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Gentiloni: “IS a serious threat. Europe must do more for persecuted Christians” (Avvenire)

Gentiloni: “IS a serious threat. Europe must do more for persecuted Christians” (Avvenire)

Real terrorism risk in Italy also

by Arturo Celletti


The threat of terrorism exists. It is real. But careful not to equate Islam or immigrants with terrorism.

Paolo Gentiloni pauses a moment to think, then underscores those two points even more clearly. Point one: Beware of criminalizing Islam, the time has come for interfaith encounter and dialogue”.

Point two: “Anyone who leads Italians to believe that the boats arriving on our coasts are full of terrorists does violence to the truth and creates a deep cultural wound”. The foreign minister speaks with us for 70 minutes about persecuted Christians and the fight against terrorism; of the need to intervene in Libya and sanctions against Russia; of Cuba and a changing world. He then steers the conversation onto the economy and warns the EU: let’s take a lesson from Obama, it’s time for growth and investments.

We are at the Farnesina and it’s just gone noon. Gentiloni has just received the Italian ambassador in Delhi to discuss the lengthy negotiations regarding the Marines. The minister’s message is firm, but without rigidity or ultimatums.

“We were deeply disappointed by the Supreme Court’s 16 December decision. Yes, disappointed because our contacts and dialogue with the Indian government have not produced the expected results”. Gentiloni thinks of Massimiliano Latorre, who is in Italy due to illness and who India wants to have back; and of Salvatore Girone, who is still in India and was denied  permission to spend the holidays at home. “The government has the duty to express the solidarity of the entire country with these two Marines, with their families, and especially during the holidays”, repeats the minister who, after he spoke with the Italian ambassador, decided to send a message to the Indian government. “We hear talk of open dialogue from the various parts of the Indian government but, frankly, we expect rapid and tangible results. Because after what happened ten days ago we can no longer be satisfied with generic references to dialogue. I repeat: we consider the decision very serious, not least because the requests denied were made on the basis of humanitarian concerns. And our disappointment led to recalling our ambassador in Delhi to Italy”. Another pause, “This does not mean that we have interrupted contact or that diplomatic relations have been severed; but serves as a demonstration of our discontent and gives us the space to consider our next moves”. 

Mr. Minister, Christians around the world continue to be persecuted, but governments have failed to provide a resolute response.

Christians under attack is one of the tragic emergencies of our times, and there is a very real risk that aggression is intensifying against Christian minorities precisely in the places where Christianity was born. There is a desire to do something, a reawakening  of Western parliaments’ and governments’ awareness, but that’s not enough. More can be done, more must be done. We have to reflect on the words of Pope Francis and realise that there is a humanitarian emergency that is demanding strong and immediate responses. I have just returned from Iraq, from Kurdistan, and the images of what I saw are still vivid; deep consideration must be given to the viciousness of the terrorists and their actions and to forming a clearer and more united anti-Daesh front.   

Military commitment as well… 
Yes, also military. The anti-IS coalition has secured results on the level of security and on the humanitarian plane. Without such interventions the Yazidis would have been annihilated and the Christian minorities of the Nineveh Plains wiped out. There is a link between humanitarian objectives and the struggle against terrorism, and a broad awareness that without the coalition’s intervention the humanitarian tragedy would have been catastrophic.

Therefore, Italy is proud to be part of it. 
Italy participates in the coalition by supplying weaponry and training to the Kurdish Peshmerga as well as reconnaissance flights. We are not involved in combat, but take part in what is going to be a long-standing challenge to contain an unprecedented terrorist threat. That group has appropriated a religion – Islam – and is occupying vast territories, kidnapping and raping women and murdering whoever refuses to adopt their political and religious creed. It is the first time that such cruel terrorists have tried to form a State, and is a threat to be met with the military option but also with the weapon of interfaith dialogue: this appropriation of Islam must be stopped.

