All entries for April 2012

April 18, 2012

With the unions of Emilia Romagna

Emilia-Romagna is a specific "social model" in Italy (Or actually two, because Emiliani and Romagnoli are two separate breeds). It has been ruled by the Italian Communist Party and its heirs since the war, it has the highest unionisation levels, and its public services for childcare and for the elderly are considered to be amongst the best in the world. The management of immigration is also better than elsewhere.

monument to the rice picker

Like with all social models, there are visible cracks in it. The Right often wins in the most north-western part of it, Parma and Piacenza - the latter is where the new left journal "Quaderni Piacentini" was born in the 1960s, and despiute the small size it still has some lively political experiments (I used to escape there from Milan in my student years). It also shockingly won once in Bologna in 1999, showing that the Left monopoly cannot be taken for granted. Corruption scandals occur nearly as often as in the rest of the country - the Parmalat case being particularly noticeable. The Left here, despite its anarchist and communist roots, is as pragmatic as it gets though - the current leader of the Democratic Party, Bersani, is one example.

Last week, I spent two days, regrettably under the rain, in the hills off Bologna in the CGIL-Emilia Romagna convention centre, discussing with unionists about the state of industrial relations in Europe. All very interesting, and I had forgotten how long Italian unionists can talk for. Two observations. First, Italian speakers were nearly only men, despite the fact that the labour movement of Emilia Romagna has feminine roots, illustrated by the monumement to the rice pickers in the same location. Second, the food of Emilia (parmigiano, lasagne, agnolotti, mortadella, aceto balsamico...) is not the lightest but it is more and more a matter of cross-class pride. Maybe to compensate for the vanishing political one.


April 10, 2012

Easter in Istanbul


Sultanahmet

To compensate for last year's semana santa in Spain, this year for Easter I escaped to Istanbul. Unfortunately, hundreds thousand tourists had the same idea (many of them actually from Spain: but are they not in crisis? I guess it has something to do with inequality and regressive policies). But the city is huge and it is not too difficult to escape tourists crowds, and enjoy the neighbourhoods of Beyoglu and Ortaköy, the Bosphorus villages, Yildiz Park, and laisurely enjoy the varieties of mezzes and sweets, washed down with raki and Turkish coffee.

Young Turks

And soon after a stay in Norway and Sweden, where if they held a referendum now on entering the EU and the EMU 95% would vote no, here it is refreshing to see somebody still wishing to enter the EU, although already in disenchanted way, tired of decades of broken promises. Turkey's entry is sponsored by the UK and the US, which could be an argument for caution, but I still believe that a democratic secular muslim country in the EU would be good both for Turkey, the EU and for the muslim world. EU accession may be a formidable lever to solve the last issues of human rights in Turkey, and possibly even in Cyprus.  The alternative of keeping them out, surrendering to xenophobic fears such as the Austrian ones, would only reinforce frustration and extremisms on both sides. However, this time, it would be good if the social issues neglected during the eastern enlargement (see my book...) were kept in mind... all the more that Turkey is poorer and has nearly the same population of the ten new member states of 2004 put together. In any case, while mixing with the young crowds of Istanbul's saturday night, it becomes clear how much the future of Europe depends on the choices of its most lively population, the young Turks with a small "y"...

Hagia Sophia


April 04, 2012

On "our" terrorists

Two weeks ago, I was in the centre of Oslo, very close to the government district where last July Breivik’s bomb killed 8 people and injured 92, following the news of another terrorist killing children in a different corner of Europe – Mohamed Merah in Toulouse – and reflecting about our perception of terrorism. Last summer, a barbarian act was originally blamed on Al Qaida, and the perception changed when it occurred it was a white supremacist. In France, the opposite happened.

I grew up in Milan in the 1970s and 1980s, infested by the terrorism from extreme Left and extreme Right. Some of the worst terrorist killings happened in my central neighbourhood , and I sometimes heard the shots and the ambulances and the screams. A lesson I learned very early when starting political activism in the 1980s was that there is a sentence you cannot say: “I disagree with the methods of the terrorists, but...”. By saying that, you give them the oxygen they need to grow. Terrorists NEVER have a political point, you cannot extrapolate any of their sentences to say that they make sense. Saying that they have a point when they write, say, that “workers are exploited” is as unacceptable as saying that Hitler had a point when he wrote that World War I was atrocious. Because in terrorism (like in genocide) you cannot split the meaning from the means, the words from the context: the means are the total denial of the democratic process and of humanity, and therefore the words have to stay outside.

Oslo newcomersThe way Breivik was treated highlighted initially a strident difference in the way terrorists are perceived. When the nature and motive of the crime emerged, some populist politicians (e.g. from the Northern League in Italy) said exactly the unspeakable: that they disagreed with the means, but “he had a point”. Imagine saying that of 9/11 or of the Red Brigades. But OPK, these may be just people outside democratic civilisation. More striking was the immediate humanisation of the terrorist: we learned that he had a difficult relationship with his father and various other problems, and soon he was diagnosed with psychosis, which might avoid him a sentence. When young men set bombs or blow themselves up in Israel, Iraq, Madrid, London, we never hear that they had difficult relations with their fathers or that they suffer from psychosis: they are just “the evil”, “the enemy”, completely dehumanised. When however the terrorist comes from among ourselves, we immediately feel the need to medicalise him, to treat him, not to take him seriously. Soon rightwingers from all countries started explaining that Breivik had nothing to do with the Right, with anti-immigrant discourse, with Christian integralism, that he was just a nutter, that it would be instrumental to qualify him politically. Strangely enough, Islamic terrorists keep being called Islamic terrorists. The whole of Islam, the whole of Palestine may be associated to the crimes of a handful terrorists – but western civilisation cannot. Oklahoma and Utøya are just criminal events, but 9/11 and 7/7 are the product of certain cultures. Double standards of the worst kind.

Now, with Merah, a symmetric thing happened. As soon as the identity of the killer emerged, the humanisation happened from the Left, although I have not heard anybody saying that “he had a point”. We learnt that he grew up in demonised communities and reacted to exclusion from French society...

This attitude, rightly, upset many, and a good example is writer Olivier Rolin in Le Monde des livres of the 31st March, expressing his outrage at the “banaliser derrière des prêts-à-porter sociologiques”: yes, Merah was a young misfit – but then so were many of the Einsatzgruppen massacring Jews during the war: would we extend this kind of humanisation to them?

Quite strikingly, le monde published Rolin’s angry piece to the side of one by writer Salim Bachi titled ““Moi, Mophamed Merah”: a literary attempt to enter the mind of Merah (Bachi had written a book titled “Moi, Khaled Kelkal”, on the terrorist whose bombs terrorised Paris in September 1995, and “Tuez-les tous!” on 9/11). What a mess.

Is it too much to ask for a bit of clarity, for the sake of human coexistence? There are three very distinguished levels of judgement here. One is at the level of psychology and criminology: in that context, “humanisation” is the obvious thing. At the other opposite, there is the study of the context, and again there is nothing inherently wrong with historical and political studies of factors that tend to promote terrorism (just like, to use again the extreme comparator, one can study the context of Nazi rise and of the Shoah). Yet the specific remits of these levels of analysis should be always made clear. Because the third and most important level is the political and moral judgment of terrorism: and at that level, if we are to be human, there can be no “I am against terrorism, but...


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