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There has been muted and meek response coming from Europe in response to the uprisings for an end to dictatorial rule and for economic and social justice in Tunisia, Egypt and across the middle east. This weak response can be credited to a tsunami of Islamophobia that has swept through the western world since the Bush administration’s propaganda campaign to win support for the perpetual war on terror. In Europe Muslim extremists are the boogeymen in the collective closet. The citizenry of Fortress Europe and the United States shudders in alarmist fear over often fabricated threats from intelligence programs geared toward ingraining the myth about the arab terrorist lurking around every corner. Irrational fears of the immigrants coming from North Africa and the Middle East to rape and destroy the traditions of Western European culture permeate European society as the NATO allies in Europe have continued to successfully perpetuate these misconceptions about Muslims and arabs even after Bush’s departure. The first European pro-Israeli lobby called the European Friends of Israel was launched in 2006 and has met with great success in solidifying Israel’s false image as the only true and open democracy in the Middle East region. Both celebrities and politicians from the left and the right sing the praises of Israel as a model democracy while fanning the flames of fear that the Islamists of the Arab world are ready to stream in from the South in a bloody jihad.
This ingrained fear of Islam is a corner piece of the state of Israel’s propaganda campaign to depict the Palestinian people as Islamic terrorists hell-bent on attacking and destroying their oppressive occupiers by any means necessary. The Palestinian struggle for self-determination, the diabolical blockade of Gaza, the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the existence of Hezbollah in Lebanon, Iran’s nuclear program, and the list goes on… are all traditionally framed by the U.S. and Israel, with their growing number of rightwing European counterparts, as battles for what are good, wholesome, western values against those of Islamic extremists ready to overwhelm the world with a conservative Sharia law. Islam is depicted as a religion of intolerance, violence and degradation toward women. Democracy is deemed as dangerous in the Arab world because these people are a majority muslim and therefore their democracies will be terroristic and extremist in nature is how the argument plays out through Rupert Murdoch, Fox News and much of the mainstream media in the United States. While in Europe, governments are systematically mobilizing to thwart the threat of Islamic culture becoming a valid part European society.
While many of us realize that the root causes of the struggles in Tunisia, Egypt and a growing number of places around the world are social and economic inequality, exploitation, and autocratic oppression, the global economic powers are eager to use religion, race, and general differences to confuse people about the root causes of these rebellions and divide them based on their irrational fears of the unknown. Islam has become the number one tool of the Western powers in propagating these divisions. While standing side by side with the most conservative Islamist regime in Saudi Arabia, the U.S. and its’ allies continue to pretend to champion the rights of women and broader human rights when it serves their interests. Saudi Arabia is the homeland of Osama Bin Ladin and fifteen of the nineteen 9-11 attackers were from there. Together with the United States, Saudi Arabia has financed the creation of such organizations as Al Qaeda and the Taliban. The Saudis finance the creation of religious schools that teach a militant Islam along the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan, while at the same time partnering with the United States to supply oil resources and military staging grounds back at home.
The trick of the spokespeople for the power brokers of the global capitalist system is to use and discard the issues of human rights when it suits them. Saudi Arabia, a country that is truly oppressive toward women and society as a whole and is financing the international promotion of such values, is the United State’s great friend because it sits upon the largest oil reserves in the world and creates a demand for the military industrial complex. At the same time people like Hillary Clinton or Condoleezza Rice speak of their support of the human rights of the Egyptian protesters or decry the treatment of women by the Taliban. They then turn around and spout misinformation about the threat of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt or extremist groups in Yemen. The Muslim Brotherhood, unlike our friends the violent and oppressive Saudi dictators and financiers of the global terror network, is a very moderate Islamist movement that supports economic equality and a modern interpretation of Sharia law. The mainstream media of course never questions or pursues these obvious contradictions with any depth and the general western public remains ignorant of the true reality while they concern themselves with their higher callings of soccer or super bowl Sundays.
The European Friends of Israel have been hard at work bringing lawmakers from the EU on state sponsored tours of Israel and the occupied territories. They are in the process of hosting hundreds of European Parliament members on these relationship building trips that are meant to build common ground on policy. Upon his recent return from one of these trips, right wing dutch populist Geert Wilders, who has become known for his anti-muslim campaigns to stop the “Islamisation of the Nethrerlands”, voiced his whole hearted support for Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territories and said that the best solution would be for the Palestinians to just all move to Jordan. The European Friends of Israel coupled with their allies in the right wing governments that now dominate Europe are pushing the zionist agenda on all levels while cloaking any resistance or criticism as irrational and Islamist in nature.
