Friday, February 03, 2006

Swastika

Roma is not the cleanest of cities. Even the nicest of neighborhoods, such as Monteverde where I encountered the piece you see before you, the ancient buildings and walls are riddled by graffiti. This is just one piece I encountered prominently displaying the swastika and other such fascist ideology. To be sure, there is plenty of other political graffiti espousing rivaling perspectives, but there is plenty of this as well. It is a testament more than anything else, of what is tolerated. Perhaps the vast majority of Italians write these political ideologues off as fringe extremists, but whatever they are doing is not quelling the intolerance. It’s a joke to Italians, the silly fascists, they don’t know what they say. No one takes them seriously, my friend Malva tells me.

Well, I take it very seriously. I acknowledge the fact that I am overly sensitive, given the fact I have just returned from Israel. And although I am reacting to the Swastika as a Jew, I am afraid more of what this fascist line of thought means for the Africans and Muslims who inhabit Italy. The homeless people of this city are almost unfailingly Gypsy; they are marginalized and disregarded as you would a stray dog.

I visited the old Jewish ghetto of Roma yesterday. I saw the great synagogue, and I spoke at great lengths with one of the kind docents of the museum there. I asked her about the flight of Jews from Roma, whether the Jewish community still thrives. She remarked with a wry smile, “we’re still here aren’t we?”

Yes. We are still here, as are the Palestinians in Israel, as are the blacks in America. These are true Romans, who can draw Roman family lines back 500 years in history. I don’t want to dismiss the swastika, I don’t want to be desensitized by it, and I do not want to write off the “silly Italian fascists.” In a city where there is an entire district (now populated by Italian movie stars and other celebrities) still called the “ghetto,” but which is losing relevance as a historically significant example of human rights violations…

It’s cool to be different. It always has been, it always will be. It is tolerated in Italy that one of the ways in which youth display their uniqueness, is by joining the Fascist movement. Again, a nation is defined not just by what it does, it is defined by what it tolerates.

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