Lorenzo & his humble friends

The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool

Panache

This is a post I wrote exactly one year ago from now. I am not sure why I did not publish it then. It clearly inspired me to take up some more serious cycling in the following months. I will share it now that my bike is getting rusty again. Perhaps it will wake my spirit up to some new competitions.

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In December I bought a card game that features thirty of the greatest cyclists of all time and gives them somehow objectionable ratings on different aspects of their character. Before returning home for Christmas I started playing the game with Dani and the question arose: what, exactly, is panache? We looked it up and found that it means elegance, courage, style, verve. I liked the adjective and started throwing it into random conversations, often as a joke.

Part II: Lance Armstrong – again

Those of you who have been reading this blog for some time will know that there is one recurring topic here. And yes, here we go again: during the Christmas vacation I spent time watching a few more documentaries on my old obsession. Not only that: I watched interviews and short clips about some of the other characters of this epic – meant in the literal, ancient Greek sense of the word – tale. There is the simple man who fell from grace; the lesser man who betrayed, threatened, and begged; and there are a few wise men, who seem to be able to reckon what is right and what is wrong. There are many other fascinating characters – the evil doctor, the famous girlfriend, the evasive team director to mention just a few – but I am not going to talk about them now. This period of my life I have been fascinated by one wise man who appears in Lance Armstrong’s story. Until a month ago I did not know him well – at all. And the more I learnt, the more I liked this man. This is what I know now about him. His name is Greg LeMond.

Part III: Greg LeMond
(large parts of this section are taken from a variety of pages online, including wikipedia)

Greg LeMond was born in Lakewood and raised in Washoe Valley, which is a ranch country on the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains. LeMond was a standout amateur rider. He turned professional in 1981 and in 1983 he won the World Championship outright, becoming the first American rider to do so. LeMond rode his first Tour de France in 1984, finishing third in support of team leader Laurent Fignon.

The following year he was brought across to La Vie Claire to ride in support of team captain Bernard Hinault who was attempting to win his fifth Tour. In the race Hinault led through the early mountain stages, but suffered a crash and came into difficulty. At this point it was clear that LeMond was an elite rider capable of winning the Tour in his own right. The injured Hinault was vulnerable, and his competitors knew it. At stage 17, which included three major climbs in the Pyrenees, LeMond followed Stephen Roche in an attack, but was not given permission to help build on the gap over the field. The managers of his La Vie Claire team ordered LeMond to sit on his wheel, a tactic to use the rider in front as cover for wind resistance so the following rider uses less energy. At the end of the stage LeMond was frustrated to the point of tears. He later revealed that team management and his own coach Paul Köchli had misled him as to how far back Hinault had dropped during the stage.. Hinault won the 1985 Tour, with LeMond riding as a dutiful lieutenant finishing second, 1:42 behind. As a repayment for his sacrifice Hinault promised to help LeMond win the Tour the following year.

However, Hinault’s support seemed less certain the closer the race approached. LeMond had bad luck during the fist stages, having suffered punctured tires and bicycle changes and slipped to the second stage behind Hinault. By the end of Stage 12, Hinault had a five-minute lead over LeMond and the other top riders. By Stage 17 LeMond has managed to fill the gap, dropping Hinault in four consecutive stages and pulling on the yellow jersey of race leader. The following day in the Alps saw Hinault attack again early on the first climb, but he was pulled back. Attempting an escape on the descent, he was unable to separate himself from LeMond. As they ascended up the next col they continued to pull away from the field, and maintained the gap as they reached the base of the final climb, the vaunted Alpe d’Huez. They pressed on through the crowd, ascending the twenty-one switchbacks of Alpe d’Huez and reaching the summit together. LeMond put an arm around Hinault and gave him a smile and the stage win in a show of unity.

But the infighting was not over. Hinault attacked again on Stage 19 and had to be brought back by teammates Andy Hampsten and Steve Bauer. Commenting on the team situation prior to the final individual time trial at Stage 20, LeMond offered the following with a wry smile: “He’s attacked me from the beginning of the Tour De France. He’s never helped me once, and I don’t feel confident at all with him.” LeMond would keep the yellow jersey to the end of the race and win his first Tour, but he felt betrayed by Hinault and the La Vie Claire team leadership. LeMond later stated the 1986 Tour was the most difficult and stressful race of his career.

