Who would’ve thought Venice, serene city, would be getting so worked up about ‘Allahu Akbar’?


Grand Canal facing Santa Croce. Photo: Rashmee Roshan Lall

When I visited Venice a few months ago, no one could’ve imagined the serene city would be threatening death to anyone who yells “Allahu Akbar” in St Mark’s Square.

Let me explain.

The city’s right-wing mayor, Luigi Brugnaro, recently made this claim.

Allahu Akbar is Arabic for God is great. It has had a bad press of late because terrorists often begin their violent acts by yelling the phrase.

And St Mark’s Square, or the Piazza San Marco, is the principal public square of Venice.

The mayor’s extraordinary remarks are part of a competitive exercise currently in force across Europe. Call it the my-city-is-safer-than-yours contest. Hence Mayor Brugnaro’s boast that Venice is safer than Barcelona, where 13 people were killed in a vehicle attack on the beautiful Las Ramblas. The mayor said at a conference in Rimini, northern Italy: “In contrast with Barcelona, where they had not set up protection, we keep our guard up. If anyone runs into St Mark’s Square shouting ‘Allahu Akhbar’, we will take him down. A year ago I said after four steps, now after three. I will say it in Venetian: ‘Ghe Sparemo’ (We will shoot him).”

It’s not hard to understand what he means but the criminalisation of a phrase is unfortunate.