‘Us v. Them’: the Strategic Use of Religion in Far-right Parties

The Contradictory Use of Religion in Salvini’s Lega Nord

It has been widely agreed by researchers that Matteo Salvini has greatly influenced the Lega Nord party during his mandate as party’s secretary. In the past, Lega Nord used to focus its hatred rhetoric on Southern Italians. Now, especially after the migration crisis, the party has found its new enemies: immigrants, particularly if they are Muslim. 

The perfect background for such a rhetoric

Indeed, the migration crisis that started in 2013 heavily influenced the political rhetoric of far-right parties in Italy, as they started emphasising their anti-migration stances more than ever. The crisis was perceived as a problem throughout the country, as Italy was one of the European nations most affected by it. Nevertheless, it must be noted that this wasn’t the only factor that contributed to the ‘us versus them’ rhetoric.

For example, between 2013 and 2015 various Italian newspapers — such as Il Giornale and Libero — contributed to the diffusion of anti-migrant sentiment among Italians by portraying the migration crisis as an invasion. Similarly, despite the fact that the majority of migrants arrived to Italy via legal routes, images of desperate people clinging precariously to boats became the defining image of the migration crisis in that period, because of the associations made between immigration and irregularity, illegality, and abuse. As a consequence, all these factors favoured the spread of the strong anti-migration positions promoted by Lega Nord.

If you want to learn more about how media and social media can help far-right parties in spreading their word, click here to be re-directed to another blog that focuses on this!

“Stop the invasion”

Islam as the perfect counterpart

In recent years Lega Nord has been continuously stating that the presence of Muslim immigrants has negative effects on Italy, specifically because of the differences that lay between Christianity and Islam. Salvini has often tried to depict all immigrants as extremists or, even worst, terrorists. He has done so by arguing that Islam is a dangerous religion and that millions of Muslims all over Europe are ready to kill in the name of Islam. The party has also strongly fought against the presence of mosques in Italy, claiming that Muslims prioritise their religious beliefs over the respect of rules. Indeed, this false statements have been fostering Islamophobia and have contributed to the anti-immigration propaganda that represents a core point in Lega Nord’s agenda. 

This phenomenon of religious ‘othering‘ is not new at all and it is not exclusive to the case of Italy. Countries such as Denmark and France are observing the same anti-Islam rhetoric in their local far-right parties. This is also because these parties often argue that it’s a common priority for all far-right parties of Europe to be united together in forming a strong front against Muslim immigrants — that, again, are considered possible terrorists. Far-right parties are no longer advocating a complete withdrawal from the European Union; instead, they are coming together to promote a new vision of Europe, founded on defending the Christian civilisation.

“Who would have thought. In a few days, blood was shed first in Norway and then in Great Britain. Is fascism the enemy in Italy and Europe in 2021? No, Islamic terrorism is.”

The double-sided use of Christianity

Christianity has been largely used by Salvini in his political discourse: he often holds the rosary when giving speeches and various times he has cited the Bible in his political statements. He accused mainstream parties of failing in protecting Europeans and their borders, portraying Lega Nord as the last hope for a Christian civilisation to survive in Europe. In Warsaw, he quoted John Paul II to praise family values and call for a return to Europe’s Judeo-Christian roots.

At the same time, when the Pope urged to keep the ports open so that migrants could enter Italy, Salvini disagreed. He argued that he would have only taken advice from the Italian people, not from a bishop. Moreover, when a priest criticised him and accused him and Lega Nord of racism and fascism, Salvini immediately answered on social media “perhaps the priest prefers smugglers, slaveholders and terrorists?

“To protect and defend our Italy, our values, our culture, our identity and our freedom.”

The outcomes of this rhetoric

In conclusion, it is clear that Christianity is often used by Lega Nord to attract new voters, rather than for its core values. Indeed, it is questionable whether this strategy is effective, as it has been shown by various researchers that this kind of rhetoric by far-right parties doesn’t usually convince the Christian electorate. Conversely, their use of religion often repulses religious voters.

Nevertheless, it must be noted that not every scholar agrees. Weiqian Xia claims that Christian religiosity does not serve as an ‘antidote’ to the far-right, and that tolerance towards immigrants and pro-social values are rarely the factors pushing European Christians away from supporting these parties. He also believes that a small minority of the Christian electorate votes such parties, and that if we didn’t have Christian parties more religious voters would then vote for far-right parties, considering the similarities between the moral conservative values of both Christian voters and these parties.

Even though these statements are not particularly supported in the academic world — and different scholars have developed theories supporting the opposite viewpoint — I still believe that these ideas should be further researched, as I think that Lega Nord might be a fitting example. Even though not all of its voters are religious, a great number of them is. And they still feel represented by this party and its leader.

If you want to learn more about why this rhetoric usually doesn’t attract Christian voters , click here to be re-directed to another blog post that focuses on this!

