Lorenzo Vidino. Dynamics of Asymmetric Conflict. Volume 5, Issue 3. 2012.
Since September 11, 2001, Islamism, in its various manifestations, has become a phenomenon with which virtually all political entities in the West have had to grapple. Given its prominence in the news and political debates, political forces of virtually all colors and shades have felt the need to take a position on this ideology and the conflicts that over the last decade have, in different ways, been linked to it. This is no less true for “indigenous” extremist political entities in the West, whether they are positioned on the far right, the far left, or completely outside the political spectrum.
This article examines how the most militant cross-sections of the Italian extreme Left have conceptualized and sought to frame a coherent political position towards Islamism. In doing so it will focus its analysis on fringe groups that loosely trace their ideological roots to the Red Brigades and like-minded militant groups and not on the larger and extremely diverse universe of extreme Left groups operating in the country that do not advocate revolutionary and violent positions. While the positions of these forces on several issues, including Islamism, often converge, it seems more useful to limit the discussion to militant groupings that act at the margins of the law and the accepted political debate.
Several Italian officials and opinion-makers have warned that some of the most militant fringes of the Italian extreme Left are fascinated by Islamism and have even raised the specter of an unholy Red–Green alliance that would trigger a season of terrorism in Italy. Others have dismissed these fears as politically motivated paranoia, highlighting the significant ideological differences between extreme Left and Islamism and the unlikelihood of an operational cooperation between adherents of the two ideologies. In this article I use publicly available texts to analyze how members of the Italian revolutionary Left see Islamism and Islamists. An assessment of potential operational cooperation between the two forces would be an ambitious task and remains beyond the scope of this article.
The Red Brigades
Italy has a century-long tradition of political violence carried out by individuals and groups motivated by Communist ideology, but in modern days this tradition is closely associated with the Red Brigades (Brigate Rosse, BR). This group, the most prominent of the many like-minded violent formations that appeared on the scene in the early 1970s, bloodied the streets of Italy until the first half of the 1980s. Divided in compartmentalized cells spread throughout the country, the group targeted with assassinations, kidnappings and shootings all those it perceived as “enemies of the proletariat”: politicians, military and law enforcement officials, entrepreneurs and business leaders. By the mid-1980s, the aggressive strategies employed by the Italian government (a clever mix of infiltration, tough judicial repression, and deals with former militants) had dealt significant blows to the organization. After the crackdowns that followed the 1981 kidnapping of NATO General James Dozier and the 1988 assassination of Christian Democrat Senator Roberto Ruffilli, the Red Brigades were considered virtually dismantled. Most of its leaders received life or extremely long sentences, while only a few managed to flee Italy and settle in other countries.
The group was mostly concerned with domestic issues, and predominantly with labor relations, yet it did take firm positions on global affairs. In the Middle East, as a logical corollary to its anti-capitalist and anti-American stance, the BR joined all like-minded groups of the era in supporting the Palestinian struggle against Israel, which was seen as a bridgehead of American imperialism in the region. The BR’s sympathy for the Palestinian struggle transcended moral support. Indeed, throughout its history, the group established extensive forms of operational cooperation with various Palestinian militant groups, from the Palestine Liberation Organization to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Members of the BR often received training and weapons from the Palestinian groups, returning the favor by providing various forms of logistical support on Italian territory. Yet these forms of cooperation took place at a time when the Palestinian struggle was dominated by secular groups and Islamism throughout the Middle East enjoyed only limited visibility and support. It is fair to say that the BR supported Leftist/secular groups in the Middle East, but had no known contacts with or position regarding Islamist groups.
