Immigration in Italy began in a totally spontaneous way without any encouragement or regulation by the Italian government, as, in contrary fashion, had been the case over previous decades in other European countries. This was a totally understandable situation given that Italy was by tradition a country of emigration. The first overall law on immigration was passed in 1990 (the Martelli law). This was followed by another law in 1998 (the Turco-Napolitano law), which in turn was replaced by the law of 2002 (the Bossi-Fini law), which is currently in force. This legislation in essential terms has dealt with two principal questions: on the one hand, the regulation of admissions to Italy and on the other the policy of the integration of immigrants into Italian society. The further priority of security was later added to these concerns.
The regulation of admissions to Italy which each time was implemented by offering to immigrants who were illegally present in Italy the possibility of regularising their position has been progressively based upon the determination of annual quotas decided by the government in line with the requests of the labour market as the fundamental criterion to be applied to the management of migratory flows. The policy of integration has occupied increasing space and this has been the expression of an awareness that the maintenance of a cohesive society requires specific planning which has to take into account the inevitable relationship between immigration policies and integration policies in order to ensure the efficacy of these last in terms of sustainability and management.
In the debate in politics and the mass media the subject of immigration involves in the first instance the cultural and religious dimension, and this runs the risk, perhaps, if not of overestimating this aspect, certainly of reducing a much larger complexity to it alone. Indeed, the integration of immigrants into society takes place not only through strategies of a cultural kind the economic and social dimension also plays an important role. We should never forget that the reasons that lead immigrants to come to Italy and other European countries are essentially of an economic character and this is the first objective that they set for themselves. Economic integration into the Italian labour market is for that matter not only the realisation of the specific objective of the decision to emigrate but is also the fundamental vector by which integration into Italian society is achieved. To work means to interact with an economic context by entering into contact with its internal structures and institutions; it means to socialise with work colleagues and to have an income by which to maintain one's own family and meet the further goals of one's children.
The work dimension, therefore, is essential in the implementation of integration, and the connection established between admissions and real work opportunities specifically takes into account this important aspect. Experience in Europe demonstrates that a lack of integration into the labour market or a prolonged absence from it provoke phenomena that involve marginalisation and social malaise, which become a favourable condition for the emergence of conflict in relation to identities of a cultural or religious kind. Economic integration, therefore, fosters social integration. Italian legislation seeks to foster the social dimension of integration through a series of measures that range from health care policy to educational policy and on to policies involving cultural integration.
Housing policies are also important and here the awareness and action of individual communes is of fundamental significance. Their task is in the first instance to avoid the emergence of areas with a high incidence of immigrants and to foster, instead, the diffusion of the immigrant population within the urban context in order to avoid the phenomenon of ghettoes. These are often wanted by immigrants, especially during the first stage of migration. At the level of social integration, schooling and education policy plays a decisive role. Here Italy has chosen the path of interculturality, a path that seeks to avoid the risks that are present in the opposing options of multiculturalism and mere assimilation. Whereas assimilation denies acknowledgement of the special cultural features of the various immigrant groups and requires a strong and complete adherence to the culture model of the receiving country, thereby running the risk of generating forms of exclusion or malaise, multiculturalism, which postulates the need to defend cultural diversities even at a legal level in the name of the equivalence of all cultures generates phenomena of social disintegration because it does not set itself the goal of drawing up a shared culture and a system of values that overcome diversity by obtaining a shared adhesion. Interculturality, on the other hand, seeks to link respect for diversity with the need to adhere to shared values and this implies forming a positive relationship with the culture and the ethical-social-political order of the receiving society. In particular, intercultural education does not affirm the practical equivalence of all cultures but upholds the universality of a series of fundamental values that express the dignity of the human person, values that are communicated through precise juridical, political and social structures.
These values identified as being the universal rights of man and constitutional principles act at the same time as a framework to guarantee the expression of cultural diversities but also as a critical grid in relation to it in the sense that those cultural diversities that are in conflict with such fundamental shared values cannot be accepted. In the face of a growing awareness of the defeat of the multicultural model in the promotion of integration borne witness to in Europe by the experiences of Great Britain and Holland and the growing limits that emerge from the assimilationist model on which is based French policy, which now, however, has to address in a new way the challenges of cultural and religious diversity the option of intercultural educational policy seems to be particularly interesting and destined for greater successes because it avoids the two opposing risks of relativism and an insufficient recognition of pluralism.
Although it is true that integration is a complex process in which various dimensions interact, it is also true that the cultural and religious dimension is the subject of special emphasis because of a specific component of the immigrant population present in Italy and Europe, namely the Muslim population. In all European countries, including Italy, some parts of the immigrant population of Muslim origins have indeed used their religious loyalties understood in a collective sense as a vector to implement their own insertion into European societies. In particular, in the name of their specific Islamic religious identity they have opened a dialogue with government institutions in order to claim a series of rights connected with religious practice but whose fields of application from an Islamic perspective have been notably broad, bearing upon sensitive areas such as equality between the sexes and the secular character of the institutions of the state. These initiatives have rightly given rise to fears about a move in a communitarian direction, almost as if Muslims wanted to place themselves within Europe as a kind of cohesive community, maintaining their own specific features on the juridical level as well rather than inserting themselves as individual residents or citizens who have a specific religious faith but who are loyal to common citizenship. These fears are not empty fears because this kind of project is certainly advanced by fundamentalist currents which in Europe as well have their own organisations.
However, it may very much be doubted whether this approach at the level of a project is held by most of the immigrants of Muslim origins who, indeed, in Europe do not display a high level of religiosity (6% to 12% of the Muslim population, according to which European country one is dealing with, go to mosques; in Italy such attendance is at the bottom of the table) and thus do not generally have militant attitudes.
In order to promote a complete integration of Muslims in Italy we must, however, avoid three errors in the medium term. The first is the legitimation as spokesmen in relation to the government of those Islamic organisations of a fundamentalist character which, because they are militant, are especially active in presenting themselves as representatives of the whole Muslim community but which in reality are not very representative. The second error could be that of opting for an approach of waiting for the various Muslim organisations to manage to express a unified point of view so as to become spokesmen in relation to the state, perhaps with the secret belief that this will never take place. Instead it is to be hoped that the relevant institutions will ask the various Muslim organisations specific questions in order to ascertain their real level of adherence to those fundamental values of the Italian social and institutional system referred to above. Such an adherence implies not only loyal participation in a shared society but also a clear distancing from specific juridical institutions that are very present within Islam, such as, for example, the non-recognition of the equality of the sexes, strong reservations as regards the recognition of full liberty of conscience for every human being, and difficulties in distinguishing the religious sphere from the political and juridical sphere.
Only if such questions are posed in a clear way will it be possible to foster the emergence of that moderate Islam that is still unable to find organisational channels by which to make its voice heard and to become an effective interlocutor in the process of integration. Lastly, the third risk to be avoided is the failure of the professional and social integration of the second generations born or educated in Italy. If this were to happen in a significant way one could create conditions favourable to phenomena involving the affirmation of conflict-based identities which would end up by embracing the perspectives of fundamentalist Islam, as occurs in certain urban contexts in Germany. This is a demonstration of the interconnection that exists between the various dimensions of the process of integration that an effective policy must
bear in mind in the medium term. In Italy, which today after about twenty years of migratory flows has over two million immigrants, the process of integration, taken as whole, is at its beginnings and seems in essential terms to have the right approach, even though its results belong to the future.