| 19.1°C Belfast

Why ‘bunga bunga’ is not the greatest threat to Italy

There is something irresistibly revolting about the antics of that grisly old goat Berlusconi. He truly is the Italian nightmare.

The equivalent for Irish susceptibilities would be a cross between Charles Haughey and Fr Michael Cleary.

All nationalities have some loathsome caricatures: it is Italy's misfortune that they are embodied in their prime minister.

However, contrary to widespread reports, Berlusconi has not been charged with having sex with a child, which is an offence beyond all redemption, but with a young woman who was old enough to have sex, but not old enough to sell it.

Sordid though Berlusconi's antics might have been, they will soon be forgotten.

What will not pass is the far greater crisis gathering along Italy's southern margins which has been almost totally obscured by the Berlusconi affair.

It is an extension of the convulsion seizing almost the entire Arab world: a thousand Tunisian refugees arriving on the Italian island of Lampedusa in a single day. And Tunisia is the successful Arab state. In other words, welcome to tomorrow.

Daily Headlines & Evening Telegraph Newsletter

Receive today's headlines directly to your inbox every morning and evening, with our free daily newsletter.

This field is required

To be sure, Africa made Italy. The peninsula itself is a relic of one of the greatest collisions in the history of our planet, when the ancient landmass of Gondwanaland — what we now roughly call Africa — collided with what is now Europe, ‘Laurasia’.

Part of Gondwana remained stuck to Laurasia. We now call that Italy. But, in fact, the visible ‘boot' is only part of Italy, much of which is firmly rooted in mainland Europe.

For example, Milan and Turin are on a line with Grenoble in France and are the best part of 1,000km from Sicily.

So, in spite of its southern proximity, Italy is not Africa: for it is quite impossible for women to have demonstrated anywhere in north Africa as some did in Rome last weekend, waving placards: ‘We like sex, not bunga bunga.’

Imagine that in Cairo, Tripoli, or even Tunis, surely the most modern and enlightened of all Arab cities.

Except, except . . . for it was in Tunis that the current Arab upheaval began after a 26-year-old street trader named Mohammed Bouazizi burnt himself to death in protest at the humiliations he'd endured at the hands of a government official.

It's still too early to say what is going on across the Arabic world.

But we don't need precise knowledge to reach some conclusions: Islam is on the rise; so, too, is social unrest; so, too, is unsustainable demographic growth.

Egypt's population is 80 million and will double in the next 20 years — consisting mostly of the unlettered and unskilled, with absolutely no prospect of work, or survival, in the entire north African littoral.

Where will they go? Well, many will probably follow their Tunisian brothers to Italy and you could argue that this is a good thing, because for all the Italian women's love of sex, that does not translate into love of bambini.

Italy's birth rate is below |replacement level. Maybe it needs these Arabs.

Except that Arab Muslims do not usually leave their religion and their culture behind them. Moreover, the general drift across the Arab world over the past half century has combined economic incompetence with an intolerance of ethnic, religious and |cultural minorities.

What was most striking about the news footage from Alexandria, Egypt's second city, was that all the women protesters wore at least the hijab.

Some 50 years ago, Alexandria was the cosmopolitan, multicultural, multilingual, veil-free showpiece of the Arab world, and home to 50,000 Jews.

They have since been driven out and, though the Christian churches remain, their populations have learnt the arts of deference and diplomacy in a society which is increasingly Arab and Islamic.

It was no coincidence that the most heated moments in the protests against Mubarak came directly after morning prayers at the mosque.

Berlusconi is a clown. His great sin — of sexually exploiting ambitious young women — manages to be disgusting, yet relatively trivial and very ancient.

Certainly, most of the women are not complaining.

Not so long ago, people would have shrugged their shoulders and said men will be men and such girls are no better than they oughta.

Compared to the great cultural and demographic upheavals along Africa's northern shores almost within sight of Italy, which could well threaten its long-term existence as a tolerant, Christian civilisation, his antics are utterly insignificant.