“I am Giorgia. I am a woman, I am a mother, I am Italian, I am Christian.” A 2019 speech by the new Italian Prime Minister is doing the rounds on social media, and has Right-wingers throwing flowers at her feet. In it, Meloni promises to “defend God, family and nation”, at a time when many feel all three are under threat. “This is truly prophetic stuff. This isn’t merely political, it is apostolic,” said one US commentator this week. This is the source of her appeal.
My first instinct is to cheer along. This is a woman who cites Roger Scruton among her influences: what’s not to like? But things are not as they seem. For me, Meloni says all the right things. And yet she means by them almost the opposite of what they should mean. This is a very dangerous woman.
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On the very same day that Italians were going to the polls to give Meloni a thumping victory, the Vatican was celebrating the church’s “World Day of Migrants and Refugees”. The Holy Father and the new Prime Minister would have a very awkward Bible study session. Where Meloni calls for a full naval blockade of Africa to stop migrants coming to Europe, Jesus says, in St Matthew’s Gospel: “Come unto me all ye that are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.”
Pope Francis explained it thus: “Migrants are to be welcomed, accompanied, promoted and integrated.” This is the Pope whose first official trip outside of Rome, back in July 2013, was to the island of Lampedusa, the southernmost point of Italy, where he met refugees and prayed with them. A few months later, off Lampedusa’s coast, a small boat carrying 500 people seeking sanctuary in Europe caught fire; 311 of them died. Local people came to the help of those who survived. A carpenter named Francesco Tuccio decided to make small crosses out of the boat’s splintered wreckage and give them to the survivors. These Lampedusa Crosses have come to symbolise a very different sort of Christianity from that being espoused by Meloni. She says she “doesn’t understand” the Pope.
And just as Meloni wants to twist Christianity against migrants and those of other faiths — “No to the violence of Islam,” she has said — she also twists the concepts of family and nation to suit her own cruel ideology. I advocate for the family because it is the most successful and versatile nest for mutual support and the nurture of children, regardless of its specific structure. Family doesn’t signify some heteronormative Fifties prison, but — for most of us — a place of love and inclusion, where difference is more successfully tolerated than anywhere else. There are blended families, adopted families, families in which parents have different religions, families where parents are of the same sex. But Meloni would reject many of them. “Yes to natural families, no to the LGBT lobby,” she says.
To add the caveat “natural” to the word “family” is to diminish the potential that the family has for generous re-invention. One of Meloni’s colleagues recently called for an episode of Peppa Pig to be banned because it depicts co-parenting lesbian polar bears sitting down to eat spaghetti together while a little polar bear explains: “I live with my mummy and my other mummy.” This is precisely what it means to be family for some people. Ironically, that episode is called: “Families”. It is not an attack on families but a celebration of them.
And then there’s Meloni’s twisted idea of nation. Even the Labour Party is singing “God save the King” these days, with only the magic grandpa grumbling away that this is “excessively nationalist”. Not that he would think that the NHS is “excessively nationalist”, nor an extensive programme of nationalisation. The concept of nation and its extensions is not the preserve of retired army colonels longing to bring back the days of flogging and national service. But when Meloni mentions the nation, it is hard not to notice its darker undertones. She talks of the threat of “ethnic substitution”, and of the need to defend our “genetic code”.
Here is where things turn nasty. For while the nation is a good thing and, I believe, the epitome of democratic legitimacy, ethnic nationalism is the very essence of fascism. And Meloni knows this: she comes from the birthplace of fascism. Her party grew out of Mussolini’s. And while a party’s past cannot be allowed to determine its present — the Democrats were the most enthusiastic supporters of slavery — such a past should make a political party all the more scrupulous about what it says, especially when discussing race. And especially Jews.
When Meloni repeatedly denounces George Soros as the enemy, and speaks of her resistance to becoming a “perfect slave at the mercy of financial speculators”, she is not just attacking capitalism, she is subtly eliding financial oppression and Jews. The idea of financial speculators preying upon good Christian men and women is one of the oldest antisemitic themes in the book. Saying she supports Israel means little when she’s spouting stuff like this.
At the end of her 2019 speech, Meloni quotes from one of her heroes, G.K. Chesterton. Chesterton called himself a Zionist because he thought getting Jews to go to Israel was a good way of ridding them from Europe. He believed that “19th-century capitalism was essentially usury, hence anti-Christian, and the prominence of Jews in high finance merely underlined that capitalism was alien to Christian culture,” as leading Chesterton expert Professor Colin Holmes explains. Like Chesterton, Meloni still sees Jews as the merchants of Venice, seeking their pound of flesh from decent, hard-working Christians.
As someone who passionately believes in family, faith and flag, it saddens me to see these concepts used as dog-whistles for some sort of racial and cultural superiority. Properly understood, these are all inclusive virtues, but they have been twisted out of all recognition by the unscrupulous addressing the fearful. Which is why it is all the more important that family, faith and flag are defended — and not just from the sneering Left. They need to be defended just as much from the divisive fixations of the ideological Right.