March 4, 2017 by John Bruce Leonard
A View from Europe’s Shores
(Note: As all of my sources are in Italian, I have elected not to include links to any of them here. Anyone who wishes to know the particular origin for any of my claims is welcome to contact me.)
I HAVE LIVED in Italy for five years, in a quiet and remote part of the country, and one comparatively unaffected by the recent immigration crisis. Nevertheless, the changes I have witnessed in that brief arc of time are striking, and command the reflection of all those who cherish the integrity, and the destiny, of Europe.
The Flood Upon Us
Italy today is sentinel over the very gates of Europe: together with Greece, it forms the main port of entry for the great majority of refugees presently seeking asylum on European soil. Given the massive numbers of these incomers, and the known consequences of oversight and laxity on the part of the authorities, we would hope that Italy’s gatekeepers were well-organized, efficient, resourceful, endowed with an excess of funds and manpower, and in all other ways equal to the challenge before them.
The most superficial investigation into the real state of affairs utterly dissolves this hope.
By official numbers, in 2016 Italy received some 180,000 asylum-seekers, the better part of them from Africa. These numbers are up from 2014 and 2015, which brought roughly 170,000 and 150,000 respectively. In total, that makes for half a million immigrants in the course of three years, an influx of unprecedented magnitude.
These numbers are known with a degree of precision: afterward, accounts grow muddy. Of the 170,000 immigrants to arrive in 2014, for example, only 65,000 officially requested asylum, which was granted in about 40,000 cases. These 40,000 were issued temporary visas and, as has been made terrifyingly clear after the 2016 Berlin terrorist attack, enjoy considerable freedom of movement throughout the Schengen Area. The rest, some 25,000 individuals, a mere 15 percent of the total 2014 arrivals, were ordered to depart Italy’s shores. It is unknown how many obeyed the injunction.
As for the whereabouts of the remaining 100,000 individuals from the original 170,000, it would seem that no one, not the Prime Minister in Rome nor the local officials tasked with accommodating incoming refugees, has the faintest idea. Only a single prediction as to their whereabouts is at all warranted: if they have not come, through some personal misfortune, before St. Peter’s Gates, they almost certainly have not quit Europe’s.
Let us remind ourselves that these are official figures. Italy boasts 4,500 miles of coast, and it is difficult to imagine that here or there, in so vast a sea, there will not be leakage. This is not to mention the malign influence almost certainly exerted by the Mafia. Only blind optimism could suppose that the mafiosi are not grossly profiting from the chaos in Africa and the incompetency in Europe, by opening their seaways and their pockets, and closing their eyes, as incoming boatloads of refugees debark on Italian shores.
Despite the almost heroic attempts of some Italians to defend an open-border policy, the crime statistics furnished by official agencies (namely the Istat, the Ministry of the Interior, and ICSA) do little service to their efforts. Confcommercio, the general confederation of Italian businesses, which produces a mass of statistical data on many aspects of Italian life, has provided useful, and astounding, analysis. The conclusion of a recent Confcommercio report on immigration and crime in 2016 reads as follows: “These calculations lead us to conclude that, approximately and on average, crime rates for Italians, legal aliens, and illegal aliens are…equal respectively to 4.3, 8.5, and 246.3 per 1,000 individuals of the group in question.” (Translation mine.)
According to their data, legal aliens are twice as likely to commit crimes as Italians; illegal aliens, meanwhile, are 57 times as likely. In more specific figures: legal aliens are twice as likely as Italians to commit armed robbery, 2.5 times as likely to be arrested for drug offenses, three times as likely to commit rape and burglary, and a full nine times as likely to be involved in prostitution-related crime. Illegal aliens, meanwhile, are 38 times as likely as Italians to commit homicide or acts of injurious violence, 48 times more likely to rape, 52 times as likely to be involved in drug-related crimes, 67 times as likely to perpetrate armed robbery, 102 times as likely to commit burglary, and 120 times as likely to commit offenses related to prostitution.
It is sometimes argued that the incredible crime rates amongst undocumented immigrants are due at least in part to the illegal status of the perpetrators. In consideration of this claim, it would be useful to compare the crime rates of that portion of legal aliens originating specifically in Africa or the Middle East, with the crime rates of undocumented immigrants of the same origin. We are not provided the data necessary to effect such a comparison. We can only comment that, while the group of “legal aliens” is not composed entirely nor even predominately of African or Middle Eastern immigrants, the group of “illegal aliens” is. Unless we are to suppose a truly dramatic transformation in the behavior of these people, owing simply to their reception of a temporary visa, we can predict that their crime rates will be substantially higher than those of the remainder of legal aliens in Italy.
