News on the Rialto

It’s an obvious headline, given the circumstances. And it’s been a long time since there has really been any serious news on the Rialto, whether we are referring to the Rivo Alto area (once the commercial heart of the city) or the bridge itself. Like most of the city it is now principally notable as a tourist attraction; the shops that line the Rialto Bridge (memorably described by Edward Gibbon as “a fine bridge spoilt by two rows of houses upon it”) almost exclusively sell trashy tourist trinkets, and the market area on the San Polo side is also seeing the steady encroachment of masks and “I ♥ Venice” T-shirts among the more traditional (and useful) fruit-and-veg stalls.

If we can believe the intercepted conversations that have appeared in the press, it is precisely because the Rialto Bridge is a tourist attraction that the four young Kosovars were intending to blow it up. During daylight hours, from Carnival all the way through to mid-November at least, the bridge is always crowded with tourists (all unbelievers, it would seem, and so all deserving death), jostling for a place by the parapet to take selfies with the splendid view of the Grand Canal. The terrorist atrocity in London, which the four Kosovars celebrated with macabre glee, took place on a bridge that had all the symbolic connotations of British government and power; the Rialto Bridge, on the other hand, is just a famous name and a place where one could be sure of massacring a great many people in a single explosion.

It is not yet clear how serious, or how imminent, the threat really was. One can imagine that the defence-lawyers will claim that the intercepted conversations were just the vaunting words of bullshitting young men wanting to sound tough. The parents of the youngest of them, aged just 17, have already said (understandably enough, from their point of view) that their son is just a child. Today’s papers seem to deny the early reports that the apartment raided contained guns and the rudimentary ingredients of a bomb. An ominous-looking big black container that had appeared in photographs turned out to be full of amino-acids, presumably a body-building aid. An equally sinister black rucksack contained sports-equipment. The young men apparently attended a local gym. As usual, the photos taken from their various social media pages make them look innocuous enough. The neighbours mostly agree that they were polite enough and untroublesome.

Against all this are the chilling excerpts from their conversations: “Put a bomb at the Rialto and you are guaranteed to go straight to Paradise.” “I can’t wait to swear to Allah. If they let me swear the oath I’m ready to die.” And to die means, of course, also to kill.

As with so many of the do-it-yourself terrorists of recent years (all hailed as martyrs by ISIS) in all likelihood they are bragging young misfits—who might well have ended up committing an atrocity. It will probably come out that they have a past of petty crime, and perhaps drug-abuse. Dividing the world into believers and unbelievers helped to give them a focus for their rage at their own failures as human-beings. As Simon Jenkins memorably put it after the Westminster atrocity, the killers must be treated as criminals; ascribing their actions to Islam and/or politics in the end aids and abets the terrorists. It does just what they want. They want a war of religion. We mustn’t give them what they want.

A banner on the Rialto Bridge yesterday proclaimed that Venice is not afraid. It might sound rhetorical but it is the most sensible reaction to this News on the Rialto—although I’ll also be happy to think that intelligent surveillance activity is also being carried out…

One can see the point of the Missier Grande, after all.


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