Friday, November 16, 2012

Fighting on the Side of the Angels

Italo-Canadian internees at Camp Petawawa
An unpleasant thought often sneaks into my consciousness when I think about radical elements in the Islamic community who have engaged in extreme violence abroad ... where are the moderate voices within the Islamic community who are condemning these acts? Where are those who are brave enough to fight on the side of the angels?

Thomas Friedman, The New York Times Foreign Affairs columnist, has been very diligent in highlighting where those voices are in the Middle East and abroad ... Imad al-Din Hussein, a columnist for Al Shorouk, Cairo’s best daily newspaper; Mohammad Taqi, the liberal Pakistani columnist; Khaled al-Hroub, a professor at Cambridge University; and, Egyptian comedian Bassem Youssef, which you may read about here.

What is preventing more moderate elements from speaking out here in Canada and the U.S.? Are we merely not aware of these voices? Is the media failing to highlight them? Or is it fear of retribution? Is it a worry that they are exposing already vulnerable kinsmen to potential abuse and violence?

Another thought disturbs me - how would the Italo-Canadian community fair in comparable circumstances? Based on past historical evidence, we would not do so well. During the 1930s and 1940s when the specter of Fascism loomed and threatened democratic values in Europe, the community of recently arrived immigrants  from Italy often flocked to defend Mussolini, his methods and his imperialist ambitions.

The Toronto Fascio Principe Umberto, a fascist club, attracted the elite of the business and cultural community with a compulsory oath: "I swear to execute without discussion the order of the Duce [Benito Mussolini] and to serve with all my strength and if necessary my blood the cause of the Fascist Revolution."(1)

When Toronto Star publisher Joseph E. Atkinson condemned Fascism and Italy's imperialistic foray into Ethiopia, he was helpfully sent a bottle of castor oil. For those who don't know the historical significance of such an action: castor oil was often administered by Italian Fascists to dissidents. It caused severe diarrhea, dehydration and sometimes lead to death.

Emilio Goggio, Chair of the department of Italian and Spanish at the University of Toronto from 1946 to 1956, was "briefly jailed in Toronto for having expressed an early, mistaken sympathy for Benito Mussolini, though he was soon released through the efforts of the university."(2)

Liborio Lattoni, poet and Methodist pastor based in Montreal, who held a prestigious position within the Sons of Italy permitted both the "Roman salute" (here read Fascist) and the playing of the Fascist anthem Giovinezza during its meetings.(3)

Vancouver's Fiorvante (Frank) Tenisci promoted Fascism through his articles, speeches and letters to newspapers as well as organizing conferences promulgating Fascism.(4)

UofT Student Frank Molinaro accused the Toronto Star of racism in not supporting Italy's foray into Ethiopia in a letter to the newspaper. He claimed that the British in particular were hypocritical due to their historical colonial conquests.(5) He also defended anti-Semitic screeds prepared by Fascist university professors in Italy leading up to the war.(6)

We did not tread carefully and made a a terrible errors in judgment. We responded to old loyalties, some of them twisted and evil. A regard for the homeland came to represent a loyalty to the murderous thug who controlled Italy at the time. We paid a price for it ... 700 Italo-Canadians were interned at Camp Petawawa for real or alleged sympathy with Fascism during WWII. But ... contrast this with the internment of 22,000 Japanese Canadian, most of whom were born here - including my mother-in-law and father-in-law who were children at the time. Their crime? Being of Japanese descent and therefore suspected of treason.

I honestly hope that the sensible people of the Muslim faith will step forward and condemn the escalation of violence - it's not just about preserving peace for those who do not embrace the Muslim faith, it's about preserving peace for those that do. 

Further Reading
Some new books that might interest you about the internment:  
Behind Barbed Wire: Creative Works on the Internment of Italian Canadians (Guernica Editions, 2012) edited by Licia Canton, Domenic Cusmano, Michael Mirolla, Jim Zucchero

Beyond Barbed Wire: Essays on the Internment of Italian Canadians (Guernica Editions, 2012) edited by Licia Canton, Domenic Cusmano, Michael Mirolla, Jim Zucchero

(1) Enemies Within: Italian and Other Internees in Canada and Abroad by Franca Iacovetta, Roberto Perin, Angelo Principe  (UofT Press Inc., 2000)

(2) "Helping Hands", UofT Magazine, Spring 2004
(3) The Darkest Side of the Fascist Years: The Italian-Canadian Press, 1920-1942 by Angelo Principe (Guernica Editions, 1999)
(4) ibid
(5) ibid
(6) It's All About War: Canadian Opinion and the Canadian Approach to International Relations, 1935-1939” by Heather Metcalfe, Ph.D. Thesis, Department of History, University of Toronto, 2009 


Al Maggi said...

You're mixing issues. Yes, good people need to be braver, but some people just align themselves with Mussolini and the like because they're just not good.

A Lit Chick said...

Perhaps ... however, my main point is that we, as an ethnic group, need to be more tolerant of the dilemma that people of the Muslim faith are in. In times of crisis, we were not particularly good and separating national allegiance to a country/ culture from the support of violent and destructive philosophies within that culture.