Virtually every newspaper in Italy had the California shooting splashed across its front page Thursday, often in tandem with pieces on the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL), as Italians grapple with the possibilities of violent Islamist assault on their own territory.
Il Giornale, for instance, juxtaposed “Armed Men Massacre at Least 14 in California” with “On the Brink of War: Europe in Chaos While ISIS Laughs.” Even before it became known that the man behind the deadly assault, Syed Rizwan Farook, was a devout Muslim, Italians were comparing the slaughter with their own precarious situation, which includes daily threats of a jihadist attack.
Another Italian daily, Il Fatto Quotidiano, ran the parallel front-page titles “USA, Commando Shoots into the Crowd in California: Dead and Wounded” and “Manhunt for Two Recruiters of Meriem, Web Jihadist.”
Il Tempo, for its part, continued the trend, with one front-page headline blasting “ISIS Costs Rome 2 Billion Euros” and another reading “Slaughter in Center for Handicapped Persons: 14 Dead and Killer in Flight.”
Two days ago Italy was congratulating itself for having broken up the umpteenth jihadist plot on native soil, this time allegedly targeting none other than Pope Francis. Police carried out simultaneous raids in the Italian cities of Brescia, Vicenza, and Perugia, as well as one raid in Kosovo, arresting four people on charges of participation in a terror network with specific intent to target the Pope and incite racial hatred.
Italy has also recently been proposed as a model for counterterrorist strategy, given its remarkable record for thwarting terrorist plots before they can come to fruition. A combination of unapologetic profiling, regular deportation of individuals considered a security threat, and immediate arrest of radical Islamists who preach anti-Western violence have apparently come together in a strikingly successful cocktail of counterterrorism.
Italians, however, despite their impressive record for preventive security, are not without their fears. Patrols—both army and regular police—are in evidence throughout Rome, and particularly around Vatican City, where they can be seen toting automatic weapons.
Perhaps more unsettling, Rome’s overtly Christian Christmas decorations—consisting of angels, shepherds, and the ubiquitous presepi, or manger scenes—have been replaced in many cases this year with less Christian and presumably less provocative images, such as simple lights, spheres, and even red hearts. Walking the streets of Rome, one cannot help but wonder whether city planners were preparing for Valentine’s Day rather than Natale—the birth of Jesus Christ.
As Americans struggle to come to grips with who their real foe is and what to do about it, Italy operates under no illusions. It is the Islamic State—a declared, idealistic enemy at war with Christianity and the West—who plots day and night for the demise of its adversary.
For Italians, American catastrophe is a reminder of how real and present this threat is.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.