by Jeff Israely
(PNS) ROME --
he is under fire in New York because of February's
shooting death of an unarmed African immigrant, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani is
fast becoming a national hero in Italy.
The mayor's name -- it is also the name of a popular brand of antacid here -- began buzzing across Italy after a series of street murders in Milan sparked a nationwide crime scare.
In this version of the search for new answers across the Atlantic, Italians are discovering "tolleranza zero." With the mayor of Milan traveling to New York City for a photo-op, and opposition members of Parliament calling for crackdowns in Italian cities, all this suggests another facet to our American-led age of globalization.
For Italian media outlets -- not to mention politicians touting Giuliani's policies -- it was at the very least inconvenient to deal with the news that New York police officers fired 41 bullets at Guinea native Amadou Diallo on February 4. Only after a week of uproar in New York, did a few stories on the controversy appear here, most of them with a tone of "this won't stop the mayor from taking care of business..."
Like most imports from the U.S., zero tolerance has been consumed in Italy with the zest -- and indigestion -- of a trip to MacDonald's. The notion of "Finding America" goes beyond Columbus and Giuliani's parents to the idea of making Italy a better place, where the trains run on time and the government isn't out to rob you blind.
The end of the Cold War and apparent invincibility of the U.S. economic model have accelerated this idea -- English is a job requirement, "manager" is a job title, and the American way is treasured like costly spice.
in Milan -- nine in the first 9 days of January -- led Mayor
Gabriele Albertini, who calls Giuliani "my role model," to speak of public
safety in worn Rudy-esque aphorisms. "If we tolerate, we are condemned to
suffer the intolerance of others." Albertini and other mayors have asked for
the authority to impose zero tolerance in his city.
But Italy's centralized law enforcement system simply doesn't permit that type of local control, as Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema told members of the media. "Mayor Giuliani hires all the officers, pays their salaries, raises taxes if they need more police. You can't apply a piece of a system on a completely different reality."
What will remain of "tolleranza zero?" The words themselves have taught Italy's politicians that talking tough on crime is a quick way to win support and put opponents on their heels, whatever the facts.
Perhaps more to the point, Italians, like New Yorkers, must begin asking themselves for whom and what they have no tolerance. At anti-crime rallies following the murders, there were clear messages that, for some, tolerance for Italy's steadily growing immigrant population is nearing zero.
People have been coming here in recent years from Albania, Nigeria, China, and elsewhere, for the same reasons southern Italians went to the U.S. at the turn of the century -- jobs, an education for their children, a better life.
Umberto Bossi, who heads the Northern League party, openly declared "We do not want a multi-ethnic Italy!" recently at a rally announcing a referendum to strictly limit immigration. These and similar cries in France and Germany are rooted in centuries-old regional suspicions.
But a new danger comes when such ideas manage to find fuel from places like New York, and are legitimized by the image of American efficiency and seriousness.
The United States has the experience to teach the world what happens when different peoples live on the same land -- and the lessons that Europe decides to heed say as much for the future as the adoption of any economic model.
For the United States itself, the zero tolerance hoopla in Italy should provide a new perspective for assessing domestic policy. It is not without irony that the latest bit of America to be eaten up in Italy is embodied in Giuliani, the son of Italian immigrants, whose policies have many of today's immigrants running scared; likewise it may stand as an ominous symbol that Amadou Diallo might have just as well chosen to follow his dreams of a better life to Rome or Milan, instead of the South Bronx.
March 29, 1999 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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