A political leader in Italy warned that the influx of migrants into the country might wipe away the country’s iconic and historic culture and society. Immigration has become a central issue ahead of the national elections on March 4.
“We are under attack. Our culture, society, traditions, and way of life are at risk,” Northern League leader Matteo Salvini, an ally of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, declared in a statement last week.
Salvini defended the gist of controversial comments from Attilio Fontana, the League’s candidate to become the head of the Lombary region. “We have to decide if our ethnicity, if our white race, if our society continues to exist or if our society will be rubbed out,” Fontana told Radio Padania, Reuters reported.
After the comments unleashed a storm of controversy, Fontana admitted they had been a “lapse.” Salvini defended the gist of the comments, while down-playing the potentially racist angle.
“The color of one’s skin has nothing to do with it, but the risk is very real,” Salvini said. “Centuries of history risk disappearing if Islamization, which up until now has been underestimated, gains the upper hand.”
More than 600,000 migrants have come to Italy from across the Mediterranean Sea over the past four years. Last November, the Pew Research Center estimated that Muslims made up 4.8 percent of the population in 2016 — compared to 3.7 percent in 2010.
Pew presented three separate scenarios involving various levels of immigration. Even if Muslim migration levels dropped to zero, Italy’s Muslim population would still rise to 8.3 percent by 2050. Under a “medium migration” scenario, the number would rise to 12.4 percent. Even if the country experienced “high migration,” Muslims would still only make up 14.1 percent of the population in 2050, Pew reported.
All of the country’s mainstream parties have called for tougher immigration restrictions, and the government has teamed up with Libya to thwart people smuggling. In 2017, migrant arrivals to Italy by sea dropped by a third.
The head of the ruling Democratic Party, former prime minister Matteo Renzi, accused the League of exaggerating the threat. “We look to the future, not to fear,” Renzi said.
The League is leading a center-right coalition against the Democratic coalition. Polls predict the center-right will win the most seats but still fall short of an absolute majority. Polls also suggest Fontana will win.
Even though Muslim migrants may not threaten a cultural eradication of Italy in the next thirty years, large minority groups often spark fear among cultural majorities as tensions rise. Muslims may only reach 14.1 percent of the Italian population by 2050, but their presence has already been felt below the 5 percent mark.
Last year, an Italian veterans group was ordered to remove a Christmas tree decoration because it “might” offend Muslims, many of whom celebrate Christmas. While Catholic Italians remain the vast majority of the population, their culture can seem under siege, and many will rise to defend it.