Italy's new conservative government is poised to initiate a long-overdue pushback against Islamism and the uncontrolled mass migration that feeds it. Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and senior members of her cabinet have long warned of the danger posed by Islamic separatism in Italy, the third-largest country in the European Union. If the new government follows through with its campaign promises to fight Islamism and Islamization, Italy could become a key part of a growing anti-Islamist vanguard that is gaining traction across Europe.
Meloni, leader of the national-conservative Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d'Italia, FdI) party, was sworn into office on October 22 after winning the general election on September 25. She will lead a coalition government that includes former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's center-right Forward Italy (Forza Italia) party and former interior minister Matteo Salvini's populist League (Lega) party. Meloni, Berlusconi and Salvini are well known for their opposition to illegal immigration.
Legacy media outlets in Europe and the United States have variously portrayed Meloni as a "fascist," a "neo-fascist," and a "post-fascist." She counters that she is a traditional conservative. "There is no place for those nostalgic for fascism, racism or antisemitism, which are light years away from our DNA," she said in an interview with the Italian television channel Rete 4. "We have no need for fascist nostalgia, which useful idiots of the left use to mobilize their electorate."
Speaking to The Washington Post, Meloni explained that her party's conservative values prioritize "individual freedom, private enterprise, educational freedom, the centrality of family and its role in our society, the protection of borders from unchecked immigration, and defense of the Italian national identity."
Brothers of Italy, which Meloni founded in 2012, advocates for restoring the "classical and Judeo-Christian roots of Europe." The party's electoral platform emphasizes the need to defend Italy's "cultural identity" and "national cohesion" and calls for "a strong political change" to "fight against irregular immigration" and "Islamic fundamentalism."
Meloni recently summarized her party's political philosophy: "Yes to universal Christian values, no to Islamist violence. Yes to safe borders, no to mass migration. Yes to our civilization and no to those who want to destroy it."
During the campaign, Meloni repeatedly drew attention to the link between mass migration and the spread of Islamism in Italy. She pledged to clamp down on mass migration by implementing a "naval blockade" to prevent "illegal departures" to Italy from North Africa. Many migrants are being systematically transported to Italy by left-wing non-governmental organizations and people-trafficking mafias. More than one million mostly Muslim migrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East arrived on Italian shores during the past decade, according to the UN Refugee Agency.
"Borders exist only if you defend them," Meloni said in an August 2022 interview with The Spectator, a British news magazine. "Otherwise, they do not exist. I believe that the big challenge today globally, not only in Italy, is between those who defend identity and those who do not."
Meloni has opposed efforts by left-wing parties in Italy to offer blanket citizenship to immigrants. One such measure, "Ius Scholae" ("Right to School"), proposed granting automatic citizenship to all foreign minors in Italy after they complete five years of school. The bill would allow more than one million foreign minors in Italy (approximately 12% of the resident population, according to the Italian National Institute of Statistics) to obtain citizenship without having to wait until they reach 18 years of age. Crucially, it would change the path to Italian citizenship from Ius Sanguinis (citizenship based on bloodline) to Ius Scholae (citizenship based on education). Until now, Italian citizenship is acquired if at least one parent is an Italian citizen.
As president of the European Conservatives and Reformists Party, a transnational political party operating at the European level, Meloni has given institutional support to an initiative by lawmakers at the European Parliament to force the European Union to stop financing Islamist groups. "Violence and terrorism are born and thrive in the extremist Islamist ideology that is spread throughout Europe undisturbed," she warned. "It is Europe's duty to ensure freedom, security and respect for the rights that are the basis of our culture and identity."
In July 2022, Meloni criticized the European Union's decision to feature a woman wearing a hijab during a debate on European values. "The Islamic veil in no way represents a European value," she wrote. "In Europe, after centuries of battles, women have freed themselves from symbols of submission like these and we have no intention of giving up our conquests in the name of political correctness that is dear to the left. Do European feminists have nothing to say?"
Meloni has also warned about efforts by Islamic governments to spread Islamism in Italy and other European countries. In January 2021, after it emerged that former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi had received more than one million euros from Saudi Arabia for lobbying fees, Meloni warned that foreign influence operations carried out by some Muslim countries were enabling the spread of Islamic fundamentalism in Italy.
The Saudi payments to Renzi raised questions about whether the recent "Italy-Qatar Education Cooperation Agreement," which allows Qatar to promote Islam in Italy, was the result of payments to Italian politicians.
Meloni has singled out Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan due to his efforts to spread Islamism in Europe. Speaking at a recent conference on Italy-Turkey bilateral relations, Meloni warned that Erdoğan is "the bearer of political Islam" and is promoting "cultural separatism" among Turks and other Muslims in Europe. "The problem is not Islam itself," she said, "but the political use of Islam and the indirect support for jihadist groups."
Meloni is opposed to Turkey becoming a member of the European Union because Erdoğan's "Neo-Ottoman vision" is "incompatible" with European values. "It is no coincidence that Brothers of Italy believes that Turkey, in terms of history, geography and culture, is not part of Europe as we understand it," she said. "The time has come to definitively revoke Turkey's status as a candidate country for EU membership and say no, once and for all, to Turkey's entry into Europe."
It remains unclear how much the Meloni government will be able to achieve in its fight against Islamism. Italian political commentators note that Italy currently faces multiple internal and external crises that will consume the Meloni government's time and attention.
In her first address to parliament as prime minister, Meloni vowed to stop illegal immigration as a first step. "Immigration must be controlled," she said. "This government will stop illegal departures from North Africa and break up human trafficking." In his first day as interior minister, Matteo Piantedosi prohibited several ships carrying migrants from North Africa from entering Italian waters. Salvini, Italy's new infrastructure minister, praised Piantedosi. "This government will enforce the borders," he said.