Immigrants and asylum seekers in Italy are facing an onslaught these days. A former candidate for the far-right Northern League recently went on a shooting spree targeting African migrants, wounding six people. On March 5, a Senegalese street vendor in Florence was murdered, terrifying the city’s African community. The man was married to the widow of his cousin who was killed by a far right gunman in 2011 in Florence. In recent years, anti-migrant mobs have chanted such slogans as “let’s burn them all, let’s make soap out of them.”Years of tension over immigration preceded the March 4 general elections in Italy, which marked a political earthquake that stunned observers across Europe. The League, a Far Right party formerly known as the Northern League, which pledged to deport400,000 migrants and refugees, emerged as a major force with around 18 percent of the vote. Its candidate for governor in Lombardy, the most populous and wealthiest region in the country, won a landslide victory promising to save “our white race” from being “wiped out” by immigrants. The party’s leader, Matteo Salvini, was known to slip on a blackshirt at rallies in honor of Mussolini and praised Il Duce’s “efficiency,” “dedication,” and “good work.”Hitler, it is well to remind ourselves, was a fan of Mussolini. Salvini is now demanding the post of prime minister. The biggest victor in the election, sweeping the nation’simpoverished south, was the anti-establishment Five-Star Movement, which describes the five “points” of its agenda as “public water, sustainable transport, sustainable development, right to Internet access, and environmentalism.”While these are positive goals, the movement is also known for conspiracy theories and anxiety about immigration. The founder of the party, the comedian Beppe Grillo, extensively quoted Hitler’s Mein Kampf on his blog and even said the infamous manifesto can help us “understand the present.”Grillo’s rhetoric alarmed the Jewish community, with the president of Rome’s Jewish community declaring in 2013, “Grillo’s party is more dangerous than the fascists because they have no clear platform, we do not know what their limits are.” Jews, he said, needed to flee Italy at once.Pluralist identity, on the other hand, emphasizes racial and religious coexistence, and in Europe was seen in Andalusia, where Jews, Christians, and Muslims lived, worked, and created togetherItaly, like other countries in Europe, has seen the rapid rise of the far right amidst an immigration wave and distrust of the political establishment. I have studied these trends in a new book, Journey into Europe: Islam, Immigration, and Identity, which explores Islam in Europe and the place of Islam in European history and civilization. It is the fourth book in a quartet of studies examining relations between the West and the Muslim world and based in fieldwork across the length and breadth of Europe.To understand what is happening in European politics and society today, it is necessary to understand European identity, which can be interpreted in three distinct categories-primordial identity, predator identity, and pluralist identity. Primordial identity emphasizes one’s unique culture and traditions, and predator identity indicates the aggressive, even militaristic lengths that people will resort to in order to protect their identity. Predator identity can be triggered due to perceived threats including globalization, unemployment, economic instability, and the greed and failure of elites. Add the presence of immigrants, and a society can move in extreme and bloody directions which challenge the very notion of a modern democracy.Pluralist identity, on the other hand, emphasizes racial and religious coexistence, and in Europe was seen in Andalusia, where Jews, Christians, and Muslims lived, worked, and created together. It is this fruitful period in Europe, which the Spanish call convivencia, that contributed to the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the development of European humanism. This pluralist period also existed in Italy, and Italians describe it as convivenza. Italy produced Christian leaders such as Roger II, the King of Sicily, and Frederick II, the Holy Roman Emperor, King of Sicily, and King of Italy, who spoke Arabic, had Muslim bodyguards, and featured Arabic inscriptions on their royal mantle. Muslims and Jews were permitted to live by their own laws, and the jewel of Sicilian architecture, Roger’s twelfth-century Palatine Chapel, incorporated Christian, Muslim, and Jewish influences. Frederick, shocked by the killing of Jews in the name of the infamous “blood libel,” absolved the community of this crime. He even successfully took Jerusalem for Christianity at the height of the Crusades without a drop of blood being shed through his friendship with the Egyptian sultan and respect for Islam.Despite the passage of many centuries, we found this pluralist spirit alive, albeit embattled, in Italy. The mayor of Palermo, Leoluca Orlando, told us, “When I come inside a mosque, I pray to Allah, when I come inside a synagogue, I pray to Yahweh. At this moment I am Christian.” He was prepared to welcome the desperate migrants to his shores: “Why does everybody try to land in Sicily? Because for Sicilians, no man is illegal.” In this time of political and social turmoil, Italians and Europeans must remember this pluralist part of their history and the contributions it has made to Italian and Western civilization. Italians need to address what Orlando called the “emergencies” of problems like unemployment without reviving a predator identity that led to destruction on a catastrophic scale in the last century. They must act before it is too late.Akbar Ahmed is the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University, Washington, DC, and author of Journey into Europe: Islam, Immigration, and Identity (Brookings Press, 2018).Published in Daily Times, March 31st2018.