Immigrants as candidates? No, we can’t
They participated in their thousands in the primaries of the PD, but then Veltroni’s party did not even nominate one immigrant as a candidate. He even went so far as to exclude from the lists the only one who had a seat in parliament for the PD, Khaled Fouad Allam – complains the writer Amara Lakhous, who has been in Italy for ten years and is the author of the novel “Scontro di civiltà per un ascensore a Piazza Vittorio”. The PDL does not do much better, since Souad Sbai’s candidature is a mere farce. Italians abroad, who do not live in Italy, can vote. Children of immigrants, who support the national football team, speak local dialects and perhaps have always lived here, cannot vote. Dear Italian politicians, integration is obtained with facts and not with words.
The exclusion of immigrants from the lists of candidates of the Democratic Party, especially of the outgoing MP Khaled Fouad Allam, brings about many perplexities, for various reasons. Firstly. Over the past two years of legislation, the honourable Allam has shown a lot of enthusiasm, bringing a serious and efficient approach to his work and placing his expertise on questions concerning Islam and immigration at the service of the parliament and politics. His collaboration with the Interior Minister Giulio Amato is worthy of mention. Secondly. After the primaries of the PD, the prime minister candidate Walter Veltroni declared: “Something wonderful has happened. A sign of great hope. Three million, three thousand people have said that a possible, new, serene Italy, who does not shout, who does not hate, who wants a deep change in its politics and in the country. I want to say a few words of thanks: to Vittorio Foa, to the 16 year olds, to the many legal immigrants who have gone to the polls to vote”. The immigrants, therefore, have made an active contribution to building the political legitimacy of the PD, yet nevertheless such a commitment has not been rewarded.
On the opposing side, the situation is not very different. The PDL put Souad Sbai, the President of the Moroccan Women in Italy, on the lists in Puglia. However this candidature serves only to keep up appearances considering the unfavourable position which does not guarantee a seat in the next parliament. The question of the candidacies of the Italian citizens of immigrant origins is only the tip of the iceberg. The situation is truly worrying. Children of immigrants and refugees, born in Italy or here since early childhood, do not have Italian citizenship. They are often described as ‘second generation immigrants’, even if the majority have never immigrated and have never been to their parents’ country of origin. In fact, they like children of the same age: they always support the national football team, they speak local dialects, love pizza, etc. In brief to all intents and purposes, they are Italian. Nevertheless, at eighteen years old they become immigrants and they have to go to the police headquarters and have to ask for the residence permit.
Those who are non-EEC, yet residing legally in Italy for years, do not even have the right to vote locally. It does not count if they pay taxes and play an active role in the economic, social and cultural life of the city where they live. Italians abroad, however, have the right to vote politically, and as a result can have a determining role on the workings of the governments, as was the case after the last legislative elections. As far I know, these Italian citizens who live abroad pay no taxes and many of them do not even speak Italian. They are only Italian because they have a great-grandfather who immigrated from Veneto or Sicily over a century ago. In actual fact, they feel more American or Argentinian or Venezuelan.
Today it is a case of finding out if there is a real political desire to extend the democratic space for participation to immigrants, or if on the contrary, we want to continue to use immigration as a scarecrow to scrape up votes here and there. The heart of the matter is always the same: integration is achieved with facts not with words. Unfortunately, if we follow today’s Italian political debate, there is only one answer to those who want immigrants to be able to participate in politics, and it is clear: It is (not) possible!
Amara Lakhous is an Algerian writer and anthropologist. He lives in Rome and is author of the book ‘Scontro di civiltà per un ascensore a Piazza Vittorio’ (Edizioni e/o 2006, winner of the Flaiano International Prize 2006 for literature).
Translation by Sonia Ter Hovanessian