"Veltroni has ignored us, I choose the right-wing"
Italian Islamic consultative council and President of the Association of Moroccan Women in Italy, comes onto the field with Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right party ‘People of Freedom’. Sbai attacks the ‘multiculturalist do-gooders’ of the centre-left while trying to win her 20th seat on the list with philosophy in Puglia, which puts her election in the balance. She thinks that immigrants should also be given the vote in political elections (“Citizenship is not necessarily required, having a stay permit should be enough”), and when we remind her that her ideas will have difficulty being accepted by the allied Northern League member Roberto Calderoli she replies: “It’s better to discuss with Calderoli than to receive indifference from Veltroni. In ten years the former mayor of Rome has never deigned to come and visit our centre”.
Souad Sbai, why have you chosen the right?
Why not? Why would I not choose it? Is the immigrant a left-wing monopoly? The immigrant living in Italy thinks, eats and votes just like any other Italian, right, left, or centre. In our countries of origin we vote for parties of every political orientation, from the extreme right to the extreme left. Why is it that as soon as we arrive in Italy we must only vote for the left? My family was socialist but here in Italy, with my work, I have met many right wing women who have joined us, many right wing immigrants. In my association there has never been one single thought: left-wing women and right-wing women have always worked together for the good of women less fortunate than ourselves.
Are Muslim immigrants more right wing or more left wing?
Islamic history would indicate to us that they have always been more right wing than left wing, especially in their values. There is a paricular left side which has never received the appeals which my association launched this year. The Left go on and on about immigration rights, but when it comes down to it they don't do anything. We have often invited the centre-left leaders to make them aware of the issue of violence, of extremism, but our invitations never receive any reply. They have never come to visit us. On one side there's indifference, and on the other discussion, which can’t help but produce consequences. Moreover, I am independent, I am not signed up to any party, and I would like to bring a woman’s voice to Parliament, not just an immigrants’ voice. I’m talking about the laws on violence against women - this is one of the issues which I will address if I am elected.
Are you surprised that there are no immigrant candidates in the Democratic Party?
Not at all. You can tell, the left says that they are interested in immigration and then they don't even nominate an Arab, an African, a Philippine. When talking about immigrants, Veltroni states 'who makes a mistake will pay', which seems a very heavy statement to me. Because an immigrant is a citizen, they pay as much as a citizen, in front of the law they are equal. This is the typical arrogance of this kind of the left, which also disregards the fact that most immigrants are integrated, they want Italy to do well, and they deserve respect.
If Veltroni had asked you to become a candidate, what would be your response?
I know that he would never have done that, I'm sure. He's been at the Council of Rome for ten years and we've never seen him. We invited him to our Moroccan cultural centre, the only one in Rome, but we were never deemed worthy of his visit. And yet we were neighbours with only 700 metres between us.
On the subject of immigration, what's the difference between the Democratic Party and the People of Freedom?
First of all I hope the laws will be passed, because in the last legislature the left spoke plenty but didn't reach any conclusion. I'm also referring to the latest immigration quotas. What did they end up doing? I haven't heard anything of it since, and there are 500 thousand people waiting. You can't play around with immigrants like that.
Veltroni proposes the immigrant's right to vote in local elections. Do you agree?
We are tired of their promises. And what’s more there are some people who have been in Italy for five years who still don't have a stay permit. There are children of immigrants who don't have stay permits and they can't even take their secondary school exams or attend higher education. They are Italian in every sense, but they are clandestine.
Therefore having the vote in the local elections is of secondary importance for you?
No, on the contrary, people are only talking about voting in the local elections. So why do the left not offer immigrants the chance to vote in the general elections? Citizenship does not necessarily make any difference, it should be enough just to have a stay permit.
But is that not a proposal which the centre-right would be the first to knock down?
This is Veltroni’s proposal, but let's wait and see. The point is that politicians are not interested. The immigrant councillors at the Council of Rome do not have the right to vote. When there is a vote on they have to leave the room. Why has Veltroni not granted them the right to vote?
But these issues are far from the political outlook of the centre-right. The Northern League, which belongs to this party, is practically xenophobic. The party leader Silvio Berlusconi let the whole world know that he thinks that the West is superior to Islam. Should he not be ashamed for example, to sit next to Northern League member Roberto Calderoli in Parliament, who had proposed a 'Pig Day' against the construction of a mosque in Bologna, with parades and shows where they walked pigs in the sites where they intend to build a new Muslim place of worship?
No, not at all. I could also argue on this point, but discussion with Calderoli is better than indifference from Veltroni. Everyone can then respond with their affirmations. I am also heavily involved in trying to change other people's ideas, and I have chosen people such as Gianfranco Fini, who in many ways I value for things he has said and done.
Are centre-right politics not too pro-Israeli for you?
I'm involved in immigration and women's issues, I do not feel that I am sufficiently prepared to become involved in foreign policy. I leave these things to people who understand more than I do.
Are you not scared that with your 20th seat in Puglia you will represent an apparent candidature?
In my life anything can happen, but it would still be fine with me. Anyway, I believe in the sincerity of whoever presents me as a candidate, because to propose an immigrant as a candidate could also cost them votes, it's a brave choice. On the other hand there hasn't been that much courage. Khaled Fuoad Allam was rejected, so was Aly Baba Faye, who worked for the left for 25 years. It makes me feel bad to see these friends, who have put their heart and soul into immigration and the left, have not even been given a place on the list. This is another reason why I am pleased to be here.
Of course it could also go better for you, with a place on the list...
(Laughs) What am I supposed to say? I don't want to play the victim. Even if I am not elected, I will continue fighting my cause.
Translation by Helen Waghorn