"Our politics are more backwards than our football"
"Soon the black football attacker Mario Balotelli will play for the Italian national team: but with the present political outlook, a coloured candidate is impossible. Football is more progressive than politics". So says Gad Lerner, presenter of TV show 'L'infedele' [The Unfaithful] when commenting on the lack of candidates representing immigrants (especially Muslims) in the Democratic Party. "It's the umpteenth indication of Italian provincialism", the La7 journalist states harshly, who has made his Jewish identity well-known: a Hebrew who grew up in Milan, his latest book is called ‘Tu sei un bastardo. Contro l’abuso d’identità’ [You are a bastard. Fighting identity abuse], Feltrinelli, 2005. He criticises the pursuit of the Democratic Party to the right when it comes to homeland security (‘the centre-right voter will not be convinced by imitations’), and on the specific political events of Khaled Fouad Allam he says, ‘one single parliamentary representing Muslim culture was already not enough, but to go from one to none is really an ill-judged use of marketing’.
The Democratic Party candidature has come under a large amount of criticism. Veltroni's idea of proposing a poor candidate for the poor, a working candidate for the workers, betrayed a poor representation of politics. Yet at this point, how can a candidate for immigrants not be proposed? In your opinion, what is the reason for such a shocking omission?
On the one hand this conveys the umpteenth indication of Italian provincialism, given that the figures and statistics of naturalized Italians, that is to say, voters in other countries, are very consistent. There is no need for the Commonwealth to know that the current population is a more composite group than once upon a time. But there is an aggravator in addition to our provincial naivety, and this is the mistaken idea that whoever touches upon the subject of immigration is masochistic, in other words, if you talk about having problems, it’s therefore better to dissolve the immigrants from the electoral campaign. It’s true that the issue of indemnity for the 700 thousand immigrants has been left hanging: no politics in Italy, from the extreme right to the extreme left, have considered to discuss it.
There are three ‘weak’ bands of society which up until now have been insufficiently represented: young people, women and immigrants. The first two have managed to enter into the political debate, the third hasn’t. Why have immigrants been excluded? Perhaps because they don’t vote?
I disagree that they have reached actual significant positions and quotas for women and young people, I disagree that with the Calderoli law in force, and with these candidatures, it will enforce a change in the leading class. The electoral results will show that there are women on the list but they will not be elected, or that they will but in ways inferior to what was promised. When it comes to immigrants, it’s not true that they are weaker than women and young people, as things are organised in Italian society. The problem is that Italian politics are lacking the culture of a representative who takes multiculturalism into account. Perhaps this is starting to exist in trade unions and business associations, in the chambers of commerce, but at a political level it still hasn’t arrived. There has been no change to the leading groups for decades, least of all in finding a party leader with dark skin. Soon the black football attacker Mario Balotelli will play for the Italian national team: football is more progressive than politics.
Out of the twelve points in the Democratic Party programme, there is not one entry on immigration. Or rather, there is but it exists within the layers of ‘security’, as if they were almost synonymous.
There is a tendency to pursue the right on homeland security, instead of proposing drastically alternative contextual platforms, but in my opinion this strategy will never convince the north-east constituent, which is somewhat the most quoted icon for choosing an imitation over the original. But if we live with immigrants as being something to hide under the carpet, why do we accept the automatism ‘immigrants equal security’, which means I may as well be voting for People for Freedom, don’t you think?
The subject of security is certainly very well-known, and it’s not a case of communication experts and spin doctors prompting the Democratic Party to crack down on this. Dramatic cases such as the Reggiani murder have shaken public opinion. But perhaps beyond the fear, Italians already live with integration, as they live with secularization and ethical pluralism, before their political class.
I am convinced that Italy is a place of formidable integration, which works spontaneously, almost by inertia, and not because they have created shrewd politics. And this takes place in schools, nurseries, primary schools, where teaching staff are restricted by the reality of having to roll up their sleeves and educate on differences and integration which work, they build on habit to create cohabilitation. Yes, this has brought society much further forward than political debate has, where the debate concerning the admission of the children of illegal immigrants onto nursery school waiting lists has provided a symbolic example. Among other things, the cases in question concern a few tens of families, where every case made is won, because the illegal immigrants are nearly always the children of someone who has had and then lost a job, and not necessary people who are breaking the law. Overall places of strong integration do actually exist, without which Italian society would have exploded long ago. If we were to follow these patterns, these proposed pictures of politics, there would have already been a breakthrough in Italy long ago. Fortunately a xenophobic party of a comparable size to those in other European countries has yet to take hold (even if the Northern League could turn out this way), because the rate of integration turned out to work.
Khaled Fouad Allam denounced the Democratic Party for being mono-ethnical. Perhaps the lack of candidates from other countries and cultures is the symptom of the incapacity to process a more complex discussion on the subjects of interculturalism and on the debate between various ethical visions? It’s already complicated enough to put secularism and Catholicism together.
Having just one member in parliament to represent Islamic culture was already not enough. But to go from one to none means diminishing one’s vision, it’s a very ill-judged use of marketing. Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of respect for political marketing, and just as in my own work, I always listen to market surveys of television viewers. Yet if at times they put me down, I would never draw from this that I must only deal with subjects according to the market surveys reported. It will never replace leadership or a guiding role, and that’s what one asks from politics.
Do you not think that avoiding talking about immigration, and Islamic immigration, is part of the general strategy for the avoidance of ethical problems, in favour of a campaign which directs everything on pragmatism and social issues?
I don’t agree with this, in the sense that I do not accept the distinction between social and ethical issues, I can’t see what’s less ethical between the issue of abortion, that of faith and that of tax evasion, or that of applying safety standards against work accidents, even if a 40-year-old builder is very different from an embryo. All in all, this distinction is a product of an ideology and of a weakness in the Italian political system, so weak that even the shift of a few percentage points that the Italian Episcopal Conference can control are taken into strong consideration.
In your opinion what are the most pressing political issues that the Democratic Party should put into action regarding integration? Would linking the stay permit to work, as foreseen not only by Bossi-Fini law but also by the Amato-Ferrero bill, not lead to a conception of immigration as a pure resource to exploit, eluding to the solidarity issue?
In general I believe that we need uniform politics for the huge mass of immigrants who are asking to be made official after having lived in this country for many years, it’s in the interest of everyone that their position emerges, even if it’s to defeat the black economy and misconduct in the world of work. And on top let’s think about the politics in metropolitan living, which are different from the logic which grows from symbols and fear, from purely demonstrative moves: when we can truly understand that this is not the ground on which to resolve the problem of the growth of social inequalities and marginality within our urban areas – all of which then puts a stop to development and growth. It’s true that in Milan the most dynamic, more ‘global’ sectors of the middle classes, which work in Italy and in the world, are often the most sensitive to the marginalization issue because they realise that a company also needs a good environment in which to grow, which is truly welcoming and encouraging.
Translation by Helen Waghorn