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Covering Up Roman Nudes For Rouhani, A Question Of Respect

Italian museum officials covered up prized ancient statues for the visit of Iranian President Rouhani. But what do we lose with such overly eager attention to Muslim sensibilities? And what about our own?

Rome's Capitoline Venus and an Iranian woman in a burqa
Rome's Capitoline Venus and an Iranian woman in a burqa
Massimo Gramellini


TURIN β€” Those ingenious Roman officials who covered up four nude statues in the Capitoline Museum fearing that visiting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani would have fainted at the sight, and tore up new business contracts with our companies, are worthy heirs of a certain way of being Italian: without dignity.

It is that special way that we treat any guest as if he was our landlord, to behave like a German with Germans, an Iranian with Iranians and an Eskimo with Eskimos. To consider it a sign of "respect" to so eagerly slide into servility before those who frighten, who may somehow cheat you.

This centuries-old tradition β€” daughter of a thousand invasions and lost battles, also battles of the conscience β€” joins the very current theme of the asymmetric behavior displayed in relations with Muslim states. If an Italian woman goes to Iran, she covers her head properly. If an Iranian comes to Italy, we unfairly cover up the nude statues. In one direction or another, we are always the ones doing the covering. And the sensibilities not to be offended are always theirs. But what if the presence of women covered from head to toe on an avenue in Tehran or Baghdad hurts my sensibility? I don't think that the Ayatollahs would allow them to wear a miniskirt out of respect for me.

I wonder how to interpret the alternating perceptions of Signor Rouhani: The marble tits upset him, but gays sentenced to death in his country do not. I also wonder what my grandmother would think about this latest in a long series of Italian pantomimes: When I was a child, she taught me that the first way to respect others is to respect yourself.

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