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Italy, Islam and the Islamic World

Representations and Reflections, from 9/11 to the Arab Uprisings


Charles Burdett

The recent emergence and increasing visibility of Islam as Italy’s second religion is an issue of undeniable importance. It has generated an intense and often polarized debate that has involved all the cultural, political and religious institutions of the country and some of its most vocal and controversial cultural figures. This study examines some of the most significant voices that have made themselves heard in defining Italy’s relationship with Islam and with the Islamic world, in a period of remarkable geopolitical and cultural upheaval from 9/11 to the Arab Spring. It looks in detail at the nature of the arguments that writers, journalists and intellectuals have adduced regarding Islam and at the connections and disjunctions between opposing positions. It examines how events such as military intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq or the protests in Tahrir Square have been represented within Italy and it analyses the rhetorical framework within which the issue of the emergence of Islam as an internal actor within Italian civil society has been articulated.


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‘Quale Islam hanno di fronte oggi gli italiani?’ E che immagine dell’Islam si è formata nel loro immaginario collettivo? — renzo guolo In an authoritative article, written in the early years of this century, the sociologist Stefano Allievi discusses the emergence of Islam in Italy.1 The essential point that he makes is that its appearance on the cultural and religious landscape of Italy is a relatively recent phenomenon and that it is one that is indissolubly related to the international migratory flows of the last twenty or thirty years. In contrast with the large and established Muslim communities of other major European nation states, Italy’s grow- ing Muslim population originates from a much more differentiated range of countries and has little to do with Italy’s former colonies: the main countries of origin of Italy’s Muslim population are, in decreasing order, Morocco, Albania, Tunisia, Senegal, Egypt, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Algeria, Bosnia, Nigeria and Turkey.2 Allievi argues that, over a lengthy period of time, the development of a recognizable Islamic presence within Italy was not something that was clearly visible and therefore raised relatively little attention in the national media: indeed, it was something of which, for a long time, neither the migrant community nor the host society were fully conscious. In his words, Islam arrived ‘locked in immigrants’ suitcases’.3 Elsewhere in his writing, Allievi affirms that: Si tratta tuttavia di un fattore in rapida evoluzione: l’islam non è più solo neo- arrivato; è ormai, co-inquilino. Comincia ad entrare in quella che possiamo consi- derare la...

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