Despite the demise of the BR by the beginning of the 1990s, authorities noticed a small-scale resurgence of left-wing terrorism. A jungle of acronyms such as the BR–Combatant Communist Party (Brigate Rosse–Partito Comunista Combattente, BR-PCC) or the Revolutionary Proletarian Nuclei (Nuclei Proletari Rivoluzionari, NPR) carried out mostly small demonstrative attacks and used the language and symbols of the BR. A group calling itself the Fighting Communist Nuclei (Nuclei Comunisti Combattenti, NCC) claimed responsibility for a series of unsophisticated explosive attacks against targets such as the NATO Defense College, a US military base, and the Italian Industrial Federation. Although, as investigators would later find out, no members of the old Red Brigades were involved in the NCC, the language used by the latter in their communiqués was eerily similar to that used by the Red Brigades. The NCC operatives admired the Red Brigades and even approached some of its leaders imprisoned in high-security jails, attempting to receive a blessing for their actions.
Years of investigations of NCC yielded no results. Most of the NCC members lived normal family lives and held regular jobs, making their detection extremely difficult. Only two of them, Nadia Lioce and Mario Galesi, both second-tier militants in the 1980s, decided to leave their regular lives behind and become what the Red Brigades used to call “complete militants”. In May 1999, the NCC significantly raised the quality of its actions. A commando directed by Galesi and Lioce gunned down Massimo D’Antona, a consultant for the Italian government on labor issues, on his way to work in Rome. The claim of responsibility openly stated that the group aimed to reconstitute the Red Brigades/Fighting Communist Party. Despite intense investigative efforts, Italian authorities were unable to track down the group and, in March 2002, Marco Biagi, another high-profile government consultant on labor relations, was shot and killed in Bologna. The militants openly used the Red Brigades’ denomination in their claim of responsibility.
Exactly a year after the Biagi assassination, Lioce and Galesi were stopped for a routine check on a regional train in Tuscany. Afraid they would be recognized, they opened fire, killing a police officer. In the shootout that ensued, Galesi was killed and Lioce arrested. Once in custody, Lioce declared herself a member of the Red Brigades and a “political prisoner”, as members of the organization have done traditionally. However, the focus of the statement she gave to interrogators surprised officials.
September 11, 2001 [said the 44-year-old militant] must open the field to the revolutionary vanguards and not only in Italy. The upcoming war against Iraq constitutes an attempt to remove the main obstacle to the hegemony of the Zionist entity, the stronghold of imperialism in the region, disarming and annihilating the Palestinian resistance, which is the reference of all Arab and Islamic masses who have been expropriated and humiliated by imperialism and who constitute the natural ally of the urban proletarian class in European countries.
With these words, Lioce made it clear that, while they had chosen their targets because of their involvement in domestic issues (and particularly in the modernization of the labor market, something the group considered an attack on the proletariat), the “New Red Brigades” members considered global issues equally important. The communiqué with which the group took responsibility for the Biagi assassination linked the Italian government’s labor reforms to efforts by “imperialist forces” to subjugate workers worldwide. The Middle East, according to the communiqué, had a particular role in this plan, but the attacks of September 11, 2001, it argued, had been a “concrete element of challenge of the imperialist strategy of which it has shown its vulnerability”. The communiqué also called for a “policy of alliances with revolutionary forces of the Euro-Mediterranean–Middle Eastern area”, including with forces with no Communist views, but did not specifically mention Islamist groups.
In substance, neither the “old” nor the “new” Red Brigades ever publicly expressed a detailed position on Islamism—Lioce’s statement cannot be characterized as such. That might be explained by the fact that, when both groups were active, Islamist groups were not a major topic of debate in the West. Extreme Left militants in Italy as elsewhere admired various “resistance struggles” against America, Israel and other “imperialist” forces, but for the most part either supported groups that most closely reflected their own ideology or did not make distinctions about what groups were involved in that struggle.
Nevertheless, the increased importance of Islamist groups of very different kinds, from al Qaeda to Hamas, from Hezbollah to the Taliban, has forced extreme Left militants to craft a position in relation to them. The underworld of the Italian extreme Left is fragmented, and on this as many other issues it would be incorrect to assume that there is a monolithic and universally accepted position. Although some basic views, such as the legitimacy of resistance against American and Israeli “imperialist aggression”, are shared by most, different individuals have slightly different opinions on the nature of various Islamist groups and the position the Communist movement should hold regarding them.