LeMond had planned to defend his title in the 1987 Tour de France with La Vie Claire, but he was unable to participate because he was shot during a session of turkey hunting. The facts went as follows. LeMond was resting before the Tour in a ranch co owned by his father in Lincoln, California, together with Rodney Barber and Patrick Blades, his uncle and brother-in-law. The trio had become separated when Blades, who heard movement behind him, turned and fired through a bush. The movement had come from LeMond, who was hit in his back and right side with a devastating blast of approximately 60 No. 2-sized pellets. LeMond’s injuries were life-threatening, but fortunately, a police helicopter was already airborne near the scene and transported LeMond on a 15-minute air medical flight to the Medical Center at University of California-Davis. LeMond was taken for emergency surgery. He had suffered a pneumothorax to his right lung and extensive bleeding, having lost some 65 percent of his blood volume. A physician informed LeMond later that he had been within 20 minutes of bleeding to death. The events effectively ended his 1987 and 1988 seasons.

After struggling in the 1989 Paris–Nice early-season race and failing to improve his condition, LeMond informed his wife Kathy that he intended to retire from professional cycling after the 1989 Tour de France. He had some flashes of form in the Giro d’Italia’s final 53 km (33 mi) individual time trial into Florence. LeMond placed a surpising second there, more than a minute ahead of overall winner Laurent Fignon. However, at the start of the Tour de France LeMond was not considered a contender for the general classification. His own most optimistic hope was to finish his final Tour in the top 20. Without the weight of expectation and other pressures of being a Tour favorite, LeMond surprised observers with a strong ride in the 7.8 km (4.8 mi) prologue in Luxembourg, finishing fourth out of 198 riders. Buoyed by the result, LeMond continued to ride well over the opening flat stages, winning the 73 km (45 mi) stage 5 individual time trial, and gaining the yellow jersey of race leader for the first time in three years.  LeMond remained at the front of the race in the Pyrénées, but lost the lead to his former teammate and rival Laurent Fignon on stage 10 in Superbagnères. After a fierce fight on the mountains, with the yellow jersey quickly passing from one to the other, Fignon held a 50-second advantage over LeMond going into the 21st and final stage, a rare 24.5 km (15.2 mi) individual time trial from Versailles to the Champs-Élysées in Paris. Fignon had won the Tour twice before, in 1983 and 1984, and was a very capable time trialist. It seemed improbable that LeMond could take 50 seconds off Fignon over the short course. Le Monde rode the time trial with a rear disc wheel, a cut-down Giro aero helmet and the same Scott clip-on aero bars which had helped him to the Stage 5 time trial win. Instructing his support car not to give him his split times, LeMond rode flat-out and finished at a record pace to beat Fignon by 8 seconds and claim his second Tour de France victory. The final margin of victory of eight seconds was the closest in the Tour’s history.

LeMond’s return to the pinnacle of cycling was confirmed on August 27, when he won the 259 km (161 mi) World Championships road race in Chambéry, France, defeating Fignon again and edging Dimitri Konyshev and Sean Kelly on the line. The next year Le Mond won the Tour de France again, though in a less spectacular fashion than 1989. But then his conditions deteriorated. LeMond acknowledged that the increasing prevalence of doping contributed to his lack of competitiveness. Said LeMond: “Something had changed in cycling. The speeds were faster and riders that I had easily out performed were now dropping me”. Nonetheless, LeMond said there was something more, related to his body not functioning as it would have before. “I figure I had three months that went right for me after the hunting accident,” three months in which he won the two Tours and a world road race championship. “The rest were just pure suffering, struggling, fatigue, always tired.”

After retiring from cycling, LeMond founded LeMond Bicycles, invested in real estate, and opened a restaurant. He received intense criticism in 2001 when he publicly expressed doubts about the legitimacy of Lance Armstrong’s Tour success after learning of his relationship with Dr. Michele Ferrari. His outspokenness placed him in the center of the anti-doping controversy. Trek, the longtime manufacturer and distributor of LeMond Racing Cycles, had threatened to end the relationship at the behest of Armstrong. He described the two years following the forced apology as the worst in his life, marked by self-destructive behavior that ultimately led him to disclose his sexual abuse to his wife and seek help.

