Recent outrages in Liège and Florence have received very different media interest.
On the same day and just hundreds of miles apart ‘a lone gunman’ struck – at Liège’s Christmas market in Belgium and in Florence’s central squares on 13 December. In both cases they appear to have been completely unprovoked random attacks on innocent people going about their business. In both cases the gunman was someone known to police who turned his weapon on himself as a final act. In Liège at least four people lost their lives in an attack which included grenades and left over 123 people with injuries, some of them life-threatening. In Florence two people have lost their lives though at least three other people were wounded. But does the difference in loss of life and limb explain the difference in the way the two attacks have been reported here in the UK?
The reporting was most obvious if you compare the BBC World Service’s coverage between December 13 and 14 with that of BBC Radio 4. The World Service covered both incidents, while Radio 4 in its bulletins kept completely silent about Florence. In UK papers, too, the Liège story was front page news with the Florence incident, if covered at all, tacked on as an appendage. Was the reason that the victims in Florence were all Senegalese street vendors and violence against those without papers has become such an everyday feature of Italian life that it is not considered newsworthy?
Given that the assailant in Florence bore similarities to Anders Breivik, perpetrator of the Oslo massacre, the lack of interest seems the more culpable. The gunman in Florence was Gianluca Casseri a member of CasaPound, an extreme rightwing pro-Mussolini group. (The name of the group refers to the late American modernist poet Ezra Pound who moved to Italy and became a vocal supporter of Mussolini.) Casseri was the author of fantasy novels including The Key of Chaos about a wizard, a mathematician and an alchemist, which enjoyed some popularity. He also wrote an academic paper about Dracula folklore and was the editor of a niche magazine about fantasy and horror fiction and comics. CasaPound – known in Italian anti-racist circles for its attacks on Left targets – denies being extremist, though its vice president Simone de Stefano while acknowledging that Mussolini’s racial laws were a mistake, calls his ‘brand of fascism’ to be the group’s ‘point of reference, a vision of the state and the economy and the concept of sacrifice’. CasaPound has also sponsored rock concerts at which supporters whip themselves with belts because, according to them, it is ‘a way to risk pain, to confront yourself in ways society does not allow’.
African vendors in Italy seem to be determined not to let the racism of the Florence attack get downplayed. Around three hundred gathered in an impromptu protest at the killings, demanding to see Casseri’s corpse. ‘Don’t tell us he was a madman’, one told the Guardian, ‘because if he was he would have killed whites as well as blacks’.