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17 thoughts on “The Contradictory Use of Religion in Salvini’s Lega Nord

  1. Very interesting topic, very niche but if there is enough literature it will be feasible. However, grammar can be improved and some sentences can be shortened. This way it would be easier to follow for the reader. Also make sure to insert hyperlinks. Overall good start!

    1. Thank you for your comment. I modified some parts following your suggestions, so let me know if you now find it easier to read! I also added a few hyperlinks but I will definitely tried to add more in the next future. Thanks again for the advices!

      1. The changes you made are much appreciated! It is easier to read in this manner. Very good and interesting piece!

  2. Very productive start! We think that your introduction paragraph is very clear and straightforward, consequently making it catchy. In addition, the language used is rather simple, but it is not unacademic or informal at all; it is well balanced for a blog. However, we think that including a picture of Salvini holding a crucifix, or simply being in front of church could represent the topic more explicitly!

    1. Thanks for your comment! You’re completely right, I now chose a more appropriate picture following your suggestion. Let me know if you like it!

  3. We really like the title of your blog entry, it connects very well with your topic and is attracting the interest of the reader. Also, your language fits very well to the nature of a blog! Good job! This draft is already a good start, we are curious to see how you what you will argue in your final blog entry and how you will conclude.
    How do you come to the conclusion that Salvini only uses religion in order to generate votes? And do you think his statements against the islam are due to the “religious differences” or only based on the fact that he connects the muslim religion with something alien?

    1. Thank you for commenting! For what concerns your first question, I will update this blog post soon in order to answer; let me know in a few days if it will be clear enough. About the last question, I believe both factors must be taken into account. Indeed, Salvini always tries to highlight the “religious differences” between Islam and Christianity in his rhetoric; at the same time by doing so he depicts Islam as something alien. Do you agree? Let me know if you still have doubts!

      1. This is indeed a really interesting thought. I saw these two points as something that is not connected, but indeed it makes sense to connect the differences in the religion of Islam and Christianity with the fact, that for Salvini these differences show that the Islam is not a part of Europe (which is of course just wrong). thank you for this clarification!!

        1. No problem, I’m glad you asked! If you should need any other clarification in the future I will be more than happy to help 🙂

  4. Overall a very interesting post! Although there are minor grammar issues and the use of subheadings would make the thread of the post perhaps slightly clearer to me as a reader, I enjoyed this read. As someone who does not speak Italian, I would be interested to know what the posts say. Maybe a small translation below each post would be helpful.
    I must admit, however, to being slightly confused after reading another post on this blog, “The Defenders of Europe’s Christianity”, as it seemed to say that simply using religious identity was not a viable tactic for the radical right wing in Europe. It is of course perfectly possible that I have misunderstood, but maybe a brief explanation as to how this ties into the topics in the rest of the blog would not go amiss?

    1. Thank you for your comment! I’ll update it in the next days adding more content and dividing it by sub-headings, and I will also correct the grammatical issues. I didn’t add a translation of the posts just because I chose them for their pictures rather than for their content. This was because I didn’t find pictures of Salvini related to this topic that I could use because of copyright, and I thought that posts from his social profiles would have been a perfect substitute. In any case, I will add a translation if you still think that would be better, so let me know what you think I should do.

      For what concerns your other doubt, in the About Us part of our blog we explained more in detail the connection between the first post and the others. The first post serves as a more detailed introduction to the topic, while answering to the question: “do these parties actually attract Christian voters?”
      The other three articles (this one, the one about Denmark and the one about France) address specific cases that can be currently observed in European politics. They analyse how religion and religious rhetoric are used in the case of specific parties. Even if using religious discourses may not attract religious voters — as shown in the previous article — they still have consequences and they can still attract other types of voters. Is the relation between the articles clearer to you now?
      Please let me know, I would be glad to help you!

  5. Altogether this is a really interesting and engaging entry! It is a topic that I myself have not concerned myself with and I would be interested in also hearing your personal opinion about it: Do you think using Islam can still be labelled as “othering” in modern day Europe, or has the religion found its place in today’s society?

    As per your structure, I liked that you tied in subheadings as part of sentences. It makes for a really interesting read. The only thing I would have liked to see is a conclusion, that maybe also includes your own point of view on the matter.

    1. Thank you for commenting! I’m glad to hear that you found the topic interesting.
      I believe that both of your statements are right: indeed Islam has found its place in today’s society, however I believe that it can still be labelled as ‘othering’ because of the constant discrimination that is made towards Muslims. What Salvini and Lega Nord do by stating that Islam is a dangerous religion is an example of what I mean by ‘othering’ in this case. I would like to hear what you think about this as well!

      Also, thanks for the advices. I will update the post between today and tomorrow adding a conclusion where I can position myself in this debate. If you want, let me know in the next days what you think about the final version!

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