In 2007 Floyd Landis called him in August to ask why the former Tour champ had been so publicly vocal in the days after it was reported that Landis’s A sample from stage 17 of the Tour had tested positive for synthetic testosterone. LeMond made numerous TV appearances in the aftermath, and spoke in general terms about why he thought Landis should come clean if he had in fact doped at the 2006 Tour de France. “At first, I didn’t believe it was him,” said LeMond during direct questioning from USADA attorney Matt Barnett. “I was shocked he was calling me only because I thought it was a prank phone call. I confirmed it was really him and he asked why I would be making these public comments.” LeMond explained that he told Landis that if he did have a positive that it was a devastating thing for the sport. “I was very clear that I didn’t judge that he did or didn’t because the B sample wasn’t positive at the time,” LeMond continued, adding that he told Landis that he could “single handedly salvage the sport” by “[coming] clean.”Landis, according to LeMond, responded, “What good would it do?” then added that if he did “it would destroy a lot of my friends and hurt a lot of people.” LeMond went on to reveal that he told Landis that keeping dark secrets can ruin one’s life, then relayed his own story of being sexually abused as a child, a story LeMond said he had shared with only a few people and never talked about publicly until Thursday. “I was sexually abused before I got into cycling it nearly destroyed me,” LeMond said, adding he told Landis that he should come clean because, “This will come back to haunt you when you are 40 or 50…this will destroy you.

The drama continued on the eve of LeMond’s testimony, when LeMond received a phone call from a mysterious caller, who identified himself only as “Uncle Ron.” LeMond said he was perplexed at first, but that changed to concern when the caller made direct references to the conversation about sexual abuse that he had with Landis last August.“He said ‘Hi Greg, this is your uncle. This is your uncle Ron and I’m going to be there tomorrow,’” LeMond recalled. “I said, ‘Who is this?’ He said, ‘I’m going to be there and we can talk about how we used to hide your weenie.’ I got the picture right away that there are very few people who know about that. I figured this was intimidation.” The three-time Tour champ said the caller then hung up, and when LeMond redialed he got a voicemail message identifying the call recipient as “Will.” LeMond said he tried calling back three more times, finally getting an answer from someone who identified himself only as “Bill.” The conversation was inconclusive, so LeMond hung up and then called the police. A subsequent check of the number saved on LeMond’s mobile phone showed that it belonged to Landis’s business manager Will Geoghegan. Undeterred, LeMond took the stand and testified, before admitting to the world that he had been molested.

2017: resolutions

Continue volunteering with the Red Cross and do it regularly. Go ski touring. Learn a bunch of very simple recipes and cook with Niels and Anna. Keep reading one or two classics. Get drunk with Dani and Jonas. Collect whiskey. Find a long-lasting present for Martina. Get a better pipe and some good tobacco. Spend time with Camilla, Isabella, Marco and Francesca. Go fencing; and build up some muscles, for Christ’s sake. Organise the old pictures and start making new ones with the Polaroid camera. Hike with my parents. Fill a notebook with notes on Florence and fill another with notes on Torino. Discover some good music: it is about time. Find a new way to make money. Visit Toulouse and drink whiskey with Martin. Spend three weeks on the road, possibly outside Europe. Write Thomas. Do not give up on those pointless attempts to learn French. Go hiking with Manuel, Mindo, Giallu, and Nicco. Return to Ireland with the Canadians. Become a doctor in Social and Political Science.

Books I have read this year

There is a story that kept me busy for a large part of Winter and early Spring this year. I started reading it at the same time as I began my bike trainings, which explains why it is one of the things that I associate most closely to my first race, the Strade Bianche in Siena. I arrived in town the afternoon before the race. After having collected my equipment at the historical fortress – the race number, the chip, all that stuff – I rode to my hotel, which was located outside the city centre. It was then that I got completely lost, riding in the dark in the middle of a three-track speedway under a violent thunderstorm. When I arrived to the hotel, at 7PM, I was soaked and tired. I spent the next four hours reading about the betrayal of Edmond Dantès. It was the best possible way to prepare for the race. In the following months I brought the book with me to Spain and to Switzerland and I finished reading it only days after the Gran Fondo of Fiesole. The book is Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo.