Among the various publications originating from the Italian militant Left, particularly important is La Voce (The Voice), a print and online magazine published in Paris. La Voce is run by some second-tier members of the Red Brigades and affiliated groups who left Italy mostly in the mid-1980s to avoid capture by Italian authorities and, in some cases, for ideological disagreements with the BR’s leadership. This Paris-based cluster has long played a crucial role in various militant activities, from purely ideological to operational, and some of its members have been arrested by authorities. La Voce is the official publication of the group it seeks to establish, the New Italian Communist Party (Nuovo Partito Comunista Italiano, NPCI) and, while technically not a publication of the BR, it represents the views of several individuals that have been at various levels at the periphery of the group or have been involved in various spinoffs of it.
Published since 1999, La Voce treats mostly themes related to internal Italian politics, labor relations and Communist ideology. Nonetheless, it also devotes significant attention to global affairs and, in particular, to the Middle East and the conflicts that plague it. The general view adopted by La Voce is similar to that of most extreme Left militants, seeing the world through the prisms of a strict Marxist–Leninist view. In this view, aggressive capitalist imperialist forces are constantly trying to subjugate popular masses, and today’s Middle East epitomizes this constant struggle. Communism remains the only possible way forward for societies throughout the world and is consistently and optimistically depicted as making an inevitable comeback.
“The people of Arab countries are rising up one after the other”, states a March 2011 La Voce article examining the Arab Spring. It adds that “the racist and theocratic state built by the Zionists [Israel] who have colonized Palestine is going towards its end” and that America is also in crisis and “sooner or later the popular masses in the US will find their way to install Socialism”. Even the Chinese “deviation into capitalism” is seen by La Voce as temporary, as in the long-term Capitalism is bound to fail and Communism to succeed.
In keeping with its Marxist worldview La Voce sees global events through an economic analysis and a focus on the labor market. In doing so it ties Italian dynamics to global ones. For example, it argues that the way large capitalist groups in Italy like FIAT exploit Italian workers is linked to the actions of American imperialists seeking oil in the Middle East. Consequently, the defense of Italian workers carried out by militant Communist groups is, according to La Voce, identical to the anti-American resistance in Afghanistan, Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries.
La Voce devotes particular attention to the presence of immigrant Muslim workers in Europe. A 2004 article states that “in every imperialist European country the bourgeoisie carries out large-scale persecution of immigrants and the population of Arab origin or Muslim religion”. The same article deplores counter-terrorism measures adopted throughout Europe since 2001 and states that authorities are hunting down “revolutionary Muslim priests”, the term consistently used in La Voce’s articles to describe imams, and seeking to “impose to worshippers collaborationist priests they support through funding and police work”. Another article sees as evidence of this dynamic “the kidnapping of Abu Omar”, a well-known al Qaeda-linked militant who was kidnapped from the streets of Milan by the CIA in February 2003 in a successfully exposed and well documented case of extra-judiciary rendition. According to La Voce the case is “the synthesis of the persecution campaign that the government of the [former Italian Prime Minister Silvio] Berlusconi gang conducts against immigrant workers on its own account and on behalf of US and Zionist imperialist groups”.
La Voce then delves into a sociological examination of the Muslim presence in Europe. “Today”, it argues, “in several European countries Islam is the religion of the poorest and most oppressed section of the population. The hunt for Arab and Muslim revolutionaries in imperialist countries foments and covers the persecution of Communists and other local revolutionaries”. La Voce describes the struggle of “Muslim revolutionary priests” and Muslim immigrant communities, which are described as “beehives of rebellion”, as closely related to that of the Communist movement. Both are targeted by the oppression of the oppressive bourgeoisie, which also deceptively portrays them as inherently dangerous and subversive in the eyes of the population.
