Italy: xenophobes make hay from (apparent) honor killing

As we noted in the case of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Europe’s xenophobe right is appropriating the causes of feminism and secularism. Through the proverbial looking glass. From the New York Times, Aug. 24 (emphasis added):

BRESCIA — A series of unrelated killings here this month has pushed this elegant city to the center of a national debate on the challenges of immigration and cultural integration.

The trigger was the gruesome killing on Aug. 11 of Hina Saleem, a 20-year-old woman whose family moved here from Pakistan and who was found buried, with her throat slit, in the garden of her family home in a small town about 12 miles north of Brescia.

The tragedy ballooned into a cause célèbre after media reports alleged that Ms. Saleem had been killed because her traditionalist Muslim father objected to her Western lifestyle. She smoked and wore revealing, low-slung jeans like many young women. News reports said she had been living with an Italian man. Her body was found after her boyfriend reported her missing.

Her father and uncle have been arrested in the case. [A brother-in-law turned himself in on Thursday, and an unidentified fourth man, also of Pakistani descent, was arrested Friday and accused in the case, the ANSA news agency reported.]

“She was always happy,” said Multani Gurmail, her boss at the Antica India restaurant, where she had worked as a waitress. “I knew she had some problems. I didn’t realize how bad they were.”

The killing, and a series of other unrelated slayings involving immigrants that followed, has stirred anti-immigrant statements from some residents and groups. It also has prompted front-page debate about what can happen when conservative beliefs collide with the mores of more permissive societies, and has highlighted the generation gap between parents who have immigrated to Italy from countries with conservative social and religious traditions and their Westernized children.

Muslim leaders, who have condemned the killing, say they resent accusations that Ms. Saleem was murdered as a result of her family’s religious beliefs.

“For us, murder is a sin, not only a crime,” said Mahmood Tariq, the director of the Muhammadiah Islamic Cultural Association in Brescia. “This is an exceptional case,” he added, describing the murder as a question of tension between members of the Saleem family. “Cases like this happen in all societies.”

[On Thursday, Ms. Saleem’s mother, Bushra Bakum, dismissed notions that religion had played a role in the killing. She told reporters that Ms. Saleem had been a constant worry to her parents.

“She stayed out without explanation, we never knew where she was and with whom, she was simply a daughter who did not obey,” Ms. Bakum said. She also said she would not forgive her husband. “It’s his fault and no one else’s.”]

A few days after Ms. Saleem’s body was found, a young Italian woman was found dead in a Brescia church. A Sri Lankan immigrant who assisted the priest has been arrested in the case.

On Aug. 21, an immigrant from Morocco was arrested and charged with killing a notable painter here, and this week a Pakistani man was knifed to death during what appears to have been a robbery. It is still unclear whether the assailants were immigrants.

The result has been a round of anti-immigrant talk. A lawmaker from the anti-immigration Northern League, Angelo Alessandri, told ANSA that immigration to Italy should be limited to people who “are socially, culturally and religiously compatible with our way of life and legislation.” Some residents of this wealthy provincial capital east of Milan, in one of Italy’s most industrialized areas, have been venting their anger to the news media.

“The mayor tells us we have to live with them, but the immigrants don’t reciprocate, and this isn’t their city,” said Gloria Gatta, the owner of a cafe on the Via San Faustino, a street lined with shops catering to the neighborhood’s growing African and Asian population.

Things in Brescia have gotten so bad, she said, that “people are afraid to go out after dark.”

Comments like these prompted the mayor’s office to issue a statement addressing the recent deaths and pledging increased security measures.

Citing Ms. Saleem’s case, the statement said the city would work to ensure that women’s rights were respected “against any tribal or fundamentalist point of view.”

The anger has Brescia’s residents of Pakistani descent worried.

“People used to be more tolerant; they used to be less allergic to seeing someone from a different race,” said Sajid Shah, the founder of the Muhammadiah association, which is building in Brescia what will be the second-biggest mosque in Italy.

When a foreigner does something, the reaction is immediate, Mr. Shah said, adding that since the wave of crime he has felt as though he were under surveillance.