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Looking back at them now, I realise that most of the books I have read this year are classics that have been translated into a language that is something else than English. Ernest Hemingway’s The sun also rises/Fiesta in Italian was a wise choice after the fiasco of For whom the bell tolls. Shakespeare’s King Lear/Rey Lear and Macbeth in Spanish were odd experiments, but good experiments nonetheless: I bought these two pieces when I was in the Canary Islands and read them in the local language. Jorge Luis Borges’ El Aleph in original Spanish was a luxury I allowed myself during a one-week long stay in Madrid. Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s White nights translated in Italian remains a majestic novel, but reading it in this moment of my life I found it remarkably unremarkable. On the other hand, Pushkin’s The captain’s daughter, also translated in Italian, made me happy – and intrigued.

Of these books, I would strongly recommend two: El Aleph, which is a collection of stories that are both beautifully written and philosophically meaningful; and The captain’s daughter, because it is one of those stories that makes you wonder.

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The only book I have read in English, then, is George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London. I did not know what this story is about – so I can tell you now: it is about the experience of a man, probably Orwell himself, who lives as a homeless in Paris and, yes, London. After reading the book I started working with homeless people myself.

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Poi, come ogni anno, ho letto una serie di fumetti realizzati da autori molto conosciuti, ironici, leggeri, eppure -come si evincerà dai titoli di cui sotto- dediti a temi piuttosto pesanti. Ecco la mia lista: Kobane Calling di Zerocalcare; La terra dei figli di Gipi; Lo scontro quotidiano di Larcenet; Il faro di Paco Roca. Sono meravigliosi e vi consiglierei di comprarli tutti.

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Parlando di fumetti, ho scoperto un piccolo volume di Giovanni Marchese: Leggere Hugo Pratt. Credo di averlo preso la prima volta alla biblioteca delle Oblate e lo ho letto tutto in una volta, mentre pranzavo da solo. M’è piaciuto così tanto che poi lo ho comprato per scribacchiarci sopra.

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Other than fictional stories, the ones listed below are the books I would recommend if you had some time to dedicate to history, law, philosophy, and economics respectively. David Gilmour’s The pursuit of Italy is a book I read upon arriving in Torino, the cradle of Italian risorgimento. It deserves to be read because it is a well-crafted history of Italian regions and how they came together. Letters to a young lawyer is a collection of commentaries by Alan Dershowitz, whom I discovered through my president’s course on reading the bible. The individual behind this book might be flawed; but the writer is genius. Stephen Holmes and Cass R. Sunstein’s The cost of rights is a simple and convincing book, but to be fair – it is very repetitive. Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner’s Freakonomics is a book that has been greatly embellished over time and still makes for an entertaining read.

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Finally – two Winter reads for this wicked Winter period. Haruki Murakami’s South of the border, north of the sun/A sud del confine, a ovest del sole and Jón Kalman Stefánsson’s Luce d’estate, ed è subito notte/Summer Light and Then Comes the Night. I wanted to read something warm in the cold, and these books were for me.

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Read my post on books I have read from 2015, 2014, and older.

North of the border

With almost 10 million square kilometres, Canada is the second-largest country in the world by total area*. However, the country’s population is not big at all: with 36 million people, Canada scores far below countries like the United States, Germany, Italy, and France. Furthermore, about four-fifths of the country’s population is urbanized and live within 200 kilometres north of the southern border in cities like Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Quebec City, Winnipeg. And this you could guess by looking at the picture below: an image of Canada mapped only by roads, streets and highways.

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Bonus fact one: there are more roads on this map within 200 kilometres of the US border than there are in the remaining 3800 kilometres of Canadian soil to the north.

Bonus fact two: 59% of British Columbia’s population lives in the tiny bright chunk near Vancouver where I, too, happened to live in 2011.

* the first-largest country in the world is Russia, with more than 17 million square kilometres.

