Why an Italian atheist should thank France for the burkini affair

Yes, it’s highly uncomfortable to swim in what basically feels like a bag of fabric that drags you to the bottom.  Possibly unsafe too.  Also, it defies the purpose of going to the beach… freedom, sun on your skin, getting tanned, dusting sand off with a hand.

Then there’s the feminist argument: all women should be free to decide what to wear.  Even if it’s a stone around their neck.  Everyone should be free to choose what to wear or not wear.  Except that often, they are not.

And the neocolonial feminist argument: concealing face/body, in any form, is a way to take away freedom from women.  And if they choose to do it anyway it means they have been brainwashed and are enslaved.  So by banning the burkini we save them.

I honestly have no truth to sell.  I grew up as an atheist in country with a muslim majority which cohexisted very well with all other minorities, including atheists.  Some of my female friends wore hijabs, niquabs, chadors, some of their mums wore burkas and no one ever bat an eye.  It’s true, it was a couple of years before 9/11, and to the West muslims were a concoction of Ali Baba, the one thousand and one nights, Petra, Morocco (only the postcard picture of the djamma el-fna), smoking shisha and stoning women.

I remember going back to Italy and hearing the strangest things about what Muslims were to Italians (and I come from a big city…).  Then 9/11 happened and suddenly everyone who had spent a week in Sharm e Sheik was an expert on Islam, if you had had kebab at least once in your life you were entitled to expain the differences between shias and sunni.

Little has changed, people are still widely ignorant -my feeling is that Italians kind of beat everyone else at ignorance, but I may be wrong- but now literally everyone has an opinon about everything.  Social media did help this cause, by giving everyone the chance to speak their mind, but that’s not the only problem.  I think that right now we are experiencing first hand (and for the first time in history) what what ignorance and access to means of information means.

Before you could only speak on TV and radio if you had a reason to be there, now everything is cheaper and has a short life, so literally anyone who thinks has something to say can enjoy their fifteen minutes of fame.  And if they are too much even for a trash TV show, the doors of the web open for them…  And this is how myths are created and religious hate, racism and homophobia are spread.

Now, I firmly believe in atheism. no one will ever convince me that there’s a God, Holy Trinity, Layla, Muhammad, Yaveh… I’m sure that a lot of well meaning people have existed, some of them ended up marthyrs, some didn’t, but that doesn’t make God real.

That being said I really thank France for this (absurd, racist and islamophobic) burkini ban.  Not because it was a good idea, because it’s cearly not, but because it showed some serious coherence.  Which is important to show in this Europe where politicians convince you to vote to leave the EU and then tell you that they weren’t being serious (UK) or where we claim to grant asylum to hordes of people fleeing a war and then kick them out at the first PTSD-ed syrian who doesn’t behave like an Eton-educated man.

I’m Italian, our constitution states very clearly that we are a lay State, that religious freedom is granted to everyone (it was written after WWII, and religious freedom was kind of a big thing back then… as it should be today, fyi) and that no religion should be imposed upon anybody.

Sadly in the last 70 years religious freedom in Italy has meant:

  1. Imposing a crucifix in every room of every school (including the public ones…);
  2. Imposing the teaching of catholic religion up to the very last year of high school – which your parents can withdraw you from, of course, but unless the school has a teacher who can take care of you during that hour you are pretty much stuck in the room;
  3. Opposing in every possible way the building or opening of new mosques (all other religions are perfectly fine.  Most Italians don’t even know what the Bahais believe in and yet there are temples everywhere.  Oh wait, that’s probably because people don’t know who they are…)

So yeah… If the burkini affair had happened in Italy I would be here, for the millionth time, apologiziong for how short sighted and often stupidly ignorant my people are, since it’s happening in France I can at least rejoice at the fact that if no signs of religious belief must be shown, then it’s true for everyone.

Dear Monsieur Valls, well done.  Now please go and strip down all the nuns.

And yes, if someone brings up the argument that nuns “have chosen it as a sign of religious identity”, although I shouldn’t even be answering this… so have the women who wear burkinis.

So if you don’t want them to anymore, increase your budget on education and start teaching something useful, fight fundamentalism with EDUCATION, not with bans!


