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.
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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.
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?“
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.
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