However, the article also makes a point that is central to La Voce’s, and, more generally, the militant Extreme Left’s view of the prominent role that Islamism has among Muslims both in Europe and the Middle East. “As long as the Communist movement in imperialist countries will be weak”, argues the article, “this rebellion will identify in the democratic anti-imperialist revolution taking place in the countries of more or less recent origin instead of bringing in the influence of the metropolitan working class”. It basically argues that oppressed Muslim immigrants in Europe are finding an avenue for their frustration in Islamism and not in Communism because the Communist movement has been weak and unable to properly convey its message.
The article goes on to explain the political history of the last century in the Muslim world. It argues that no Muslim-majority country has had an industrial revolution like the West’s nor the social phenomena that accompany it. While the industrial revolution was taking place throughout Europe these countries were being colonized and, once de-colonization took place, their post-colonial societies reflected the lack of this passage. In particular, according to La Voce, Communist forces had only limited relevance and “almost everywhere the Muslim clergy and other local notables of old tradition” took over. This last point is historically objectionable, as in virtually every Muslim-majority country de-colonization was followed by the rule of either local monarchies or secular nationalist forces, while Islamist movements were either marginalized or harshly repressed.
Yet La Voce argues that the “reactionary Muslim clergy”, as it consistently refers to various Islamist movements, has made major inroads in the Middle East and controls several countries. La Voce then devotes some space to criticizing this clergy, arguing, for example, that it “has led the democratic anti-imperialist revolution to bloody sectarian practices”. It also argues that “in order to gain and hold the direction of the popular masses it had to ride the wave of the democratic anti-imperialist revolution. Obviously it has done so in its own way, mediating between its traditional reactionary social role and the democratic revolution”. The article argues that “Hamas in Palestine is the clearest manifestation of a reactionary clergy that puts itself at the head of a democratic anti-imperialist revolution”. “An entity created with anti-Communist goals by the Zionists of Israel and the Wahhabi monarchy of Saudi Arabia [a sort of Muslim Vatican], two arms of the US imperialist groups”, it elaborates, “has become the most radical organization against the Zionist occupation of Palestine”.
La Voce then outlines the position the Communist movements should take towards these movements. “From the nature of the developments taking place and the forces at play it is possible to discern the line that we Communists should follow both in our countries and at the international level. The direction of the reactionary clergy is an effect of the decadence of the Communist movement and will disappear with its rebirth. In fact, by its own nature, the reactionary clergy is incapable of leading the revolution to victory. It holds strong ties of various nature to imperialism and depends on it in an important way: it can therefore be blackmailed”.
The article further argues that, “by its own nature”, Islamism is the “bearer of reactionary social relations and has to intimidate the Muslim popular masses in order to induce them to abandon the current owners (imperialists) and submit to the new ones (the clergy). At the international level it is incapable of leveraging the conflict between popular masses in imperialist countries and imperialist groups that oppress them: it attacks both as if they were a unified block”. “These”, it concludes the article, “are objective factors that highlight the limits of the Muslim clergy’s direction of the democratic anti-imperialist revolution in Arab and Muslim countries”.
The article argues that, on the other hand, Communist forces in Arab and Muslim countries are now on the rise, capable of mobilizing the popular revolutionary war. “Sooner or later, as part of the rebirth of the international Communist movement, in every country Communists will once again take the direction of the democratic anti-imperialist revolution”. It concludes that Communists in imperialist countries should support Communist forces in Arab and Muslim countries, as only they “speak the language” of the local people and can sway the revolution in the direction hoped. In the West, nevertheless, Communists should “support the revolutionary movements of the immigrants against imperialist authorities”, as “it is an aspect of our struggle to accumulate revolutionary forces and develop the struggle of the workers and the popular masses in order to turn our country into a socialist country”.
