Rome has not been attacked, at least not yet. Such solidarity as the Romans feel is against the Mafia Capitale hoods on trial at the moment, or the recently convicted managers of the bus company, fined massive sums for giving lucrative posts to their unqualified friends and relatives. But is an attack likely?
Paris and Rome have roughly the same population, just over 2 million people. Both cities are internationally famous and attract high levels of tourism as well as being business and administrative centres. Paris has a further ten million people in its suburbs, whereas Rome has only a further 2 million.
Rome has many more priceless monuments and the Vatican City, which can seem like a jewel in the crown or a weight round the city’s neck. Both cities are attractive targets for terrorists.
Paris, of course, has had its attack; two,in fact, this year. The city is wounded, the people defiant: the message on social media ‘je suis en terrasse’, a declaration that they will sit outside bars and restaurants, defying the terrorists. It is the same sort of solidarity exemplified by ‘je suis Charlie’ at the start of the year.
It is an introverted, personal, Parisien thing; I found the same on a visit to Hungerford after the massacre in the late ’80s.
French politicians, from President Hollande down, have made rousing speeches. The Marseilleise, surely the most militaristic of anthems in the western world, has been sung repeatedly. Hollande, without waiting for his allies, has despatched bombing missions over the Syrian town of Raqqa.
Rome has not been attacked, at least not yet. Such solidarity as the Romans feel is against the Mafia Capitale hoods on trial at the moment, or the recently convicted managers of the bus company, fined massive sums for giving lucrative posts to their unqualified friends and relatives. Roman solidarity consists of the unfathomable Italian paradox of loathing the state whilst never questioning its importance or relevance to their lives.
So if Rome were attacked, would the reaction be the same as in Paris? Probably not. Italians have had this before, during the Anni di Piombo, or “years of lead” in the 1970s, when after a long list of shootings by the Red Brigades, former Prime Minister Aldo Moro was assassinated and 85 killed by a bomb at Bologna station.
Second, Italy does not have the military might of France and could not indulge in the sort of punishment bombings that President Hollande has ordered. Nor does it have the militaristic world view of France, or for that matter Britain. Prime Minister Renzi has already said that he does not believe that bombing Syria is the answer to ISIS and no serious politician has disagreed.
So is an attack likely? Romans are asking ‘Are we next?’ Italy does not have the numbers of first, second and third generation north African Muslims, nor the huddled, unhappy masses of the banlieu. But even if Schengen were cancelled and its land borders closed, they are to the north, whilst the southern coasts are the first port of call for migrants. And it only takes two or three.
ISIS does not target monuments, but people, although the Vatican would be a priceless PR coup. But Rome has as many people sitting in bars and restaurants, going to football matches, as Paris does. More, given the jubilee which starts on 8th December.
The State has been busy, though. Extra troops have been deployed to the capital, particularly to the Vatican and the Ghetto area (there are fewer than 50,000 Jews left). Interior minister Alfano has said the intelligence services will keep the nation safe. The Italians, forewarned and thus forearmed, have been getting in their preventative medicine. Will it be enough?
Whatever happens, the tourist industry will suffer and perhaps the Pope’s Jubilee will be poorly attended. Many hotels are offering discounts — always a reliable sign — of 20 percent and more for the start of the Jubilee, although the celebrity favourite Hotel de Russie only offers a €19 reduction to the cost of its basic room — €675.
So George Clooney and Posh Spice aren’t worried. But the rest of us? We have to carry on: go to our usual bar for morning cappuccino, our usual place for evening aperitivo and hope, and wait. That’s all you can do, hope and wait.
Tim Hedges, The Commentator‘s Italy Correspondent, had a career in corporate finance before moving to Rome where he works as a freelance writer, novelist, and farmer. You can read more of his articles about Italy here