ROME — Blatant anti-Islamic racism was bound to happen sooner or later as fear continues to spread across Europe after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris. And there is nothing subtle about a new measure being considered in Italy’s often-xenophobic northern regions.
This week, the northern Italian region of Lombardy passed a provisionary measure to limit the building of new houses of worship for all religious entities that do not have official agreements with the Italian state. And since the only major religious entity in Italy that falls under that category is Islam, the measure is being called the “anti-mosque law.”
To be fair, there is virtually no way the measure, which allows regional authorities to decide and even call a referendum before giving permission for a mosque or house of worship to be built, will pass into a nation-wide law. But the fact that it made it past the first political hurdle does call into question why Islam, the second largest religion in Italy after Catholicism, is not officially recognized by the Italian state even though religions with much smaller followers in Italy, like Judaism and the Mormon’s Church of Latter Day Saints are. Religions that are recognized by the Italian state enjoy tax perks and other benefits, including greater freedom in how and where they worship. Those not recognized by the state are considered illegitimate cults. “The new rules are discriminatory and inopportune,” Milan’s socio-political city councilor Pierfrancesco Majorino said. “They are a punch in the face to any attempt at dialogue between cultures.”
Among the many stipulations in the proposed law are regulations that would make it almost impossible for a new mosque to be built. According to the legislation passed by the Lombard regional government, any new house of worship has to have a parking lot at least twice the size of the structure itself. Considering Italy’s over-crowded urban centers, that renders any conversion of existing property ultimately impossible without razing adjacent buildings, and it would mean that new structures would have to be isolated or far from urban areas in order to acquire that much land.
Another stipulation is that new houses of worship for religions not authorized by the state would have to be open to the public, even to those who do not practice the faith. They would also be required to install closed circuit cameras that would be connected to local law enforcement offices to monitor movement into and out of the structures. Another stipulation is that non-authorized religions may not disturb the peace when calling worshipers to prayer.
The proposed law is being pushed forward by the right-wing politicians in Milan’s city hall, many of whom have been trying for years to stop the practice of open prayer by Muslims in front of the mosque on Viale Jenner in the financial capital, where American CIA agents famously kidnapped an Egytian cleric in 2003.
Center-left politicians, who are in a minority in Lombardy, argued that the proposed law infringes on the basic right of freedom to worship. They say it also penalizes immigrants who are legally in the country, and who should be allowed to worship as they wish. “This measure is the result of Islamophobia,” said Roberto Bruni, a center-left politician from northern Italy.
Party members for the opposition Five-Star movement, led by Beppe Grillo, called the measure dangerous. "With this law, the majority party criminalizes all 420,000 Muslims who live and work regularly in Lombardy,” said Eugenio Casalino of Grillo’s often radical party. “It sells the myth that preventing new mosques means more security.”
Sponsors of the bill say it will instead calm fears shared by Italians and ensure that Italy’s second-largest religion—which only two percent of the population practices compared to 97 percent who practice Catholocism—doesn’t grow. “The presence of Muslims in Lombardy is not indispensable,” said Northern League politician Roberto Anelli. “I say to anyone who doesn’t like this law: go home.”