A similar analysis of the nature of Islamist movements and the attitudes Communists should have towards them is made in an article published in La Voce in 2006 and entitled “The role of Hezbollah in the rebirth of the international Communist movement”. The article was written by Giuseppe Maj, a central figure of Italy’s extreme Left militant world. Born near Bergamo in 1939, Maj has been known to authorities since the 1970s for his militancy in many extreme Left outfits and has a long record of politically related arrests and convictions. Maj was behind various publishing enterprises in Italy before moving to Paris and playing a key role in La Voce.
Maj’s 2006 article states that Hezbollah has become “the most prominent force of the resistance of the Lebanese popular masses against the inclusion of their country in the colonial project of the Zionists, the bridgehead of the imperialist domination of the Middle East”. By the same token, looking at other Middle Eastern scenarios, Maj notices that “in Palestine Hamas has become the most prominent entity of the Resistance against the Zionist colonization and the imperialist occupation. In Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, in other Arab and Muslim countries, among immigrants in imperialist countries, organizations inspired by Muslim religion have gained an important role in the popular resistance”.
Maj first takes a sympathetic view of these groups, advocating the legitimacy of their struggle against imperialist aggression and condemning the demonization to which they are subjected by the imperialist-controlled media. “The imperialist bourgeoisie”, writes Maj, “its spokespeople and the people influenced by its interests and conceptions denigrate these organizations in all possible ways. They deform or fabricate their positions, they attribute to them actions they have never taken. They paint them in dark colors in the eyes of the popular masses of our country, exploiting our prejudices and the differences in culture and religion. They attribute to them any evil goal by exploiting their [the imperialists’] monopoly of information and the weakness of the Communist movement”. Basically, argues Maj, imperialist and their fellow travelers want a clash of civilizations and, in order to trigger one, they reinforce deep seated prejudices against Islam and seek to incorrectly present the “democratic and anti-imperialist revolution taking place in Arab and Muslim countries as a religious war”.
In order to challenge these efforts Maj argues that “Communists and the advanced members of the popular masses should explain to the popular masses the true content of the struggle of the oppressed people, the link between the anti-imperialist struggle of the oppressed people and our struggle to promote the rebirth of the Communist movement … We have to challenge the denigration of the organizations leading this struggle and make known their real positions: Hamas and the PFLP are two organizations that fight for a democratic Palestine without discriminations based on race, religion and nationality”.
Yet Maj’s support for Islamist organizations does not mean that the Communist intellectual does not see flaws in them and or that he ignores the necessity for the Communist movement, in the longer term, to take from them the lead of the anti-imperialist struggle. Maj argues that groups like Hezbollah and Hamas have archaic views and only the current weakness of the Communist movement worldwide has allowed them to play such a prominent role. “Several times in modern history”, argues Maj, “there have been analogous situations where progressive movements were led by forces with backward views”. Maj brings up the example of the peasant rebellions that took place in Italy in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Such movements came to life to end the feudal land division system but were led by “reactionary personalities and organizations” such as priests, noblemen, dethroned princes and other historical leftovers. “Only when the Communist movement in our country reached a certain development, that is around the end of the 19th century”, argues Maj “it started to acquire the direction of the peasant movements”.
Maj argues that a similar dynamic is taking place today. Like the masses of peasants fighting for social justice in pre-unification Italy were led by backward forces without a truly egalitarian and Socialist vision, so today’s oppressed Muslim masses in Europe and the Muslim world are led in their struggle against imperialism by inherently backward forces. These forces should be supported for the time being by Communists worldwide, as defeating imperialists is crucial. However, developing a strategy for the Communist movement to regain the helm of the anti-imperialist struggle is the utmost priority.
