Italian Magazine Tries to Narrow Gap With Muslims

April 4, 2009

Author: Elisabetta Povoledo

Source: The New York Times

On one side of a drab street in working-class Milan, a squat structure houses a conservative mosque that was once believed to be a hub of radical Islam in Italy. Even now, after a government crackdown drove off extremists, the mosque’s deeply conservative members remain mostly aloof from Italian society.

Across the street, the newsroom of Yalla Italia (Let’s Go, Italy) churns out a magazine written by “2Gs” — or second-generation immigrants — that tries to introduce Italians to the cultures of its new residents and to help young Muslim immigrants navigate their dual identities.

The message behind articles and blog posts like “To wear or not to wear a burkini?” and “How to match kaftans with jeans” is clear: it is possible to assimilate without losing a Muslim identity.

“We’re separated by 10 meters, but culturally we’re centuries apart,” said Martino Pillitteri, Yalla Italia’s chief editor. He said he saw the differences between his mission and that of Muslim conservatives as symbolic of the divide in Italy’s Muslim population — “one vision driving toward the past, the other driving toward the future,” he said.

Mr. Pillitteri said he decided to start the magazine because he believed that the Italian media presented a very one-dimensional view of Muslims: one that was often negative and too frequently focused on radicals and suspected terrorists.

The magazine’s articles are rarely political, although it has taken on some causes, including championing changes in laws to make the children of immigrants citizens automatically if they are born in Italy, rather than requiring them to apply for citizenship after 18 years of residence.

Most of the articles focus on how Italy’s Muslims live and interact with non-Muslim Italians, covering such topics as mixed marriages and the conflict between the older, less assimilated generation of immigrants and their often more open children.

Mr. Pillitteri likes to say that Yalla Italia’s staff is the medium as well as the message. Most of the reporters are women, some of them traditional enough to wear head scarves, and nearly all work during the few hours a week they snatch from their university studies or day jobs. Some came to Italy as children, others were born here of mixed marriages, still others came to study and married.