The red line that connects Cologne and Nauru

The cases of rape and abuse perpetrated by authorities go a long way back and have been/are being most often reported for what they are: the abuse from a person in a condition of superior power.  Is this a biased view?  Perhaps.  But in most cases it is correct.  The case of Daniel Holtzclaw, is the most recent example.

NOTE: Like all inmates D.H.’s file was publicly available on the Department of Corrections’ website, so that the public (including his victims) could be informed on where he was incarcerated and if he ever was released – which with a 236 years sentence would have been unlikely, but you can never be too prudent.  Unfortunately his page went missing, reportedly “to protect his safety”.  I guess his safety is way more valuable that that of dozens of poor and black women who have endured his blackmailing and sexual assaults.

Now, the common mistake of the lefties who would slam the gates of their countries open for refugees (for full disclosure, I’m one of them.  I just don’t make the same mistake as them, I probably make a million others) is to think that refugee=good person.

The leftist newspapers of Europe struggled to report the news of the Cologne attacks, resulting often partial and biased.  As much as some Australian newspapers are treating the Nauru rape of a five year old boy as the perfect casus belli to shift attention to the poor conditions of migrants on Nauru, rather than the real problem: there is at least one rapist on the island (the reported cases are numerous, so I presume there’s more than one).

What I mean is that the media finds it hard to handle news that shed a bad light on a group of people that they side with.  Why?

My take is that journalist and editors know that the average reader is fairly uneducated and probably reads the title of the article and skim reads the actual piece.  So they have to catch your attention and make sure you get their point within your attention span.

There is something inherently wrong in associating anyone in a condition of weakness, namely a refugee, as a fundamentally good person.  Since the cavemen poverty (lack of resources, survival instincts, etc…) has driven people to horrible acts, and on top of that there is the statistical incidence of pedophiles/rapists/sadists/murderers.

So it’s statistically impossible to think that in a huge number of people there aren’t some bad ones.  If you add anger, frustration and lack of perspectives into the equation you have a pedophile on Nauru island and a sex-hungry mob in Cologne.

What hasn’t worked in these two cases (and many others around the world, since the beginning of refugee camps) is the system.  Intercepting boats, registering people and locking them up is a rough approximation of what identification and protection should be.

So, as much as the right is ready to see refugees sent back to their countries (or Nauru, Mr Turnbull) and the left is embarrassingly addressing only one part of the problem, it’s the whole system that should change.  Because, let’s face it, it’s a lot more expensive in terms of resources, visibility and ultimately votes, to clean up a mess than to get things right the first time around.

A better identification system, less time spent in camps and overall better conditions for refugees could start to improve the situation.  Rapists will always be rapists, but in a system where the division is not between them (the refugees) and the others (the police) but rather between good and evil rapists would be more easily identified and, eventually, expelled.



Il facile parallelo tra due bravi ragazzi – e ci dimentichiamo di nuovo di Giovanni Lo Porto.

Questo post lo scrivo in Italiano.  Perche’ serve.  Almeno a me.

In seguito al ritrovamento del cadavere di Giulio Regeni, morto in evidenti circostanze tragiche, Repubblica pubblica un’intervista al fratello di Valeria Solesin, dottoranda uccisa al Bataclan il 13 novembre 2015.

Nell’articolo Alessandra Borella riporta le parole di Dario Solesin quasi ad azzardare un parallelo tra i due.  La famiglia Solesin ha sempre dato l’impressione di essere sobria e riservata, per cui non immagino che Dario Solesin sia a caccia di notorieta’, che ha gia’ tristemente acquisito in seguito all’omicidio della sorella.

Credo pero’ che sia stato piu’ facile per la giornalista accomunare due omicidi di “bravi ragazzi” piuttosto che differenziarli.

Perche’ il dolore e’ dolore, per chi lo soffre, ma la morte non e’ uguale per tutti.