Even supposing that granting visas willy-nilly to incoming “refugees” does reduce their propensity toward crime, this is comforting only so far: first, because it does not explain away the high crime rates amongst even legal aliens; and second, because it cannot address the problem of the vast number of immigrants who have simply vanished from our view.
The New Face of Italy
I live near Cagliari, the capitol city of the Sardinian region of Italy. The incoming immigrants to this island in 2016 comprised a modest five percent of the nationwide total, or about 9,000 individuals. Yet these small numbers alone have been sufficient to leave a visible mark on the face of Sardinia.
When I first arrived here in 2013, just before the immigrant avalanche of the past three years, the few Africans and Middle Easterners I encountered were quaint rarities upon the generally homogeneous Sardinian scene. Though they seldom married into Italian families, they were commonly known by name in the communities where they worked or lived. It was universally understood that they sent the better part of their meager earnings to family members in foreign nations, and that they dwelt in crowded apartments with their kinsmen, in wretched and illegal conditions, to save on rent. But the Italians are magnanimous, and all of this was tolerated so long as these foreigners comported themselves decently—which, by and large, they did.
The more recent immigrants are of a different ilk. One hardly ever sees them interacting with Italians, save as they are begging for alms or peddling useless bric-a-brac. Though most of them have lived here for several years already, they rarely speak anything but the most rudimentary Italian. They make their daily appearance, thus: holding their hats out on street corners; vending knick-knacks at stoplights; or—favorite practice among them—acting as unofficial parking guides. They gather anywhere there is public parking, to indicate free spaces to incoming cars. They then request payment for this totally officious service, only to become indignant when they are refused. Indeed, I myself have seen them grow more brazen year by year; lately they will even pursue those who do not succor them, demanding money with an aggressive and shameless impertinence.
I will recount but a few instances of the crimes committed by these immigrants, limiting myself to Sardinia alone, to provide my readers a taste of what delicacies Europe has in store in coming years.
A certain incarcerated immigrant began to hurl feces at his prison guard before attacking and wounding him. Another African prisoner on a different occasion opted to strike his guard directly, and, when this did not satisfy, began biting him for good measure. In yet another case, a Nigerian man menaced and verbally assailed a female police officer, who had offended him by attempting to stop him from strewing trash onto the street from bags he had extracted from a dumpster. And just to show (for the benefit of any progressively minded readers) that “gender roles” amongst them are not perfectly rigid—in another case an Italian man, the head of a refugee center, was attacked by one of his guests, a Nigerian woman wielding a kitchen knife.
This represents but a fragment of offenses of this kind. Such events have grown so frequent and so scandalous in character that the very police of Cagliari recently began protesting, in front of their own headquarters, for a stop to immigration.
And no wonder, considering all the obscene novelties they have had to confront. A Moroccan at the Marina of Cagliari took it into his head to sunbathe completely nude on a public bench. Another immigrant revealed his genitals to passing families on a sidewalk. A Pakistani had to be arrested when he began masturbating in a public park in front of women and children. An immigrant from from the Ivory Coast fell to arguing with his wife in front of a bar, which dispute he decided to resolve by beating the woman violently, biting her viciously on the arm, and then running her over with a car for good measure. And at Cagliari’s own city hall, a group of irate immigrants gathered, claiming falsely to have an appointment with the mayor of the city; when they were denied entry by the guards, they attempted to force their way.
In Cagliari, a group of Algerians, lately arrived in Italy and by no means suffering from malnutrition, entered into a supermarket and began calmly devouring the food therein. When the police began to arrive, a small number of them took to flight, but the better part remained, as if utterly unaware of the problem. The police were forced to intervene, whereupon the immigrants defended themselves by saying that they thought they were merely doing what everyone did in a supermarket.
This is the second event of its kind. Whether or not one believes them, the situation is incredible: for we are importing either liars into Europe, or else people who are so fundamentally ignorant of our ways and so totally foreign to our lifestyle that it is difficult to imagine any plan of integration which could ever have a decent chance of success.
A single episode stands out to me as particularly revealing, for the contrast between the banality of the context and the repellent and outlandish excess of the protagonist’s reaction. A black gentleman and his family, African immigrants all, had attempted to board a bus without tickets, only to be instructed by the driver that in Italy everyone must purchase his ticket before boarding. The black man became furious at this and began to scream at the driver. A young Italian woman interceded at this point to object that an Italian in such a situation would be forced to step down from the bus. The black man responded—as no doubt any reasonable European would—by crossing half the vehicle to physically assault the woman, slapping and striking her repeatedly in the face.
