One of the many benefits of being Italian is that colorful stories from the “old country” trickle over to the states from time to time through relatives, friends and helpful paesani.
My uncle recently regaled me with just such a yarn, told to him by some Italian business associates he sees regularly. The setting is picturesque Padua, nestled in the Veneto region of northern Italy, on the Bacchiglione River. Those of you who like to read fancy books know that Padua is also the setting for Shakespeare’s comedy “The Taming of the Shrew.” And it’s no coincidence — my uncle’s story sounds like just the kind of tale the Bard would have written if he’d lived long enough. It goes something like this:
A group of Muslims wanted to build a mosque. They got all the permits and permissions they needed, but the Padovani townsfolk wanted no part of it. After months of arguing over religious freedoms and land rights, a crafty Catholic stole away in the dead of night, and paraded a well-trained pig around the site, who sprayed its urine as it ambled over the rocks and leveled gravel. Upon hearing of the curious midnight shower, the Muslims behind the mosque threw up their hands and said, “This ground is forever unclean,” and they packed up and moved on to another unsuspecting village, where the pigs had not yet heard of them.
Okay, so maybe it’s more Chaucer than Shakespeare, but you get the gist. Needless to say, I was skeptical, as was my uncle, but we both agreed it was a delightfully quaint way to solve a problem. I decided to look into it.
Turns out, there’s more truth there than mere farm animal fiction, and hardly something out of medieval times. In 2007, a woman named Mariella Mazzetto did indeed parade a pig on the site of a planned mosque in Padua. But she wasn’t just some local loony. She was the former Italian deputy Education Minister under Silvio Berlusconi, and member of the anti-immigrant Northern League Party, 10 other members of which joined in her pig protest.
And believe it or not, hers was not without precedent! A year earlier protesters left a pig’s head at a mosque site in Tuscany, and just a few months earlier Northern League senator Roberto Calderoli called for a “Pig Day” protest against mosque construction in Bologna. Apparently, it was a good time to be a pig in Italy (unless you were the one that ended up headless in Tuscany. I just hope someone made good use of its delicious pork belly).
In dealing with the country’s rising Muslim population, Italians all over the great boot were protesting planned mosques, if not always with the use of pig or pig byproducts. From Genoa to Colle di Val d’Elsa, Italians argued that mosques were symbols of occupation, or that building a mosque next to a church was improper, or that building mosques led to increases in crime outbreaks. And at least in Bologna, Italian authorities caved into to local pressure and dismissed the plans.
In the case of Padua, the Muslims behind that mosque remained defiant. “We believe in God, not in superstition,” said the local imam Kahlhil Boussuni. “And we intend to build our place of prayer and worship where only the faithful will be permitted to enter.” It appears, however, that for reasons either bureaucratic or political, the Padua mosque has not been built.
Mariella Mazzetto said she wasn’t racist or xenophobic, but trying to spark a debate. Which brings us to our current problem at Ground Zero, where Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf intends to “bring people together” — whether you like it or not.
The Padua story got me thinking. Maybe I’ll just bring a pig down to Ground Zero — it’s only 5 blocks from my house, and having lived through 9/11 I know the area well.
Like Ms. Mazzetto, I’m not motivated by racism or xenophobia. But I would like to make a point. See, every day this country’s most revered storytellers — Frank Rich, Keith Olbermann and Katie Couric — tell me that I’m Islamophobic for suggesting it’s insensitive to put a mosque near a cemetery where 2,000 innocent people were killed by Islamic terrorists. And they tell me I hate freedom because I’m just a little distrusting of a guy who thinks 9/11 was sort of our fault. And they tell me I’m intolerant because I think common sense and decency aren’t just vestigial organs we’ve evolved beyond.
The truth is, aside from belching at movies and occasionally puking in the streets on New Year’s, we’re far too polite a society to bring a pig to Ground Zero and gently nudge it to urinate on the site of an old Burlington Coat Factory building. And aside from our considerable distrust of bull’s testicles in olive oil and our preference for ice in our drinks, we’re far too tolerant a society to spike a pig’s head on a post in front of 51 Park Place.
The way we’ve handled the mosque has been to talk about it, the horror. And for that we are called Neanderthals and racists. President Obama, Michael Bloomberg, Nancy Pelosi and the liberal media don’t know what Islamophobia and intolerance actually look like. And maybe I should be the one to show them. Maybe then, after we’ve become a country where pigs urinate on buildings, and pig heads dot the countryside, they’ll realize just how good they had it.