Challenging Multiculturalism: European Models of Diversity

By Raymond Taras | Go to book overview

Chapter Ten
Multiculturalism Italian Style:
Soft or Weak Recognition?

Tiziana Caponio


Introduction

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s theories of immigrants’ integration – whether resting on the premises of multiculturalism, assimilation or universalist inclusion – did not spark much public debate in Italy. Instead the focus was control of borders, illegal immigration and criminality (Sciortino and Colombo 2004). This changed at the turn of the new millennium, when the radicalizing anti-immigrant discourse of the Northern League, together with such dramatic events as terrorist attacks in the US, London and Madrid, provoked a heated debate on the risks of multiculturalism in the context of a supposedly weak Italian identity among intellectuals, religious elites and politicians. Multiculturalism has entered the political agenda and public debate, then, as ‘something to avoid’, notwithstanding the fact that principles of group recognition were discernible in 1990s Italian integration policies at both a national and a local level.

In order to make sense of this apparent paradox, in this chapter I undertake an analysis of immigrant integration policies at different levels of government – national, regional and local – in Italy to find out how group recognition has been understood and framed in these different policymaking contexts. In the first section I look at the 1986 Italian immigration law and then at the 1998 reform, which attempted to strike a balance between groups’ recognition and universal inclusion. The social actors and political parties supporting such a stance will be identified, as well as those endorsing a more assimilationist approach.

The second section deals with the new culturalist turn that emerged in Italian immigrants’ integration policies at the beginning of the 2000s and which has led to the adoption in 2009 of the so-called Integration Agreement. The ‘discovery’ of Italian GreekRoman and Christian-Judaic roots has, ironically, gone hand in hand

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