In Vietnamita ci sono diverse parole per tradurre la parola morte.  Mi ha sempre colpito molto come nelle lingue asiatiche la morte sia una questione cruciale della vita e che quindi abbia diverse declinazioni.  In Vietnamita c’e’ la morte di flora e fauna, la morte di persona – sterile, oggettiva, scientifica- e poi ci sono la buona e la cattiva morte.  La cattiva morte e’ quella di coloro morti nell’atto di fare del male (jihadisti oggi e Americani allora) e la buona morte, quella eroica.

Senza nulla togliere alla brava ragazza veneta uccisa al Bataclan, la sua e’ una morte oggettiva.  Era nel posto sbagliato ed e’ stata uccisa.

Giulio Regenti, come Giovanni Lo Porto -che dev’essere una presenza davvero molto ingombrante per lo Stato e la stampa italiana, che hanno trattato la sua morte come un piccolo incidente di percorso- e’ morto della buona morte.  Entrambi sono morti per quello che stavano facendo, e quello in cui credevano.

Niente, solo questo.

Per esperienza so che essere chiamati perche’ “c’e’ stato un incidente” e’ una sofferenza atroce, ma non posso immaginare cosa voglia dire leggere i dettagli macabri con cui i giornalisti banchettano, e pensare che quello a cui hanno fatto quelle cose e’ proprio figlio tuo.

Parents: make sure your children get an education. Even if the alternative is becoming a reality show star!

Although I am perfectly aware that with two Russian planes shot down in a week, an ongoing war in Israel and the non-stop migrant flow in the now freezing waters of the Mediterranean, this is a small thing, but I think that you can never be too busy or overwhelmed with bad news to let the chance of advocating for girls education slip through your fingers.

This week two things happened that caught my attention: one (which I should I have been a castaway on some Pacific island not to hear about) is that Instagram star Essena O’Neill went ape shit crazy about how social media wants you to portray yourself as someone you are not.  My first reaction was: Really Essena?  You don’t say!  I really thought that all my friends that post masterchef-like dinners on Instagram cook dishes like that every single meal! I was so sure all my friends had become hot all of a sudden…

No, Essena, there’s a very good reason why Instagram comes with filters, and it is because you can edit your picture before publishing it to make your life (what you look like, what you eat, the place you live in) look like what you’d want it to be.  There’s almost no need to take 100 shots of yourself in a bikini to get the perfect belly, because with the right light Instagram does it for you.

I was just about to discard the crying teenager as an immature, yet rather likable, idiot when I came across another piece of news.  Italian gymnast Carlotta Ferlito comes fifth in the gymnastics world championship and instead of being happy to be the fifth best gymnast in the world she complains with her teammate, saying that “next time we should paint our skin black if we want to come first” (note: Simon Biles, gold medal in this championship is black).

Now, while Essena O’Neill is rather sweet in her awakening to real life, Carlotta is someone I would have loved to slap in the face, repeatedly.

But then I realized that the two girls have more than one thing in common: they are both teenagers, they are both stars (Essena has gazillions of followers on twitter and Carlotta is the successful protagonist of a reality show on Italian MTV) and they both dropped out/got special school programmes to fit into their career, not the other way around.

These two girls are the very bright example of what a life under the spotlight from a young age turns you into.  I am not against fame, I am not an angry feminist who hates pretty girls, but I really wish that parents (PARENTS, for Christ’s sake) valued their children beyond what profit their children could make them.

People without an education, in very many cases, and all the more so in a world that wants to APPEAR rather than BE, turn out to be more obtuse and racist because their entire world revolves around something ethereal and intangible like how many people follow or like you.  I am tired of defending people who don’t have an education because they didn’t want it although they had the chance to get it, I am tired to say “it’s fine, every experience counts”, I’m exhausted to keep hearing of teenage stars.

If we are so adamant to “let children be children” in developing countries, to grant them education and time to play, can we please stop judging the developing world with our neocolonialist eyes and start looking at our own societies as  structures that have deviated from what “the standard” should have been like?  Before we promote formal education in Africa or advocate against child marriage in India can we please make sure we are not trying to turn the now educated and unmarried African and Indian girls into the next generation of Essenas and Carlottas?

Kunduz: the pathetic response of all of those who should have extended an apology rather than a justification

On the 3rd of October 2015, for a whole hour, the hospital of Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres) was bombed.  12 MSF staff died, 10 patients died and 24 people are unaccounted for.

