ROME—The #notinmyname Muslim march against terrorism was never destined to be a high-turnout event in Italy.
Never mind that there are an estimated 1.7 million Muslims in the country and that Islam is the second most practiced religion after Catholicism. The Islamic community in Italy is fractured between the 50,000 Muslims who are Italian citizens who worship at the 110 recognized houses of worship, and the various refugees and Islamic cultural groups who gather at some 700 unofficial venues. The various groups often have little to do with each other. In fact, on Saturday when Muslim marches against the attacks in Paris were held in Rome and Milan and a few other cities, the total number of marcher countrywide barely topped 1,000 which is surprising considering the considerable population.
The #notinmyname campaign was founded by the British charity Active Change Foundation in 2014 after televised beheadings of British citizens angered a group of British Muslims who started a social movement to try to thwart Islamophobia by urging Muslims to stand up against violence in the name of Islam. The movement has spread slowly across Europe and mainly as social media activism, save a few marches in France in 2014 when the British founded the group.
The marches in Rome and Milan this weekend were the first public demonstrations in Italy using the #notinmyname hashtag as a banner. Similar marches in Paris and Brussels were cancelled after city officials banned public demonstrations in the aftermath of the Paris attacks. Officials in Italy only gave permission for the rallies under the condition that they were not mobile and that they were held in closed, easy-to-contain spaces.
The numbers in Italy weren’t stellar, but those who did show up were impassioned and certainly held the media’s attention. In Rome, the march was held under heavy rain in a closed in square flanked on all sides by police in riot gear. At one point, the speeches by the keynote speakers from the center stage were drowned out by several side events including a group of women chanting “no to terrorism” who drowned out the main speakers. There were groups of refugees from Calabria, groups of Islamic intellectuals from Milan and an elderly Italian man wandering around with a sign that asked poignantly “I want to know who sells them the weapons.”
One unfortunate group had accidentally mistranslated “stop terrorism” to “stop tourism” in Italian which caused momentary confusion until someone with a Sharpie marker remedied the mistake.
The father of a young girl named Alina whose hand-written sign “Not In My Name” caught the media’s attention told The Daily Beast that they fled Syria because of the threat of terrorism. “Terrorism is not a religion,” he said. “We are being held hostage to the terrorists, too. You know that 90 percent of the victims of ISIS are Muslim if you count all who have died in our homelands.”
Missing from the march in Rome was any obvious Moroccan Islamic group, no doubt because the ringleader and others involved in the Paris attacks were Moroccan born. In Italy, Moroccans make up the largest percentage of Muslims at 430,000, followed by Tunisians, Egyptians and Senegalese, according to Italy’s official Census information. “Some people were afraid to come for fear of backlash,” a young woman from Tunisia told The Daily Beast. “We were all afraid there would be backlash here.”
But instead, the square was filled with scores of Italians who came out in the rain to show their support. There were no mainstream political leaders, but Italy’s president Sergio Mattarella sent a letter that was read from the center stage. “The murderers want us to give up our values of solidarity and humanity but we won’t let them,” the president wrote.
The march came after several high ranking Italian leaders, including Franco Gabrielli, the man in charge of protecting the city of Rome from a terrorist attack during the Holy Jubilee in Rome that kicks off December 8, have called for Italian Muslims to stand up against the violence. “It’s time for the Islamic community to take a stand,” he said this week on the sidelines of a conference on securing the city of Rome. “We need to hear form them.”
The answer may not have been loud, but it was clear. “Terrorism cannot continue to strike anywhere in the name of Muslims,” Abdellah Redouane, the Imam of the Grand Mosque in Rome, told the cheering crowd. “We want everyone in the world to hear us from Rome: Not in my name.”