“Principally”, argues Maj, “we have to get back at the head of the revolutionary movement of the exploited classes and oppressed peoples. Communists certainly have views that are more advanced and adherent to reality [than Islamists]: last century’s history demonstrates that and the current situation confirms it”. Maj then engages in some self-criticism: “But due to the limits of our conception and our mistakes, by the second half of last century we have suffered a great defeat. We are slowly recovering. Our situation is that of the Communist movement throughout the world. We have lost the direction of the masses in our country, like the Communist movement has lost the direction of the movement of the exploited classes and the oppressed peoples of the world”.
“Islamist forces”, continues Maj, “have emerged and have taken the lead, mostly because Communist parties and organizations have not been able to deal with the challenges posed to the movement. Even if they [Islamist forces] do not know it, they compensate our weaknesses only temporarily and within the limits of their possibilities. At the same time they provide us with a great deal of help, as they slow down and obstruct the plans of our enemies, they provide us with an admirable example of heroism and perseverance in the struggle (which scares the bourgeoisie and the opportunists), they show the exploited classes and the oppressed peoples that it is possible to challenge even the most ferocious armies”.
Maj’s and, more generally, La Voce’s attitude towards Islamists can be described as a mix of admiration, disdain and tactical exploitation. Islamist forces are seen as bravely standing up to imperialist aggression, fighting battles and achieving victories that are worth the Communist movement’s praise and support. The Communist movement should therefore side with Islamist groups, supporting their actions with words and deeds. At the same time, La Voce’s writers acknowledge that Islamist groups have antiquated and brutal views. While some of the Islamists’ positions and actions might be distorted by the imperialist media, there is no denying that the “Muslim clergy’s” worldview clashes with that of an ideal Communist society.
However, Maj and La Voce are adamant that the Islamist movement’s success in attracting the sympathies of the oppressed Muslim masses is only temporary and due to the Communist movement’s weakness. “In the Arab-Muslim countries it is increasingly developing a democratic anti-imperialist revolution that, due to the weakness of the Communist movement in imperialist countries, is directed by priests, by the clergy”, argues a 2006 La Voce article. While providing no evidence to support a claim that most observers of the region would challenge, they are confident that Communist forces are regaining popularity throughout the Middle East. Once these forces will again be able to formulate an appealing message and reach the masses they will surely regain the helm of the anti-imperialist struggle, as Islamists and their backwards views can only achieve successes in the short-term. Muslim masses, in substance, will be able, according to La Voce, to “find the way to free themselves of the backwardness of which they are still wrapped given the presence of a bourgeois leadership among their ranks and of a corresponding backward interpretation of their fight”.
Switching Sides between Palestinian Factions
Although it does cover events taking place throughout the larger Middle East, La Voce devotes particular attention to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. Following the line adopted by the Red Brigades and virtually all groups of the Italian militant Left since the 1960s, La Voce closely and consistently sides with the Palestinians and advocates the end of the state of Israel, which is seen as a post-colonial outpost of American imperialism. “It is not possible to live with the Zionist Israeli regime”, argues a 2002 La Voce article, “like it is not possible to live with American imperialism”. America and Israel, according to the magazine, are dominated by mafia-like military–industrial complexes that need one another to support their hegemonic plans. War and aggression are their standard modi operandi and they are inherently inimical to the Communist movement.
La Voce’s articles and pamphlets often bear titles such as “Hail to the heroic struggle of the Palestinian people” and condemn “Zionist colonization” as genocide. The Palestinian struggle against Israel is constantly linked to the struggle of the Communist movement. One article states that “every step that we make toward the re-birth of the Communist movement is a help that we also give to the democratic cause of the Palestinian people”.
While this language is no different from the one traditionally used by the Red Brigades, it is important to note a major shift in La Voce’s approach to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. While the Red Brigades, in fact, had long supported, in words and deeds, the PLO, PFLP and other secular/left wing Palestinian groups, La Voce not only includes Hamas as an organization it admires and support, but in many cases it explicitly states that the Communist movement should support the Islamist organizations over the PLO.