While the refugee men are employed as has been indicated, one seldom if ever sees women among them. Part of this can be explained with reference to the fact that 90 percent of all incoming refugees to Italy are men. But a portion of the female refugees are simply elsewhere: local prostitution has flourished under their watch. Though the Africans have no monopoly on this business, they are visibly overrepresented. One sees them at all hours of the day or night, dressed in ways little becoming to the public decorum, crouched literally on piles of rubbish and warming themselves at trash fires. There are stretches of land near otherwise unobjectionable thoroughfares, upon which large groups of them gather on lawn chairs, amidst a surreal landscape of charred refuse and shattered furniture.
Again—these are not red-light districts, crime-ridden and unsafe; these are simply peripheral areas of the city in which there are, evidently, too few Italian residences to warrant adequate police controls. Even five years ago these areas wore an entirely more wholesome aspect. The courtesans, like their male parking-lot counterparts, set up shop beside respectable businesses, and freely use the bathrooms of public institutions such as hospitals, leaving behind them palpable sign of what one might politely call a different sense of hygiene.
Another disquieting phenomenon probably connected to immigration is the reappearance of diseases long since brought to heel in Europe by the advance of Western medicine. There has in recent years been a rash of meningitis throughout the Italian territory, claiming six victims in Tuscany alone, and strain appears to have been imported to us from southern climes. Syphilis has reared its head anew, thanks without doubt to the enterprise of these new ranks of prostitutes. And the four-year-old son of a friend of mine was recently placed on a growing list of persons diagnosed with a new resistant strain of tuberculosis. The doctors are hastening to discover the origin of the infection, but it is not difficult to imagine where that particular rainbow most probably ends.
It is sometimes claimed that 500,000 immigrants to a country of 60 million souls does not constitute an invasion. While the percentages, disregarding all questions of future demographics, might not yet be “invasive” in any classic sense of the term, everything depends on how these newcomers comport themselves. The true siege, as I perceive it, is of course not on the Italian military or social institutions, though these, too, will be increasingly strained in coming years; it is rather on Italian customs and mores, the very way of life of the Italians themselves, their openness, their conviviality, their good cheer. I do not doubt that a full million Europeans of upstanding character and fine qualities could be assimilated into Italy almost invisibly, with no great disturbance to any portion of society; but even relatively small numbers of unsociable and fractious individuals can potentially compromise that sense of safety, of community and unity and common identity, which defends the soul of any coherent civilization.
From where I am standing, I do not believe it can be stated pressingly enough: the patrimony of Italy, the beauty of her cities, the gentility and uniqueness of her people, are being eroded by these harshly lapping waves of immigration, which come larger and more frequently year by year, to crash the farther upon her shores.
The Culture of Hospitality
The reaction of the political establishment to this crisis leaves everything to be desired.
One might take as representative of the general attitude the career of one Cécile Kyenge, an immigrant from the Democratic Republic of Congo, who became Italy’s first black cabinet minister in 2013 when she was appointed Minister for Integration after a stint in the Italian Parliament. No sooner elected to public office, but she began pressing for a law which would grant automatic citizenship to all babies born on Italian soil, no matter the nationality and legal status of their parents. Her response to the first flames of the immigration crisis in 2014 was to clamor for amnesty for all undocumented immigrants presently within the country’s borders. As should surprise no one, she has consistently given prefence to the needs and desires of non-Europeans over those of Italians: that evidently is what “integration” means to her. One suspects her advocacy the more, knowing her intimate knowledge of African birth rates: her father, Clement Kikoko Kyenge, a tribal leader in the Democratic Republic of Congo, has 38 children from four different wives, which progeny is dispersed through ten countries, including the United States.
To this day, Mrs. Kyenge’s success is hailed by many Italians as sure sign of a dawning multicultural era. She has since moved on to bigger and better things: in 2014 she was elected Member of the European Parliament.
Laura Boldrini, the current President of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, recently called for a “culture of hospitality” in Europe, stating that “immigrants today are the human element of globalization; their lifestyle will soon be the lifestyle of all of us.” I defer my readers to the evidence already presented; let them draw their own conclusions as to the worthiness of this “lifestyle” for universal adoption.
As recently as the 17th of this month, Pope Francis gave an improvised speech in the University of Rome, arguing strongly in favor of open borders and “cultural exchange,” and claiming, among other things, that Europe is a continent of immigrants, that terrorism is caused by high unemployment rates, and that the “Mediterranean has become a cemetery” for the boatloads of Europe-bound refugees which have capsized in it. Though the Pope’s governance is constrained to the narrow borders of the Vatican, he wields an immense influence over the hearts and minds of Italians, who are predominately Catholic.
