Two rallies were held in Milan this last Saturday, both in the same quarter of the city and both beginning at the same hour. In both, organizers yelled impassionedly into microphones from the flatbeds of slow moving utes, encouraging those in assembly to condemn those who would accept fascism.
What differed were their mission statements. One, organized by the Palestinian Community of Lombardy, the Young Palestinians of Italy, the Arab-Palestinian Democracy Union, and the Italian Association of Palestinians, sought “the liberation of Palestine and a stop to the genocide”. The other, organized by members of La Lega and others on the political far-right, called for a “defense of the West, its rights, its security, its peace, and its freedoms.”*
The rally I’d attended closed out at Piazza Missori. There, someone with a projector was casting an image clipped from the news onto the facade of the Palazzo dell’INPS. It showed Giorgia Meloni, current prime minister and long time fascionista it-girl of the Brothers of Italy, shaking hands with the perennial prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu. Was I still at the right rally? Was the picture meant to inspire jeers and condemnation, or was it meant to inspire stiff-backed support? Where is John Berger when you need him?
In his short essay, "On Vigilance," Berger reflects on the written and unwritten codes of conduct at his local municipal pool. “The wearing of bathing caps is obligatory,” though “if you accidentally touch another swimmer whilst passing him or her, you offer an apology.”** Floating on his back, Berger recalls recent newspaper reports describing the massacre of Palestinians in their homes, the deployment of soldiers to an illegal war in Iraq, and the cruelties being meted out by the so-called Islamic State. Sometimes our duty to think of others is mandated, sometimes we apologize for having touched.
I’d just reproduce the whole essay here if it weren’t a little long and protected by copyright. Instead I will share the contents of a text message from my dad, sent on the 13th of October.
There is nothing new here.
I think S&S*** happened in 1982. I remember I was working in a factory in Ponte San Pietro near Bergamo. In the morning I saw the manager, very nice man, he helped me a lot when we needed it most. He was talking to the foreman about Grace of Monaco having died in a car accident. They were very sad about it.
S&S happened the same day.
When I brought it up they shrugged and said that is them in that part of the world. If you think about these things you go mad. This is the way of so-called humans. From the beginning the Romans did it, Chengiz Khan did it, the Brits did it, the Belgians did it, the Spanish, Germans, Catholics, Muslims. Everybody has either done it or will do it if they get the chance.
He followed the message with another, this one containing the penultimate couplet of a poem written by first century AD poet Rudaki, in which the prophet Isaa (who shares my father’s name) reflects on our propensity for the senseless.
چون تیغ به دست آری، مردم نتوان کشت
نزدیک خداوند بدی نیست فرامشت
این تیغ نه از بهر ستمکاران کردند
انگور نه از بهر نبیذ است به چرخشت
عیسی به رهی دید یکی کشته فتاده
حیران شد و بگرفت به دندان سر انگشت
گفتا که: که را کشتی تا کشته شدی زار؟
تا باز که او را بکشد؟ آن که تو را کشت
انگشت مکن رنجه به در کوفتن کس
تا کس نکند رنجه به در کوفتنت مشت
The blade you have in hand cannot kill men
Remember that are no ills in God’s sphere
The blade was not forged so that you could do harm
So that you might twist it as thoughtlessly as a grape plucked for wine
Along a road, Jesus came upon the body of a man deceased
Stunned, He bit down on His hand
He asked “who did you kill, such that you would be killed in vengeance?
Who will now be killed such that you might be avenged?
If you had not knocked at their door
They would not have known a fist”
**Berger, John. 2016. Confabulations. Penguin UK. pp. 67-68
*** Sabra and Shatila.