In Italy this growing and manipulated islamophobia can be clearly seen and the political establishment and media’s role in creating it is obvious. The slow and meek response from Europe in regards to the revolutionary uprising in Egypt can be explained through the Italian lens with its Catholic traditions and neo-fascist populism. Italians pride themselves on their elegance, attractiveness, art, culture, food, and sexual prowess. This pride became overblown during the twenty years of fascism when Mussolini rose to power on themes of Italian superiority and exceptionalism in the world. The Berlusconi government which has been in power in one form or another for almost 15 years is adept at playing on these most base level fascist tendencies that still remain a part of the culture. His current ruling coalition has remained intact thanks in large part to the xenophobic political party from Italy’s north called the Northern League. This anti-immigrant and overtly racist party has targeted Islam as public enemy number one. One of their coordinators and Italian senator Roberto Calderoli has called on the Pope to help join forces for a holy war against Islam. When a Danish newspaper published editorial cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed sparking riots across much of the muslim world, Calderoli donned a t-shirt depicting one of the cartoons on state T.V.. He also proposed celebrations of pig days to bring pigs to the sites of any places in Italy where there were proposals for the construction of mosques in order to defile the sites.
In August of 2010 the Italian government refused to recognize Islam as a religion. Politicians cited extremist imams, polygamy and the failure to uphold women’s rights by Muslim immigrants as reasons for refusing to recognize Islam as an official religion in Italy. Because of this ruling the Muslim religion will not receive income tax revenue for their established places of worship as do the Catholics, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Mormons, and Jehovah Witnesses. This blatant intolerance comes from a country led by a man accused of paying teenage girls under the age of legal consent for sex at wild so-called “bunga bunga” parties at one of his mansions. One of these girls was an immigrant from Morocco. This religious bigotry comes from a country that funds the Catholic church with over one billion dollars in state income tax a year. A Catholic Church whose religious leaders have raped and sexually abused children the world over. This condemnation comes from a country that treats women like pieces of meat at the butchers, and where many of these women spend thousands of dollars on fake boobs to impress the men at the market. There is no equal pay for equal work and women still live in conditions of economic disparity equal to the 1950s unless their silicone boobs and asses get them some added bonuses.
The racist components of the Italian government have seized on the war on terror to encourage public intolerance toward muslims. Crimes are often blamed on muslims with out motive or evidence. In a high profile case of extraordinary rendition 23 CIA operatives were found guilty in absentia of the illegal kidnaping of Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, also known as Abu Omar as muslim cleric from Milan. It has never been clear if Berlusconi ok’d the CIA’s kidnapping and maybe a wikileak could help solve this mystery. This case was sensationalized for months in the Italian media as Abu Omar was described as a radical cleric/imam. Omar was flown out of Italy to Germany and on to Egypt where he was tortured. He was later released and never charged, just used as part of the systematic ratcheting up of the threat level in peoples minds of these “radical” Islamists. Just in the past days, as if in an orchestrated reaction to the sentiments of solidarity with the struggle in Egypt, four Moroccans were arrested in Calabria. Three were accused of international terrorism for activity on the internet and the fourth for having an unspecified amount of marijuana. Of course in the media and by the police they were referred to as Islamic immigrants.
Even one of Italy’s young heros, the Italian journalist Roberto Saviano has lent his hand to the forces of Israeli propaganda. In October of 2010 there was a European wide conference held in Rome called “For the Truth about Israel.” Here Saviano voiced his unconditional support for the state of Israel declaring it a country of “freedom and welcoming exceptance,” maybe the refugees with no rights to return to their ancestral homelands and people of Gaza that are living in concentration camp conditions don’t count for Saviano and are to just be considered as more dangerous Islamists like all of the rest of the Arab world.
From Egypt to Europe and to Toledo, Ohio there are lessons to be learned. Toledo is a very diverse city with a large Arab muslim population. Many of my friends are muslim and some are directly from the West Bank, Gaza, Egypt and Iraq. They are beautiful human beings. They are not threatening, they are not violent. They don’t want war with Israel and they don’t want war with any other religions. Several muslim women that I know have chosen to be Muslim in their adult years. Some of them choose to where a hijab as a form of humility, they are feminists. They feel that it is more feminist to be humble and discreet than to flaunt their bodies on the streets. Some of the muslim women I know don’t where hijabs, it is their choice as it is in Egypt, as it is in Gaza, as it is in Ramallah. An Iraqi friend of mine and professor of political science named Abid Al-Marayati is from Baghdad. He is a muslim. He remembers learning to swim in the Tigress river as a child, his swimming instructor was Jewish. He remembers a pluralistic society of Christians, Jews and Muslims living in peace. This was before the creation of the state of Israel and the divisions that have been created to divide the people so that their resources can be stolen from underneath them, so that their countries and towns and cities and countrysides can be destroyed for the machinations of empire.
Italy has led the racist charge for Europe to miss this opportunity to support and stand with the powerful and inspiring struggles for freedom and justice taking place in Tunisia and Egypt. As the violent repression of the Mubarek regime is witnessed by the world, Europe is now towing the line of the United States. Italy’s view is summed up by their foreign minister Franco Frattini when he continues to fan the false flames of bigotry by saying “We do not want a solution that leads to radical Islamism finding itself in power,” this while Italy continues to maintain strong, open and growing cultural, political and economic ties with Saudi Arabia, the most radical Islamist state in the Arab world.
MICHAEL LEONARDI is currently living in Toledo, Ohio and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org