All I have heard in the past eight days has been a bland excuse for what happened: at first it wasn’t clear who had bombed the only medical facility in northern Afghanistan, then we were told it was the US Army but that it had been requested by NATO and the Afghan government.  Before some pathetically attempted to say they didn’t know it was a hospital, MSF released a very strong press statement saying that all the parties involved in Afghanistan had been made aware of the geolocation of the hospital and of all its wards.

Now Peter Cook, spokesperson of the Pentagon, is offering, on behalf of the United States of America, a lump sum to rebuild the hospital and compensate the families of the victims.

A lot has been said about the Geneva Convention (and its explicit clause on the imperative prohibition to attack any medical facility) by all of those that, whenever a tragedy occurs, become instant experts of any matter.

I honestly don’t know enough about the Geneva Convention to be giving out advice on how to interpret it, if there’s a clause on proportionality or not, if it establishes how much compensation should be.

I appeal to those responsible for this bombing (knowing full well that they will probably never read this post) as a person, as a human being.

What mistake, what proportionality, what reason may push you to bomb a place where doctors and paramedics work day and night, to the end of their inner strength to provide a service that would be unaccessible otherwise?  You knowingly bombed for an entire hour a hospital where you knew there were people who couldn’t move and run away, where there were doctors who would not abandon their patients.

What this incident proves is that the strong powers, in this case America, do get away with wiping their asses with international Conventions.  They want to compensate MSF and the families of the victims, but you compensate when you have made a mistake, when you accidentally do something wrong.  Not when you bomb a hospital knowing that dozens of people will die.

You don’t compensate the My Lai victims, you don’t compensate the victims of rape by the military in Somalia, you don’t compensate those you knowingly wronged.  You get tried and pay for it.  If the US weren’t the US we would be sceaming for the International Court of Human Rights to intervene, if it wasn’t Obama apologizing, but some obscure and anedoctical African leader we would find a way to depose them.

Those we don’t depose are the ones we fear or we need.   Assad may be a murderer but he is very clear about wanting to keep Syria free of ISIS, so we don’t bat an eye when he kills those who rebel against him and calls them terrorists.  Putin is a cold blooded psycopath and we make fun of his (frankly ridiculous) ego but don’t really stick our nose into Crimea.  Obama is the face of tomorrow, of an America who can vote for a black president.  So we let him apologize for what happened in Kunduz, gladly forgetting that it is the first time in history that a Nobel Peace Prize winner bombs another Nobel Peace Prize.

Saudi Arabia: the land of plenty (for the few)

I just had an interesting interaction with two Italian bloggers who live in the Gulf (one of them in Saudi Arabia).  They mostly write about their families, the international schools their children go to, the play dates, the quiz nights, all the usual things expats use to fill their days (I do it too, so no judgement).

But since I spend my life working in countries that for many are holiday places (Ethiopia, India, Vietnam, etc…) and see the underbelly of what tourists see as a beautiful dreamland, I feel it’s part of my job, and most definitely my choice, to expose what doesn’t work.  Although I don’t judge those who decide to turn their head the other way, and to some extent I understand them, I honestly struggle to believe that when you live in a country where a nineteen year old boy will be beheaded and then crucified you manage to keep your cool and give out lunch box recipes.

Their explanation is: we are not competent and we want to keep our families safe.  Which is a totally respectable justification.  The “I’m a guest here, who am I to judge” theory would work, in the end very few people are heroes, I am not either, but it startles me each and every single time how some people manage to shut reality out of their door, especially in countries where you reality is an Ali Al Nimr being beheaded for taking part in a demonstration when he was 17.

I have never been to Saudi Arabia and I don’t know it well enough to judge it’s political system, although I find it pretty revolting.  What I do know though, is that Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Iran are the only countries that still execute people for crimes committed while they were teenagers.  What I know that there are international conventions that Saudi Arabia has ratified, that prohibit the sentencing to death of children.  But the obstacle is overcome by proving the alleged “child” shows signs of puberty.

This whole nightmare is happening as Saudi Arabia is offering -and obtaining- to lead the United Nations Human Rights panel.  While the world writes, petitions, screams, marches, protests, the ever so mild United States respond like this.