Miserable jackals

There was a time when being a journalist was an attractive idea. As a kid, I admired people like Tiziano Terzani or Indro Montanelli, who were able to read through a complex reality and explain it. Things changed over time, as the profession lost much of its appeal. I explain this largely, although not exclusively, through the spread of the internet and a new class of under-trained professionals who are forced to produce enormous amounts of articles just to survive. In a world where the majority of people want consume short, superficial products that last for one day or two, in-depth analyses are rare.

We must, however, recognise that the quality of journalism in Italy remains relatively high when compared to other countries. I am writing two days after the attack at the Christmas market in Berlin, at a time when we don’t yet know who committed the attack and why. Yet, the image below represents how some of the most read newspapers in the United Kingdom are reporting on the issue.

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Other newspapers (Die Welt, Il Post, The Guardian) were reporting with much more sober titles, in the line of: ‘German police might have the wrong man’. Which was and still is the only fact we knew.

It is hard to say why journalists at the Daily Mail, the Sun, and other newspapers lie so blatantly. I imagine most of them serve a political agenda; others do it out of sheer ignorance. Either way, this is repulsive and a dangerous indicator of an ignominiously low quality of public debate in the country. Be wary of journalists who cannot do their job, be wary of living in a country where the two mostly read newspaper run a daily shitshow speculating on the lives of people.

On the front line

One month ago Anna and I went to see an exhibition at Palazzo Madama in Torino. This is a deeply moving collection of photographies that invites all of us to move away from our comfortable reality through the work of women reporters documenting war zones in Egypt, Syria, Congo, Libia, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and more.

The photographers included in the exhibition are Linda Dorigo, Virginie Nguyen Hoang, Jodi Hilton, Andreja Restek, Annabell Van den Berghe, Laurence Geai, Capucine Granier-Deferre, Diana Zeyneb Alhindawi, Matilde Gattoni, Shelly Kittleson, Maysun, Alison Baskerville, Monique Jaques, and Camille Lepage.

The exhibition will be open until the 16 of January.

Divided States of America

Ieri Unimondo ha pubblicato un mio articolo in cui parlo della squadra di governo selezionata da Donald Trump. Le scelte del presidente-eletto rappresentano una prima indicazione delle politiche che seguirà una volta insediatosi alla Casa Bianca. L’amministrazione voluta da Trump ha un profilo piuttosto omogeneo, essendo composta quasi esclusivamente da uomini anziani, bianchi, ricchi, filo-russi, molto di destra e convinti che il riscaldamento globale non esista. Buona fortuna.

Le elezioni francesi nel mondo della paura

Ieri Unimondo ha pubblicato un mio articolo in cui parlo delle elezioni presidenziali francesi del prossimo anno. Nell’articolo spiego, a chi già non lo sapesse, che ci sono buone ragioni per pensare che Marine Le Pen sia una contendente seria alla presidenza e che una sua vittoria porrebbe una pietra miliare nella costruzione di un nuovo ordine globale.

La sinistra sta scomparendo

Oggi ho riletto un articolo che scrissi a giugno e che si intitolava Socialdemocrazia europea addio? dove spiegavo che i partiti socialdemocratici sono al governo in meno di un terzo dei Paesi europei – Repubblica Ceca, Francia, Slovacchia, Svezia, Portogallo e Italia – e in alcuni di questi casi sembrano destinati a una batosta elettorale. Una ragione importante di questo tracollo elettorale sta nella totale mancanza di idee per contrastare le politiche neo-liberiste che, a sua volta, va ricondotta al graduale assorbimento delle ricette del centro-destra dal 1980 a oggi.

C’è una foto che fu scattata un anni e mezzo fa, al termine di un incontro fortemente voluto da Matteo Renzi assieme agli altri leader del centro-sinistra in Europa. Oggi tutti i leader rappresentati in quell’immagine hanno perso il loro lavoro, con l’unica eccezione del francese Manuel Valls, che al momento sembra comunque destinato a prendere una sonora scoppola nelle elezioni presidenziali del 2017, se non prima.