The shift starts to take place in April 2002, when a La Voce article states that the Communist movement should support “those Palestinian organizations that most coherently carry forward the cause of the democratic revolution”. The article did not mention any specific name but its tone was clear. But in a November 2002 article to commemorate the second anniversary of the beginning of the second Intifada, La Voce takes a clearer position. “The Palestinians who supported the Oslo agreements”, argues the article, “the segregation of the Palestinian people in reservations (like the Indian reservations in the USA or the bantustans created by the supporters of apartheid in South Africa) in a state of semi-slavery and of the acquiescence to the racist and theocratic regime of the Zionists, have lost ground among the Palestinians and have been dumped by their own Zionist protectors because the intifada has shown that they could no longer insure the submission of their people”.
In this and several other articles La Voce openly endorses Hamas as the only group that has decided to continue the armed struggle while chastising the PLO for its decision to enter into negotiations and agreements with Israel (nothing is said of the PFLP). In this regard a 2005 article openly challenges the leadership of Palestinian National Authority president Mohammed Abbas. The article condemns the fact that, “after having killed and buried Arafat, Abu Mazen and [then Israeli Prime Minister] Ariel Sharon” met in Sharm el Sheikh in February 2005 to announce peace. “Abu Mazen”, continues the article, “proclaimed that the Palestinian resistance will depose its arms and accept the direction of the racist and theocratic state created by the Zionists”. “Abu Mazen”, it concludes, “will not succeed where the brutality and the intrigues of the Zionists have failed”.
La Voce’s articles seem to adopt mixed views over Hamas. Occasionally, as seen, the group is seen as part of that “Muslim clergy” whose views are condemned as backwards. In others, it argues that Hamas “fight for a democratic Palestine without discriminations based on race, religion and nationality” or “proposes a unified multiracial and multireligious Palestinian state”. In any case, La Voce seems to take the position that Hamas, unlike the PLO, is the only group that has not caved in to Israel and is authentically defending the rights of the Palestinians. The publication’s shift of support from a traditionally left-wing group like the PLO to a quintessentially Islamist one is unquestionably a noteworthy phenomenon.
This article has sought to sum up the views of just one cross-section of the extremely fragmented world of the Italian extreme Left. While some general views are arguably common to virtually all militants from that milieu, it would be incorrect to qualify La Voce’s views, despite the legitimacy and status of its writers, as accepted by all Italian extreme Left militants. Like many other topics, Islamism is a source of debate within the movement, particularly given the novelty of the issue and the relative lack of knowledge on it of most militants (a fact evident by several more than dubious characterizations and historical reconstructions noticeable in La Voce’s articles).
Aside from the purely scholarly interest, there is another reason for examining the positions of Italian extreme Left militants on Islamism. Italian authorities, in fact, have long harbored the fear of the possibility that the links between the two movements—both of which have the motivation and the capability to use violence inside the country—could extend beyond statements to more material cooperation. The fear is that left-wing militants, feeling isolated, will reach out to any radical movement they might perceive as receptive, and many indications point to radical Islamist groups as their first choice. Officials have already monitored limited contacts between left-wing militants and Islamists, occurring mostly at the margins of anti-war or anti-Israel initiatives. Particularly interesting are the ties being forged between militants of the two movements in Italian prisons, where there has been increasing cooperation in spreading anti-Western propaganda and protesting anti-terrorism and penitentiary regime laws.
Despite their fears, Italian authorities admit they lack concrete evidence of operational ties. In a 2009 interview with Il Giornale, then Interiors undersecretary Alfredo Mantovano stated that there was no evidence of any actual link between Islamist organizations and left-wing militant groups in Italy, but stated that it was “certainly an aspiration” of the latter. Assuming this to be true, it is extremely difficult to predict how different segments of the Islamist movement will react to this overture and if a “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” attitude will overshadow the immense ideological differences between the two movements. It is nonetheless important for both academics and law enforcement officials to track and analyze further the developing relation between Italy’s radical Left and Islamist groups and organizations.