So yeah, I wish the lovely Italian mothers that their beautiful children grow up to be peaceful kids who never feel the urge to scream out their discontent in one of the countries where “they are guests and can’t have an opinion on their politics”.  But I also know that if their lovely children do decide to go crazy one day and scream out their discontent, there are gonna be people whose business is not to petition to save someone’s life who will do it anyway.

So please, if you feel that turning your head the other way may actually break your neck don’t turn it and sign this petition.

Because yes, I’m not a mother and can’t understand what fear they may feel for their children, but I am a human being, I could be this guys sister, I have been marching and protesting and no one ever sentenced me to beheading and crucifixion, so yeah… I don’t know all the laws of Saudi Arabia but I do feel entitled to advocate for this kid.

Thank you

What you do with your uterus should not be Pope Francis’ business

In the last few days, along with the drowned Syrian boy, headlines over-joyfully reported how Pope Francis, a real revolutionary, has offered pardon to women who have had an abortion and have repented.  The repented part was underplayed a lot, like the tiny clauses at the very end of a long contract (the ones that say that you can get fired if you get pregnant, or sick, which in the US is almost the same thing).

The first thing I thought, as a feminist was: how can you ask me to repent over a choice I made over my own body, if I want your pardon?  There’s an adjective problem here: if it’s MY body, why would I want YOUR pardon for doing what I want with it?  It’s like saying: I will forgive you for getting a tattoo/haircut/piercing if you repent about it.  So, yeah, rationally it makes no sense whatsoever.

But then it struck me: the Pope is the President (or Prime Minister, if we can consider God the King) of the Vatican State, a highly political entity founded on Catholicism, a theocratic state.  To be perfectly fair the Pope is a crossing between Khamenei and Rouhani: the Supreme Leader and the President of Iran.  The only thing that changes is the religion (they are the evil ones), but everything else is exactly the same.

With one little exception: as limiting, narrow minded and misogynist as their policies may be, the duo Khamenei-Rouhani only rule over their country,  and people who don’t agree with their (democratically elected) ruling are free to leave the country and live their life as they please, or oppose it.

Mr Bergoglio may be King in his (tiny) kingdom, but as a shepherd of souls he also rules over those souls who follow him.  All over the world.  And yes, “it is a free choice and I can’t force everyone not to be catholic because deep down it’s a misogynist religion, like most”, but I would really like to hug all the women who have had an abortion and believe they need forgiveness.

You don’t.  You made a choice, and only you (and if you are very lucky your partner) can know if you are happy or not about it, only you can decide if you need forgiveness in the first place and eventually if you can forgive yourself.  In most cases, I’d say the majority, you already went through your personal hell while trying to find an abortion clinic or someone who’d perform it withing the legal term, you had to get surgery when you could have taken a pill, you had to face stigma, judgement, nurses and doctors shaking their heads and trying to convince you not to do it.

In 95% of cases, if you had an abortion you are the one who is in the position to dispense forgiveness for how horribly you have been treated.  And you totally don’t have to forgive, you have all the right to stay angry and fight for a better world where healthcare doesn’t prefer to help those who want a traditional family.

So, even though I understand how Pope Francis is trying to bang on every door to make sure he gets every little bit of love from all of those who see in him a saint, he is really just a high representative of his State, offering pardon for things that should even require it in the first place.

Fun fact: the “poor Pope” has just gotten his glass lenses changed, he was very clear “only change the lenses, the frame is fine as it is, we don’t need to waste money”.  Most Italian journalists praised his gesture.  Almost none mentioned that he went to the most expensive shop in Rome (in Via del Babbuino, the 5th Avenue of Rome), no one said if he actually paid for the lenses or got them for free -since the shop got a fair amount of publicity- and again, no one mentioned the massive crowd of curious tourists and photographers on the spot.  Shout out to PF: the next time you want to follow the steps of Saint Francis go incognito to a cheap shop in a residential area, or better still, send someone who can’t be recognized.  Because right now it look soooo much like this all “let’s save money on unnecessary things” was staged to show how good you are at sticking with your predicaments.