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Nell’articolo spiegavo che anche se fino ad allora Matteo Renzi aveva mantenuto un alto consenso doveva essere consapevole dei rischi che correva se non fosse riuscito a trovare quanto prima un’alternativa alle politiche di austerity della Commissione Europea: in un’intervista al Financial Times il giorno dopo le elezioni del dicembre scorso in Spagna, Renzi aveva detto “Non so cosa succederà al mio amico Mariano [Rajoy, il primo ministro uscente che non riuscì a raccogliere una maggioranza relative dei seggi in quella tornata elettorale], ma so che tutti coloro che sono stati in prima linea nelle politiche del rigore senza crescita hanno perso il lavoro“.

Oggi anche Renzi ha perso -almeno per il momento- il suo lavoro e questo perché il suo governo non è riuscito a creare una una visione a lungo termine capace di influenzare le decisioni europee e sfidare l’egemonia esistente in Europa. Il risultato del referendum e l’analisi dei flussi elettorali dimostrano che nella vittoria del ‘No’  c’è tutta la protesta per una crisi economica che non accenna ad esaurirsi. Quelle messe in pratica dal Partito Democratico sono state misure a breve termine, prive di visione e soluzioni di continuità.

Per evitare di scomparire, la sinistra ha bisogno di parlare a una voce, tirar fuori un’idea precisa e un modello economico condiviso. Forse è già troppo tardi. Per consolarsi, o capire meglio quel che succede, tornerei a consigliare a tutti gli animi di buona volontà un libro di cui avevo scritto nel 2014:  Ill Fares the Land, tradotto in italiano come Guasto è il Mondo. Buona lettura.

Make Eid al-Fitr a national holiday

With only three months until the Dutch elections, the Islamophobic and anti-European PVV (the Freedom Party) is leading the polls. My colleague Bouke has written a piece for Metro, a free and widely read newspaper, arguing that Eid al-Fitr should be recognised as a national holiday as a way for the state to treat Dutch Muslims more fairly. He circulated among friends his own translation of the article to English and you can read it below.

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Imagine a family that does not celebrate the birthday of the youngest child. Asking his parents why they are not celebrating his birthday, the Benjamin is told that ‘we already celebrate the birthdays of his brother and sister’. This is a family tradition. When the Benjamin complains that celebrating his birthday could also become a tradition, the parents remain adamant: ‘as a newcomer, you have to accept the existing birthday culture’.

If this is unjust, then so is the fact that we do not recognise al Eid as a national holiday in The Netherlands. Just as a family should recognise all of their children by celebrating their birthdays, the state should recognise religions besides Christianity. This is called ‘state neutrality’. In many areas, state neutrality is already accepted. We would find it unacceptable if the royal family only visited places in the Randstad [the region with the most populous Dutch cities] during Kingsday. For aren’t Limburgers, Zeeuwen, and Groningers every bit as Dutch? Nor would we find it acceptable (at least not in certain port cities) if Ajax was the only football team recognised by the state – imagine that an Ajax poster was displayed in the middle of the Tweede Kamer [the Second Chamber]. Yet when it comes to recognising the holidays of other religions (including Islam), we prefer to be partisan.

Now you might think: ‘Muslims have chosen to come to The Netherlands. Therefore, they ought to adapt’. But this would only apply to the first generation of Muslims; later generations did not choose to grow up here. Could the difference be that Islam is a totalitarian religion, as Wilders often refers to it? No. It is not just Aboutaleb [the mayor of Rotterdam] and Ali B [a famous Dutch rapper/comedian] who practice a form of Islam that is hospitable to democracy – most Muslims do. Saying this is not to be political correct, but to state a plain truth. Of course, there are extremists.

But just as it would unjust to permanently ban Feyenoord fans from the Kuip [the Feyenoord stadium] because some fans misbehaved in Rome [last year, Feyenoord hooligans damaged shops and a Bernini fountain at Piazza di Spagna], so it would be unjust not to recognise Eid al-Fitr because some Muslims misbehave.

We should not betray our Christian heritage. However, we wouldn’t do so by replacing second Pentacost day or Easter Monday with Eid al-Fitr. This is not a matter of pampering Dutch Muslims, but treating them as equal citizens.