A right-wing extremist went on a racist shooting spree through the Italian city of Florence today, killing two Senegalese street vendors and critically wounding three others, before allegedly turning the gun on himself.
The shooter, identified as the 50-year old Gianluca Casseri from the Tuscan city of Pistoia, was associated with the right-wing organization CasaPound, an extremist network of neo-fascists organized around a nationalist social center in Rome. CasaPound officially considers Mussolini a “point of reference.”
The mayor of Florence described the shootings as that of “a deranged person acting alone.” But the 300 outraged African immigrants who amassed in the city center after the shootings would have none of it. “Don’t tell us he was a madman,” one of them told the Guardian, “because if he was he would have killed whites as well as blacks.”
The atmosphere in Florence remained tense all afternoon, with a group of angry immigrants marching through the city tipping over scooters and dustbins, and minor scuffles breaking out between protesters and police. The situation calmed down as evening fell, with several men from the Senegalese community leading the protesters into prayer and a minute of silence. A mass protest has been called for the weekend.
The attack comes just days after false rumors about a girl’s rape sparked an arson attack by a furious mob on a Gypsy camp in the city of Turin. The mob, which set fire to caravans, shacks and cars, was alleged to be made up of Juventus “ultras” (hard-core football hooligans), who, according to the Guardian, “recently gained notoriety for yelling racist abuse at black Italian footballer Mario Balotelli.”
Immigrants and minorities in Italy have long been faced with structural exclusion and rampant racism. In January 2010, two African farm workers were shot at with an air gun by local youth in the southern region of Calabria, triggering some of the country’s most intense race riots in decades, leaving at least 37 injured. In 2008, six immigrants were shot dead in the city of Naples.
Meanwhile, the Italian government has recently come under severe criticism for its handling of North African refugees on the island of Lampedusa. Amnesty International denounced the human rights violations of immigrants and asylum seekers, citing “the lack of access to fair asylum procedures, unlawful detention, inhuman conditions … fires and substantial overcrowding.”
In a special report, the Council of Europe warned that “the situation of Roma and Sinti in Italy remains a matter of serious concern,” adding that “it is necessary to improve the handling of racist offences and to combat racially-motivated misconduct by the police. In particular, the system for monitoring racist incidents and offences should be made more flexible and victim-friendly.”
Last month, Demos issued a report warning that the far-right is on the rise across Europe. As co-author Emine Bozkurt put it, “we’re at a crossroads in European history. In five years’ time we will either see an increase in the forces of hatred and division in society, including ultra-nationalism, xenophobia, Islamophobia and antisemitism, or we will be able to fight this horrific tendency.”
The report invokes the ongoing European debt crisis as oil on the fire of racial and ethnic tensions. Some, including us at ROAR, are already warning of another 1930s-style xenophobic backlash. “As antisemitism was a unifying factor for far-right parties in the 1910s, 20s and 30s, Islamophobia has become the unifying factor in the early decades of the 21st century,” Thomas Klau told the Guardian.
As we find ourselves in these troubled waters, the best counsel seems to come from those who lived through the fascist backlash of the early 20th century. Erich Fromm, the psychoanalyst whose psychological study still stands as a classic treatment of the deep drivers of xenophobia, warned how capitalism’s individualizing drive tends to alienate citizens and undermine their sense of belonging and security, providing fertile soil for fascist strongmen.
Walter Benjamin, in turn, famously observed how “every fascism is an index of a failed revolution.” And as an Italian comrade just reminded me, Rosa Luxemburg was not far away with her stark depiction of the historic choice that humanity faced at the turn of the first world war: “socialism or barbarism”. After all, only a society geared towards meeting the human need for security and belonging can keep the fascist threat at bay.
But perhaps the Italian revolutionary Antonio Gramsci summarized it best of all: “The old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born,” he wrote from one of Mussolini’s prisons on the eve of WWII. “Now is the time of monsters.”