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  • A Sympathy Card: Overcoming the Attack on Italians in Iraq
    Our Paesani

    by Francesca Di Meglio

    Americans have always had a fascination with everything Italian -- from food to fashion, from the Roman Empire to the Renaissance. The friendship grew as Americans became more intrigued by la dolce vita and more hampered by the hectic life typical of Superpower U.S.A. But last week, when at least 18 Italian paramilitary were killed by a suicide bombing in Iraq, shared tragedy forced the two countries even closer together in a more substantial way than ever before - as two mourning mothers crying out for their lost sons and daughters.

    Italians and Americans were moved by the sudden loss of innocent young men, another attack on our freedom to live in peace and the physical devastation in Nasiriyah and its surrounding area. It was the deadliest attack on the Italian military since World War II. The images of black smoke and fire brought us back to September 11, 2001, the nightclub in Bali, the Saudi Arabian bombings from a week before and, unfortunately, the list could go on and on.

    Numb, we could not think about politics or whether U.S. President George W. Bush and his administration were right when they called for war in Iraq. All we could think of is the hole in our heart and the knot in our stomach. Whenever young people die in such an inexplicably tragic way, our own mortality becomes that more palpable. We lose that sense of security that usually gets us through the day.

    Those of us who didn't know any of the dead personally are lucky. Our bodies and emotions will be returned to us soon after the shock wears off. That is God's way of restoring order. How else would we go on? But those who lost someone they knew are forever changed. A part of them has died, too. Always, they will be missing the feel of his shoulder against their own, the things he did to make them laugh, the voice that called to them.

    "Italy lost some proud sons in the interests of freedom and peace," Bush said. "We appreciate their sacrifices, and I appreciate the steadfast leadership of Prime Minister [Silvio] Berlusconi, who refuses to yield in the face of terror." This is fine and well, Mr. President. But what do you say to the mothers who lost their child, the wives who lost their husbands, the children who lost their fathers? I'm sure they are not seeing the justice in all this.

    America went to Iraq for war. Italy went to Iraq for peace. Before the bombing, the Italian military was like the U.S.'s favorite uncle - the gentle one who bandaged wounds, kissed children and supported coalition fighting without being violent themselves. Their mission: To help Iraqi citizens re-build their homes and their lives. Period. They were being honorable and were heroes long before they were killed.

    The Italian people responded in much the same way as Americans did post-September 11 by placing flowers, poems and other keepsakes in front of Carabinieri headquarters across the country. But soon the grieving forced the public to think about the future. What is to come of those still in Iraq? Should we still be there? Who is really to blame - terrorists, the Bush administration, Berlusconi's government, God?

    Torn between their own emotions and a sense of duty, the Italians - much like everyone else - are divided about how to rectify the situation in Iraq. A little more than half of Italians said they wanted their troops to remain in Iraq after the bombing, according to a recent poll in La Repubblica Nearly 45 percent say that the troops should come home. And more than 61 percent report that they believe a terrorist attack in Italy is probable or likely, according to an Agence France-Presse article.

    Berlusconi and his government have promised to keep the Italian troops in Iraq to continue the humanitarian effort and symbolically show support for Bush's plans. "No intimidation will budge us from our willingness to help that country rise up again and rebuild itself with self-government, security and freedom," said Berlusconi. And so the nearly 3,000 Italian troops in Iraq will remain there despite having lost that sense of security and, worst of all, their best friends.

    This column is written weekly to bridge the gap between Italians in Italy and their "paesani" in the rest of the world. But this week, in reporting the news, I did not have to bridge any gaps. Tragedy, shock, loss and sadness did the work for me.

    Whether you are pro-Bush, anti-Berlusconi, a communist or a socialist, you probably still have a connection with the motherland, our precious L'Italia. The Italian blood coursing through our veins - whether we live in the United States or the United Arab Emirates, France or Fiji - is the same blood that was lost in Iraq this week.

    The grief has only just begun because this attack did not only take our men away from us far too soon. These terrorists continued to chip away at our hope that things would finally go back to normal, that the world could be less scary again, that we could sleep more peacefully at night. For this, I send to Italy - and all the world - my deepest condolences. Truly, I am so sorry for our loss. Truly.

    If you'd like to share your sentiments, please feel free to write me here at fdimeg10@aol.com.

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