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Migrants Effect on Extremist Politics in Italy

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    Italy has been known for centuries as a country with an excessively welcoming environment and an accepting culture. However, in more recent times, there has been a dramatic shift in the attitude towards immigrants. There is currently a surge of migrants into the Italian nation, of a variety of backgrounds and cultures. In particular, there has been more than 600,000 African migrants in the last 5 years, which has directly correlated with a resurgence of racially motivated incidents (Poggioli).The growing number of migrants in Italy has allowed for the rise of extremist politics and tension in formally tolerant and supportive cities.

    Italy as a country is becoming significantly more diverse in population in recent years. However, in a 2016 Pew Research study, it is concluded that “53% of Italians surveyed stated that cultural diversity made their country a worse place to live” (Drake). Irrespective of the actual number of new immigrants, it is perceived to be a problem by a majority of Italians. Right wing supporter Sara Polimeno embodies the attitudes of many Italians with the remark, “There’s an invasion of Muslims imposing their religion on us, they have different customs and culture and they’re upsetting all our habits. They’re demanding too much. Enough!’. There is a deeply ingrained fear of loss of culture, of loss of a distinct Italian culture that pushes many to the brink of fascism. Italy still continues to feel the effects of an era of fascism, deeply ingrained in the psyche of its citizens.

    Overbearing nationalism is seen as a dangerous idea that can lead to severe consequences. However, the increasing wave of migrants has caused a shift in political mindset of many citizens. There is a rise in the political weight of neo-fascism, and far right wing politics (Mammone). In October 2017, thousands of Italian citizens marched in downtown Rome to protest a bill that would “grant citizenship to children born in Italy to long-term resident foreigners”(Poggioli). One of the most prominent and supported neo-fascist group is CasaPound, led by Gianluca Iannone. On fascism in Italy, political scientist Giovanni Orsina concludes that, “This area of nostalgia,of ideological persistence of fascism, today has more leeway [and] can use the new issues of migration, identity in order to grow stronger”(Poggioli). The original fascism of Mussolini is not relevant anymore, because the concerns of Italians have shifted. However, this new wave of fascism is gaining in popularity because it monopolizes off the fears of Italy’s citizens in regard to migration and national identity.

    A particular immigrant and cultural group that faces a large majority of racially and religiously motivated hatred is Muslims. 494 of the 763 hate crimes reported in 2016 were motivated by racism and xenophobia (“Italy”). This anti-muslim sentiment is seen in the media as well. In the 2017 National Islamophobia report cited a specific research on Italian newspapers which “identified 146 titles that could be defined as discriminatory, of which 20% were associated with Islam” (Alietti). This type of prejudice and stereotyping leads to a greater permeance of misunderstanding and fear into the minds of the public. Many of these articles emphasized the idea of Muslim incompatibility in Italian society, as well as the idea of Muslims as terrorists (Alietti).

    Some of the most common rhetorics observed in the most popular far-right political organizations are anti-immigrant and anti-muslim. Italy’s far right Lega, a popular far-right league, has succeeded in accomplishing many items on their anti-immigrant agenda since obtaining power. Interior minister Matteo Salvini is “refusing to accept migrant and refugee boats and has supported the Italian Maritime force’s decision to ignore migrants’ SOS calls”(Hatewatch). Salvini has boldly expressed his opinion of immigrants, declaring, “We need a mass cleansing, street by street, piazza by piazza, neighbourhood by neighbourhood.”(Hatewatch). The rhetoric that he and his party promote is one that is resonating more and more with the Italian voter. This idea of cultural purity is one that is reminiscent of the time of Mussolini and Hitler, particularly in terms of national identity.

    There are a variety of fundamental issues in Italy that provide the prime conditions for the upsurge of extremist politics, notably high levels of youth unemployment and stagnant economic growth (“Italian Elections”). These underlying issues allow for easy scapegoating of minority of immigrant groups, with immigration being a key campaign platform in recent elections. The overall shift to right wing politics and extremism is mirrored in a majority of European countries, but Italy in particular has a particular history of fascism that has left a mark on the minds of Italians. In times of less prosperity, it is a straightforward movement towards blame of those perceived as different. According to national statistics, “In 2017, there were a significant number of physical attacks on immigrants, asylum seekers and refugee centers and numerous demonstrations directed at reaffirming national supremacy” (Alietti).

    This nationalist sentiment allows for promotion of discriminatory policies in an attempt to regain a sense of security and safety. This shift in Italian attitude and politics is not unexpected. It follows along with the trend observed in the majority of country in the European Union, as well as internationally. The increase in immigration has led to a crisis of nationality, and the spike in anti-immigrant rhetoric is a natural reaction to that overarching feeling of fear. It is important to note, however that while these extremist ideals are on the rise in Italy, they are not shared by all. However, nationalist and extremist sentiment is on the rise, and with the ever increasing flow of immigrants, it is likely to become an even more widely shared belief.

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