The Liliana Segre Affaire

How a commission tackling hate has cracked the Italian Parliament.

Liliana Segre

How a commission tackling hate has cracked the Italian Parliament

How many times do we see hate comments under posts and photographs posted on social media? Too many. Sometimes such hateful words are pretty childish in their harshness. Other times they come with a disgusting array of insults and even racist remarks.

Hate speech is a big problem not just in real life, but also online. Late Italian novelist and literary critic Umberto Eco said back in 2015 that social media give the right to freedom of speech to legions of imbeciles. Although his statement has never echoed as loud as today, becoming quite popular within the national common knowledge, we still should walk on eggshells.

As reminded by author Giuseppe Motta in his work Laboratorio di Sociologia del Diritto, hatred doesn’t spring out on its own, it is rather part of a social construct. Racism, in particular, is generated by prejudice, which is a widespread opinion on something or someone.

One of the main reasons that make hate speech so strong online is that everybody who surfs the internet can come across it, regardless of age, gender and background: a housewife, a lawyer, a plumber and everyone else in between these. In addition to that, in today’s day and age, when an opinion — whether it’s true and backed-up or false — spreads all over the internet, most people start to consider it a fact.

Liliana Segre’s commission against hate, racism and anti-Semitism

On October 31, the Italian Parliament passed a motion that will establish an extraordinary commission combatting hate, racism and anti-Semitism, as well all forms of incitement to violence and hatred. The motion was proposed by Milanese life senator Liliana Segre, and was adopted with 151 votes in favor, 0 against and 98 abstentions.

That last figure sparked major controversy all over the media, as such lack of support came from all representatives of Italy’s biggest right-wing parties — namely the League, Brothers of Italy and Forza Italia. Each political group tried to justify their decision to abstain from the vote, but according to various analysts, these all seemed just mere excuses.

Liliana Segre, who was born into a Jewish family and was sent to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp at the age of 13, knows very well how hate speech and prejudice work. Since the passing of her motion, the 89-year-old Holocaust survivor has been receiving roughly 200 hate messages a day loathing her roots.

The genocide Segre escaped from is strongly impressed also in the memory of all those people who were born after the Second World War, and what happened during those times should be a universal warning to all humankind. However, after witnessing the decision of right-wing parties not to vote for a commission tackling hate, one could argue that something in Italy might be wrong. But what exactly?

Alt-right propaganda and electoral opportunities

I believe that generalizing is completely useless. At first, as I saw what had just happened, I have to be honest, I was furious. I thought that such reaction was unacceptable, and I couldn’t believe some of our politicians would, in a way, possibly, turn their heads away from the fight against hate and racism. But is this truly it? I don’t think so.

Vice President of the Chamber of Deputies Mara Carfagna wrote in a tweet:

My Forza Italia, my home, would have never abstained from a vote on anti-Semitism. We are betraying our values and changing our skin. This is what I mean when I say that in the centre-right alliance we ride on somebody’s coat-tails without claiming our identity.

Regional daily newspaper L’Unione Sarda quoted Carfagna adding: “If the unity of the coalition in politics is an added value, it cannot compromise the true values, those that are part of our history.”

These words are incredibly important, as Carfagna is basically saying that the abstention was a result of Forza Italia’s political alliance with the League and Brothers of Italy.

A fistful of votes

What is quite clear, in my opinion, is that both the League and Brothers of Italy, might ride the hate speech wave to their advantage: last week, Italian investigative TV program Report aired an inquiry about fake news, racism and fake social profiles used by the above-mentioned parties.

Despite the inquiry primarily focused on Brothers of Italy, the investigation showed that right-wing and center right-wing political groups exploit fake news or actual facts circulating on social media, targeting some categories of people — immigrants, for example — in order to gain votes.

Such problem was even acknowledged by Facebook itself, which shut down several pages accused and found of spreading hate speech and overall feelings of social intolerance. Segre’s commission is meant to control this phenomenon and track it down, blocking it before it spreads and becomes too unmanageable.

On November 7, Senator Segre was seen in Milan heading to the art exhibition Nei Palchi della Scala, Storie Milanesi, hosted at Museo del Teatro alla Scala, escorted by two Carabinieri officers. This was her first public appearance after the parliamentary approval of her commission. Since the move triggered scores of hate messages and personal threats to the life senator, Segre has been placed under 24-hour security protection.

Many personalities reacted to the security measure, from the League leader Matteo Salvini to the former Speaker of the House, Laura Boldrini.  The former told journalists that “threats against Segre, against Salvini, against anyone are very serious”; he then added that he himself does receive as many on a daily basis, and later on he further expressed his support to the senator:

It’s not a good day the one in which Italy is forced to give an escort to Liliana Segre, whom has all my sympathy and all my understanding, as all those people who are victims of unwarranted hate.

Laura Boldrini displayed solidarity to the 89-year-old through the following tweet:

The escort [given] to Liliana Segre shows that everything she is fighting for, from hate to anti-Semitism, is still alive and must be defeated.
Dear Liliana, you won’t be alone.
In your battles, do always count me by your side.

I personally believe that the Segre Affaire is something that should concern us all as a country: it’s inadmissible that, in 2019, we still don’t agree as a whole on racism and prejudice being something to fight against with every fibre of our being.

I have previously written about right-wing attitude, and I think that we cannot absolve ourselves, as the Italian people, from the responsibilities of this battle.

Support our independent project!