Abstract

The aim of this article is to examine the representation of Turkey in Italian newspapers. The questions that are investigated are: a) if the representation of Turkey in Italian newspapers is stereotyped and ill-informed; b) if there is a convergence among the political elites and the media on Turkey; and c) whether Islam is being inserted into the construction of the perception about Turkey by the Italian media.

This study argues that religion plays an important role in the Italian newspapers’ construction of the Turkish image. Several studies about the effects of mass media on public opinion argue that a linear relationship exists between the quantity of media reports and the opinions of the population. Thus it is argued that Italian public opinion on Turkey is highly related to the media coverage and, most importantly, on how it is addressed. Plus, it is also argued that there are similarities between the media’s agenda and the political agenda, with certain media outlets reflecting and repeating the positions of related political parties. This study concludes that the representation of Turkey in Italian newspapers is limited in its informative content and Islam is a major component of its representation.

Key Words

Turkey, Italian media, public opinion, European Union, Islam.

Introduction

“Cose turche!” (“Turkish things!”) is an old Italian saying used to underline the weirdness of some actions or events. This is only one of the many proverbs that exist about Turks in Italy; there are numerous others, often with negative connotations. Some of them are full of peculiar references to Ottoman Turkey and to religious conflicts among Christianity and Islam, such as the reference to episodes of religious carelessness and blasphemous outrage as “Bestemmiare come un turco” (“To blaspheme as a Turk”) or “mamma li Turchi!” (“Oh mommy the Turks!”).1

But if in one hand the Turks were the enemies of Italians and, more importantly, of Christians, on the other hand they were also important economic partners. In fact, there were prosperous commercial exchanges among the republic of Venice and Genoa and the Ottoman Empire.2 A lot has changed in the centuries, but the “like-dislike” dichotomy in Italy-Turkey relations is still present. Economically speaking, relations among these two countries are still prosperous; in fact Italy and Turkey cooperate on a range of projects and are partners in diverse subjects.3

However, the opinion on Turkey and its membership to the EU is various and not homogeneous in Italy. The official position of the Italian government towards Turkey’s EU membership bid is a supportive one but there is also some resistance against Turkey.4 Furthermore, the reasons for support or opposition are different depending on the political affiliation of the parties: right-wing parties normally base their antagonism on religious, cultural and historical grounds while they support Turkey on strategic and economic fields; on the other side, left-wing parties do not make issues out of different and incompatible cultures and religions, but principally underline the difficult situation of Turkey’s ethnic minorities and its poor human rights record. The population also seems to be confused about membership and about Turkey itself, more precisely there is a wide-spread lack of knowledge about the country, its bid for membership into the European Union and so on.

The Italian government’s support for Turkey’s membership to the EU does not represent Italian society at large. One may even identify the groups within the political elite, especially on the radical wings of the political spectrum. The Lega Nord (Northern League), which strongly opposes Turkey’s membership, especially on religious and cultural grounds, considers Turkey a clear threat, as the claim that:

it [Turkey’s membership to the EU] would make enter into the European Union a country that has about 70 million inhabitants who are Muslims and this would inevitably have a major impact on our cultural and religious identity. Furthermore, the lack of reference in the Treaty [the EU Constitutional Treaty] on European Union to the Christian roots (only as a vague reference in the Preamble) should force us to be vigilant, in order to avoid the risk of the Islamization of Europe.5

When different surveys on Italian public opinion are examined, it is observed that support for Turkey’s membership is on the decline and that the Italian public is growing distant from Turkey generally. The issues of religion and identity appear as major determinants in shaping Italian public opinion, as Canan-Sokullu also argues in this volume.