“Now people don’t want to see us outside the factory,” he said bitterly. “They just want us to produce.”

Most Pakistani immigrants to the area came for similar reasons. Mohammed Saleem, Hina’s father, moved to Italy in 1989 to work in a factory. He shared a cramped apartment to save money to send home. Then, as his economic situation improved, he brought his family over from Pakistan. Ms. Saleem reportedly came over in 1999.

Mr. Saleem’s lawyer, Alberto Bordone, said that Mr. Saleem was physically fine after 10 days in prison, but that psychologically his state was worsening. Under Italian judicial procedures, he has not yet entered a plea.

Several Pakistani leaders here said it was their responsibility to try to soothe the tensions that led to the case, in particular because there was a real chance that the strains could re-emerge.

According to the Catholic charity Caritas, there are about 110,000 immigrants among the 1.1 million people living in the province of Brescia. Pakistani leaders estimate there are about 10,000 people of Pakistani origin in the area.

“This is the story of a social problem between two cultures within the same family,” said sociologist Farhat Hussain Naqvi, who heads the local chapter of the Pakistani Welfare Club, explaining that many of his fellow Pakistanis who immigrated here in the 1990’s came from small towns and were not well-educated. Most still do not speak much Italian. “They have a closed mentality,” he said.

Their children, on the other hand, grew up going to Italian schools and having Italian friends. More problems were imminent, he said, because “most are just becoming teenagers now,” adding that there is a need to help Pakistanis deal with children they might not understand or relate to. The problem within the Saleem family “was not something that happened overnight,” he said.

“We don’t live in Pakistan, we live in Italy, and it’s about finding a middle way,” Mr. Naqvi said. It was, above all, a question of accepting reality and opening a dialogue. “Maybe it will change something. Maybe the situation will improve.”

The Italian press is even clearer on how the xenophobe right is making hay of these atrocities. From AGI, Aug. 26:

Brescia, Aug. 26 – “The immigration issue must be dealt with by helping foreigners in their countries. The entrances must be controlled and proportional to the capacity to receive them and the jobs available in a territory.” This was stated during a press conference by the provincial citizen secretaries of Lega Nord (Northern League) in Brescia, Stefano Borghesi e Fabio Rolfi, who took advantage of the recent bloody incidents to bring Brescia’s “security emergency” to the forefront. According to the Lega Nord members, the Left is to blame both on a national and local level because they favour an “indiscriminate entrance policy without knowing if these people will have a home, a job, a normal life.” According to Rolfi and Borghesi this is a “goody-goody behaviour that does not resolve anything.” “The government proposes the immigrants to be reunited with their relatives in Italy and to lower the 5 year requirement for citizenship, to then grant them the voting right.” This is a move that the Northern League members consider a system “to guarantee the Left an electoral base.” The Northern League repeats its strong opposition. Tomorrow a national demonstration will be held in Val Brembana, for which Umberto Bossi will participate. If the bill on citizenship passes, then we will go to the squares and gather signatures.” According to Rolfi, “Castelli hit the nail on the head: this political coalition that governs Brescia has enormous responsibilities for the climate of insecurity perceived by the people from Brescia for many years. Here security policies are inexistent.” According to the Northern League’s citizen secretary, “immigrant monetary assistance is carried out with taxpayers’ money. In the city there are well over 26,000 immigrants. The message that this gives to foreigners is that in Italy you can do anything. All you have to do is go look at what happens in some neighbourhoods where there is no social cohesion and there is delinquency. And not only, in 10 years the administration has not hired a local police officer, instead it preferred to increase speed limit checks in order to torment drivers.” The Northern League members continued, all this is a sign of “carelessness and inefficiency.” The shared request is: “The local police must change their functions and must commit themselves more to patrolling the area. A patrolling that even if decentralized has been up to now blocked by the night closure of police stations.” The control of immigration, according to the Northern League members, should at least go through a selective entrance only for those cultures and religions that are compatible with ours.”

See our last posts on Italy and the struggle within Islam.