An Italian aid worker and kidnap victim has been subjected to a wave of abusive criticism by the country’s right wing after her return home from captivity was broadcast on national television.
Silvia Romano, who works for the Italian charity Africa Milele Onlus, was seized by gunmen from a small rural hotel in Kilifi Country, south-eastern Kenya, in 2018 and later taken to Somalia. It is thought that the attack was carried out by the Islamist fascist group Al shabaab, however no organisation has yet claimed responsibility.
After months of negotiations, the 25-year-old’s release was negotiated by Italian intelligence services working with their Turkish counterparts and, on Sunday, she arrived in Rome.
She was greeted by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Foreign Minster Luigi Di Maio. In her neighbourhood in Milan, church bells saluted her arrival, with many people on their balconies. “I was strong, and resisted,” Romano was quoted by Italian newspapers as saying after her release.
However, images showing her clothing and appearance as she left the airport triggered criticism by the right-wing press, which began attacking Ms Romano from the moment she returned home from her ordeal, as it was revealed that she had converted to Islam in her captivity and was wearing a hooded garment typical of the region she had been held for the past 25 months.
Director of right-wing newspaper Libero, Vittorio Feltri, tweeted that by allegedly paying for her release, the Italian government was funding her “friends” and financing terrorists.
“Paying the ransom for Silvia means financing Islamic terrorists. Who are friends of the girl who became Muslim.” Feltri tweeted.
For her part, Ms Romano had told news site Open that her conversion to Islam had been “spontaneous” and without coercion.
“I converted to Islam. But it was my free choice, there was no compulsion on the part of the kidnappers who always treated me with humanity,” she said.
Italy’s far-right Lega Nord Party deputy Alessandro Pagano called Romano “the new terrorist” in a Lower House session Wednesday.
A politician from the province of Treviso posted on Facebook that Romano should be hanged. The post was swiftly removed.
“Islamic and happy. Silvia the ungrateful,” said the front-page headline of right-wing daily Il Giornale on Monday.
After Italian media reported that their government paid a ransom of 1.5 million euros to secure Romano’s release, (a claim unconfirmed by their foreign office) Matteo Salvini, leader of the far-right Lega Nord party said, “Imagine the Islamic terrorists: They have brought home the money, committing a criminal act, and ‘won’ the cultural battle in the name of the Islamic veil and conversion.”
If there was some kind of cultural battle between Italy and Somalia, it would not have been started by the Somalis. Italian troops first came to Somalia in the 1880s. They went on to colonise the south of the country, which they held until their defeat in WW2, using the colony to stage their genocidal incursions into neighbouring Libya and Ethiopia under Mussolini. Through the 1980s the Italian government poured aid money into the former colony on vast, wasteful, and often useless construction projects around the country, contracting Italian companies at great public expense who would in turn provide huge kickbacks to the officials. The scandal was exposed by the Italian Green Party at the outbreak of the civil war, revealing how reckless projects implemented without any consideration to local populations increased social tensions which descended into tribal conflict. (See the article below for more info)
Italy sent troops to Somalia in the ensuing chaos in 1993 as part of the US-led mission. They were plagued with various allegations of abuse until their withdrawal, some of which came to light in 1997, when photos taken by some of their elite forces were published in the international press, showing shocking images of Italian soldiers torturing naked Somalis with electrodes and raping a woman with a flare gun. No action was taken against the soldiers. (See the article below for more info)
Since the UN withdrawal from Somalia and after the most acute phase of the civil war was over, a new power has been working to colonise it. Turkey was among the first states to resume diplomatic relations with Somalia after the most acute phase of the civil war, and the first to resume flights to Mogadishu. Over the past decade, Turkish Islamist NGOs have been the bridgehead used by Turkish president Erdogan to expand his influence abroad and build his Neo-Ottoman empire . In 2011, humanitarian aid was the opening of the road to Somalia for Turkey’s businesses, armed forces and secret services: basic necessities, medicines, light construction, field hospitals. Then came the participation in the reconstruction. Today, in addition to the airport of the capital, Turkish companies also operate the main seaport. In 2017, a huge Turkish training centre for Somali troops was inaugurated. The largest Turkish embassy currently exists in Somalia, and headlines were made across the world at the start of this year when the Somali government “invited” Turkey to explore its vast and untapped offshore waters for oil. Erdogan is also using Somalia, as the Italians did before him, as a staging ground for expansion further into the Horn of Africa, making a deal with the new regime in Sudan to build a giant Turkish military base on the island of Suakin. To the north, they have begun a military incursion into Libya in an attempt to force the GNA and the Islamist fascist Muslim brotherhood into power.
From the Balkans to Syria, from Libya to Somalia, the Erdogan regime spreads its influence and power by coopting the Muslim faith to support his Neo-Ottoman machinations. He styles himself as the defender of Palestine while buying and selling weapons with Israel. And wherever the Turkish fascist army goes, Isis and their offshoots are nearby.
In 2018, Turkey was the third best customer of the Italian arms industry, after its allies Qatar and Pakistan. They spent a total of 632.3m Euros on Italian weaponry, and that figure rose again in 2019. Italian arms company Beretta has opened its own factory in Turkey, and since 2010 they have built hundreds of T129 ATAK helicopters for the Turkish military, some of which were seen deployed against civilians in the invasion of Syria.
As the Italian press and right wing focus their energy on attacking a young aid worker who has survived an incredible ordeal, those who stand against fascism, be it Italian or Islamic, must remember that it does not exist without the complicity and support of our governments.
One Italian activist, Domenico, who fought against Isis with the YPG in Raqqa had this to say:
“Browse some recent history pages and learn about what the “glorious” operation of the Italian military in Somalia really was.
You will also surely learn that in the only military operation (if it can be defined as such) carried out in that mission culminated in a heavy firefight where your “heroes” brought home a huge mess that had to be solved with a secret negotiation with the enemy to regain (or repurchase) the “pasta” check point in the city of Mogadishu, lost during the firefight. A negotiation that led our American “allies” to consider the Italian contingent unreliable in future operations.
The first details of the operation tell us that Silvia’s release was obtained thanks to the work of Turkish Secret Service.
That the Turks share with the jihadists enough to arrange the liberation of prisoners should not surprise us. Let us be surprised (if we are really naive) that in recent years the Italian government has supplied with weapons and (indirectly) helicopters the same jihadists right through the Turkish government, with economic agreements linked to the military sector.
Rant all you want about Silvia’s choices, if all of yours have been perfect.
Any ransom is very little stuff compared to the knowledge that you are complicit with your governments in the existence of humanitarian tragedies that someone like Silvia takes the trouble to try to stem.
I think we should all thank Silvia and those who like her do what they can against an enemy that is too big.”
Silvia Romano’s father, Enzo, was interviewed on Sunday after learning of his daughter’s release
“I am literally bursting with joy at this moment. But it is hard even only to think, please let me breathe. I need to withstand the shock, happiness is so big that it is exploding”