Do the Italian left understand the need for this military option? 
The left understand the duty to be involved, to do something and to not delegate our security to others. We are one of the Western nations most engaged on UN peacekeeping missions, and this because of our deep conviction. We are ready to be present in Libya too; to do our part. That country is on the verge of collapse and if the UN asks us to we will send in our troops. It is increasingly necessary to advance the idea that dealing with the world’s problems, with the wars and migration phenomena that surround us, is not a luxury or an idealistic dream but an indispensable requirement.

If I may insist, Mr. Minister: the Italian left… 
The PD is on board, understand? Then perhaps there are some smaller parties that continue to examine the world through 20th century glasses, but the world continues to change. The 9th of November was the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall; and only ten days ago U.S.-Cuba relations began to warm thanks both to Obama and the realism of the Cuban leadership –– but also, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry explained to me, to the decisive intervention of the Holy See. When I think of two events so charged with meaning I think it would be better to leave last century’s glasses in the drawer.

What page does this Cuba-U.S. rapprochement open? 
It turns the page of inter-American cold war to one of a world with a little more peace. The most delicate moment in the U.S.-Soviet clash took place over half a century ago in Cuba. Today, with the simplicity of President Obama’s words, with that somos todos Americanos, and with the Argentine Pope’s contribution, the hope is to once and for all put years of tension and conflict behind us.

What is the difference between right and left in foreign policy? 
The right imagines a sort of autarchic insulation and demonizes immigration, maintaining that, despite its over 8,000 kilometres of coastline, Italy can seal itself within its borders. The left imagines building peace where there is war; it is the left that spurs those tens of thousands of volunteers around the world, and the awareness that, while the migration phenomenon needs to be regulated, it also represents an opportunity for our society, not a threat.

And, as you said, there is no link between immigrants and terrorism

Our security services are on the alert in all directions but, and I repeat, migrants must not be confused with terrorists. Of course, the threat is real and our guard must be kept high. We know that dozens of young Italians have been lured by the IS, and we are aware of the risk of the return of these combatants to Europe and Italy. The risk is ours too.

Russia is another cause for concern… 

Europe must watch the Mediterranean very closely, but the serious violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty opened a wound along its northeast flank that needs tending to. The sanctions are a necessary evil, but we must not fool ourselves that such a wound can be treated with sanctions alone. They must be accompanied by a door open to dialogue with Russia: this is the only way by which, beyond the display of firmness, the balance can be reset. I do not, in other words, believe in a Europe limited to handing out sanctions, not least because sanctions also have negative economic fallout. There needs to be dialogue, and a political way out. Naturally, we are still a long way from implementing the Minsk accords, but the Russians must know that the sanctions are reversible if the accords are implemented and Ukraine sovereignty is respected.

The U.S. economy is bouncing back, but Europe is still limping. 
Everyone is waiting for the EU to find a route different to the one of recent years. That the world’s largest economic area has such a modest growth rate is worrying the citizens and the unemployed of Europe, but also governments the world over. It is expected that Europe will truly make the leap from rigour to growth and begin to take a chance on investments.

But not very much was done during the Italian EU presidency. Don’t you agree? 
No, I don’t. A new path was blazed: for the first time in ten years the objectives of growth and investments were introduced among the priorities of the European agenda. This is a highly symbolic, albeit still limited, result. The Juncker Plan is not the Marshall Plan. But after decades of rigour alone, is has finally become clear that Europe’s problem is Europe, not this or that individual country, and that the solution is growth, jobs and investments.

Do you believe in a change in the EU? 
The Union is going to undergo a long period of political confrontation and battle. There is still a noteworthy and understandable rigidity: German public opinion is worried it will have to pay the debts of others but, with the reforms, we have earned enough credibility to be able to tell Europe to separate investments in major infrastructures from the deficit. That 3% will not be touched this year. We have been very scrupulous and we did well to be, but we are expecting new results in the coming months: the problem is not breaching the threshold but creating the margins to invest in growth.