In a recent press conference, Paolo Gentiloni, Prime Minister of Italy, had this to say of the situation: “The strategic objective isn’t to close our ports, but ever more to transform the inflow of immigrants from an unregulated phenomenon into a regulated one, in which no lives are put at risk, but one can arrive safely on Italy’s shores, in a controlled manner.” (Translation and Italics mine.) He gave no sign as to how the last point is to be accomplished, but he did call for swifter protocols for granting asylum, and a more transparent system of deportation. Given the numbers of immigrants even now flooding into Italy, it is impossible to believe that such policies could be implemented without dearly diminishing both the rigor and efficiency of an already waterlogged system.
Thus the “culture of hospitality;” it cares more for unknown and uninvited guests, than for the Europeans who must host them. It debases the traditional and authentic hospitality of the Italians by forcing them into acts and associations they increasingly spurn. Its finest flourishing to date is a governmental program to inhabit depopulating Italian towns with refugees, effectively forfeiting entire tracts of Italian territory to non-Europeans. As my Italian wife exclaimed in response to this shocking scheme: how can any Italian abide the thought of ceding national land to people who know nothing of Dante Alighieri, Leonardo da Vinci, or Galileo Galilei, and who care even less? How can one even contemplate peopling dwindling Italian villages with individuals who do not speak a word of Italian, know nothing of Italian cuisine or fashion, and have never heard the music of Verdi or Puccini, supposing they even know their names? It seems to me that even the advocates of integration must balk before such a scheme—if integration is really what they desire.
By now, my readers will have breathed enough of the general political atmosphere in Italy. All our hope must lie in coming elections, but a view in that direction does not give much room for confidence. Some months ago, one might have risked a little faith in the Movimento Cinque Stelle, Beppe Grillo’s populist “Five Star Movement”; but hope there to my mind was always limited, as Grillo’s supporters have been playing for votes, and have long been divided amongst themselves over the question of immigration. In any case, the recent scandals surrounding their mayor in Rome have rendered their future shaky at best.
Sadly, the one political party which might have a real chance of addressing the question of immigration, the Lega Nord or Northern League undermines itself incessantly by its open contempt for the southern half of the country, and its advocacy for the fragmentation of Italy into two or more nations—position which enjoys little nationwide support.
Although the nature of populist uprisings makes them difficult to predict, and although all the major Italian parties are at present in a state of inner turmoil if not collapse, I do not foresee in the near future the arrival of any politician, willing to take appropriate and necessary action to address the present crisis.
A View toward the Future
After so many ominous tidings, one wants a little good news; and fortunately, the circumstances do not altogether deny it to us. It is little, and late; it is vastly unequal to the challenges before us; it is tentative and hesitant yet: but I detect, of late, some stirring of a more Eurocentric awareness here in Italy.
I speak of those Italians known best to me, private individuals who live either in Cagliari or in the small towns surrounding. Most of them are modest folk who are but getting on with the business of living. Among their ranks are farmers, shepherds, greengrocers, businessmen, and workers. Though they are of diverse politics—everything from borderline communists to a few who openly embrace authentic fascism—they have grown increasingly unified on the question of immigration. Those few Italians of my acquaintance who still hold tenaciously to the old liberal screed of open borders and open minds, are diminishing into a slender minority.
This is promising. When I first arrived here, I was bombarded by perplexed and genuinely concerned Italians demanding to know why there should be such widespread and deep-seated “racism” throughout the United States. Now many of these same individuals express to me their ardent prayers that a figure should arise on Italian soil, similar to Donald Trump. Many Italians known to me consider the securing of Italian borders to be the central political issue of the day, to such an extent that it governs their choice of candidates during elections.
Statistics would support these impressions: judging by a survey conducted by Eumetra Monterosa at the end of 2016, only 22 percent of Italians at present favor current immigration policies, and 78 percent would like to see obstruction of immigrant-filled ships at their ports of origin—or, when this is not possible, they would have the Italian authorities escort incoming boats directly back to where they came from. And fully half of the persons questioned regard this flood of immigration as a menace to Italian culture.
Italy is only dubiously democratic, so it is an open question how much this upheaval in the popular perspective will matter in the end. It is, nonetheless, heartening to see so palpable a transformation in so brief a period. I repeat: it is very little, and it is very late. But insofar as it may be of any comfort to my American brethren, let it be known that here, at the very gates of Europe, and though the guards are still pleasantly slumbering, some at the lower ramparts have begun to open their eyes.