Italy’s interior minister, Matteo Salvini, suggested this month that “ethnic shops” should not be allowed to remain open past 9 p.m. The suggestion is not only bigoted, it is also likely to worsen the state of integration in the Southern European country.
The far-right Lega leader, Salvini, is targeting these night shops, mostly run by foreigners, describing them as “a meeting place for drug deals and people who raise hell”. In Italy, many of these small shops are owned by Indians or people from Bangladesh, who bought stores at the time of the 2008 financial crisis when real estate prices were on the decline.
The proposed measure is a part of Salvini’s security decree, which lowers obstacles to immigrant deportations and bolsters police forces. Salvini reiterated a plan to hire 10,000 more police officers, an initiative funded by money that had previously paid for migrant reception and integration projects. Parliament has until mid-November to debate and modify the decree before it becomes law.
The minister, however, claims that the new initiative is not specifically aimed at foreigners and is merely a way to “limit the abuses of certain shops”. Yet again, far-right regimes are using the excuse of crime to crack down on civil liberties and economic freedom. Were crime truly the issue at hand , then the government would have to crack down on the specific felonies being committed, rather than restricting the legal activities of minorities. Are we to believe that if these shops are a safe haven for drug dealers, they don’t begin to be so until 9 p.m? According to Italy’s far-right government, crimes may only be committed in broad daylight.
Andrea Marcucci, a politician from the centre-left Democratic party, suggests there are some specific problems that should be addressed. “Some say that Italian people go into their shop late at night and try to extort money from them,” said the source. “But they are too afraid to report such incidents to the police.”
In general, people should make the case for the rule of law. If local authorities have specific evidence that leads them to the conclusion that a shop is a severe danger, then they should close down that particular shop, rather than punishing business owners and consumers.
Italians form connections with newly arrived immigrants through business relations. Who doesn't know about Turkish kebab shops being open late, or Indians helping you out with your last-minute purchases after all the big retailers have long since closed for the night? For many people, their only connection with people from India is either from eating in their restaurants or when they buy goods in their shops. This creates a relationship of trust and normalisation, and it’s exactly that which Salvini is trying to prevent.
Salvini is depriving immigrants of the only positive argument that was left to Italians who were never that convinced of the concept of letting people into the country in the first place. If now those who do not yet have a foot in Italy's economy aren't given the opportunity to freely run a business as they see fit, how is Rome supposed to integrate them into the labour market? The answer is: not at all, because for the 5-Star Movement and Lega, there is no attempt to integrate foreigners. To them, ethnic groups are meant to remain amongst themselves, and not to mix with the Italian populus. As a result, there will be less trade, and both immigrants and native Italians will be disadvantaged.
The bottom-line is this: If you're willing to give up economic freedom for the sake of satisfying your party base’s need for an edgy headline, you'll end up getting no freedom at all.