Global Baptists Must Voice Opposition to Italy's Fingerprinting of Roma People


Denial of human rights anywhere is a threat to human rights everywhere. Silence to injustice any time furthers injustice every time. Indifference to the suffering of any group increases indifference to the suffering of all groups.

Conversely, speaking up for justice any time ensures the impossible possibility of justice for all every time. Advocacy of human rights at any point advances human rights at every point. Compassion for the suffering of any group fuels compassion for the suffering of all groups.

Showing compassion, advocating for human rights and calling for justice should be all the easier for global Baptists, given the leadership already pressed forward by the European Parliament which passed a resolution declaring Italy's fingerprinting of the Roma people was an act of racial discrimination.

The resolution condemned "utterly and without equivocation all forms of racism and discrimination faced by the Roma and those seen as 'gypsies.'"

"An estimated 150,000 Roma live in Italy, mainly in squalid conditions in one of an estimated 700 encampments on the outskirts of major cities such as Rome, Milan and Naples," according to BBC.

Italy's foreign minister defended his nation's action, saying that it "does not target ethnic groups and is not inspired by racism but by the elementary need to identify anyone who does not have a valid document."

Times Online quoted Vanda Colombo comparing the decision of the right-wing Italian government to the Shoah, the Holocaust.

"The Nazis exterminated Gypsies as well as Jews, and this kind of discrimination is how it started. If they come here and try to fingerprint our children we will stop them," said Colombo in a Gypsy camp outside of Verona.

Catholic News Service reported that Italy's Famiglia Cristiana, a Catholic magazine, called the plan "creeping racism."

The magazine noted its lack of surprise that the head of the Italian Parliament's commission on children, the granddaughter of the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, did not oppose the action, given that "ethnic and religious indexing are part of her family's DNA."

"Italy still hasn't faced up to its tragic responsibility—we are not ashamed enough," said the best-selling newsweekly, which compared the fingerprinting of Gypsy children to the time when Jewish children wore "the yellow star on their sleeves."

After translating her statement into English, Anna Maffei, president of the Baptist Evangelical Christian Union of Italy, sent it to EthicsDaily.com.

"We respect our national anthem and our flag but we do not like military nationalism," she said, calling on the Italian government to arrest Baptists and to take their fingerprints. "We are a threat to security because we believe that the Roma people are persons just like the Italians and that even if their papers are not in order it does not mean they are criminals."

Maffei said that Italian Baptists "do not believe in the myth of race, in the superiority of one religion, in ideologies which discriminate on the basis of sex."

Surely global Baptists can add their voice of opposition to the Italian government's racial policy, joining Italian Baptists, Catholic leaders and members of the European Parliament.

But global Baptists, who meet next week at the Baptist World Alliance gathering in Prague, must do more than practice "resolutionary Christianity." Resolutions, moral statement, have their place. Voicing moral outrage, speaking for human rights, showing empathy are good and rightful things to do.

What other steps can the leadership of the global Baptist community take?

Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics and a member of the Freedom and Justice Commission of the Baptist World Alliance.

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