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Why do Italian fascists adore Syria's Bashar al-Assad?

Why do Italian fascists adore Syria's Bashar al-Assad?
From Al Jazeera - February 13, 2018

Rome, Italy -Six and a half years into the ongoing bloodshed in Syria, General Issam Zahreddine, infamous for overseeing the suffocating three-year siege of Deir Az Zor, was killed by a landmine.

He died in October 2017, when his vehicle hit an explosive in Hawija Saqr during the government's military campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS).

For supporters of the Syrian opposition, Zahreddine was the "butcher of Deir Az Zor" and a leading culprit behind widespread torture that allegedly took place at the hands of authorities.

For government backers, however, the general and Assad administration represent a fortress against the ethnic and religious sectarianism of a conflict which has provided few viable alternatives.

In May 2016, months before his death, photos circulated on social media appeared to depictZahreddineposing next to the severed remains of people who were killed, sliced up and left hanging.

Yet outside Syria, from North America to Europe, some of Assad's most vocal supporters come from the far right.

Days after Zahreddine's death, posters mourning the general appeared across Italian cities and towns, according to a report [Italian] by the Italian daily, La Stampa.

Those posters were printed by CasaPound, a self-proclaimed fascist party and one of many far-right groups worldwide that support Assad's government.

Along with Italy's far-right Forza Nuova, Greece's neo-fascist Golden Dawn, the UK's British National Party (BNP) and Poland's ultra-nationalist National Rebirth, among others, CasaPound is part of an international front rallying on behalf of the Syrian president and sending solidarity delegations to the war-ravaged country.

Syria's conflict, which started as a mass uprising against Assad's rule in March 2011, quickly morphed into a full-fledged civil war and has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

Throughout that war, both government forces and their allies and armed opposition groups have been accused of war crimes and human rights violations.

According to some estimates, more than 11 million people have fled their homes, finding refuge outside of the country or ending up internally displaced within its borders.

More than a million Syrians have received or requested asylum in Europe, where rising far-right parties and populist groups have regularly rallied against their presence.

'Solidarity' delegations

Sitting in neatly organised conference room in CasaPound's headquarters, a municipal building the group squatted 14 years ago, the party's prime ministerial candidate in the upcoming elections, Simone Di Stefano, boasted of their relationship with the Syrian government.

"Under the Assad regime, people can celebrate Christmas openly and women are not forced to wear a headscarf," Di Stefano told Al Jazeera, echoing common pro-Assad talking points.

"Of course, we like the ideology of the Syrian state, but we also support what they represent: freedom, openness as opposed to fundamentalism and modern [Arab] socialism."

In Italy, CasaPound has led far-right demonstrations against refugees and migrants, has reportedlyattacked anti-fascists, and advocates a return to fascist rule - under which the country toiled from 1921 until its liberation at the end of World War Two in 1945.

The party has worked closely with the European Solidarity Front for Syria (ESFS) - a coalition of neo-fascist and far-right groups that support Assad's government - and its members have joined delegations to Damascus to meet with Syrian officials, Di Stefano said.

SANA, Syria's state news agency, has publicised the ESFS's visits.

In May 2016, when ESFS members met Assad aide Bouthaina Shaaban, SANA reported that the Italian "delegation expressed solidarity with the Syrians and condemned the crimes committed by armed terrorist organisations".

The group was full of hopes of "learning about what is happening in Syria and conveying the true image of the situation to the European people", the report continued.

Di Stefano, who himself has not been to Syria, proudly proclaims that CasaPound affiliates met with Syrian First Lady Asma al-Assad in 2016.

Ada Oppedisano, president of Solidarite Identites (Sol.Id), a group that has pushed pro-Assad narrative, later described the meeting as the type "you remember for a lifetime".

"We do it for [the Syrian] children that Asma told us about, and we do it for us too, for Italy, so that tomorrow we cannot saythat the Italians have abandoned their Syrian brothers," Oppedisano said in an Italian-language report published in Il Primato Nazionale, a CasaPound-administered newspaper.

Thatreport was authored by Alberto Palladino, a CasaPound activist who was convicted of a violent attack that left five Democratic Party activists hospitalised in 2011.

Asked if there was a contradiction between opposing the influx of Syrian refugees, most of whom were displaced by governmental forces, and supporting Assad, Di Stefano insisted: "They mostly flee from rebels and ISIL."

According to a 2015 poll of nearly 900 Syrian refugees in Germany, more than half would return to their country if Assad quit.

Around 70 percent blamed the government for violence, while 31.5 percent pointed the finger at ISIL.

Ideological overlaps

Guido Caldiron, a Rome-based journalist and author of Extreme Right, argues that CasaPound's support for Assad stems from the group's ideological roots: Authoritarianism, Islamophobia and the perception that the Syrian government has resisted Israel.

Broader Western far-right support

Roberto Fiore (@RobertoFioreFN) October 8, 2016

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