (not to be outdone by the pro-Israeli rhetoric and hyperbole of Angelo Panebianco of the Corriere della Sera of the same date) he writes, “Despite the indifference and the hostility of the Europeans, I don’t believe Israel will ever disappear from the face of the Earth. Disappearing much sooner will be Osama bin Laden, the president of Iran, the students of a criminal like Khomeini, the leader of Hezbollah, the anti-Semites of Europe, to whatever sort they belong. The Jews have a gift, that we Catholics don’t possess, or that we possess in different ways. With passion and avidity, they love the world: the “red” and the “blue”, the “fig” and the “vine”, travels, books to read and to write, commerce, riches: yet, they do not belong entirely to the Earth. With a part of themselves, they live elsewhere, where Shekinah, the feminine face of God, wanders in exile, sometimes emanating a pallid lunar light, other times intoning a music that is even more crystalline, shrill and triumphant.” (La Repubblica, 28 August 2006, Pietro Citati, “Il nuovo antisemitismo”.)
If the complete lack of judgement of Israel’s actions is any indication, here bordering on an ode to its glory, pretty soon, it won’t be sufficient to stop criticising Israel, we will have to start adoring the specialness, giftedness and otherness of the Jews, which these authors constantly confuse with Israel when it serves their purposes, and we will be urged to admire their triumph, despite our better judgement, and despite the horror and carnage that we witness with our own eyes.
First published on: AMIN, Uruknet, Online Journal, Redress, Al Jazeerah info and elsewhere.