Proposal for ban on new mosques sparks ire in Italy

ROME: A proposal by the anti-immigration party of Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni for a moratorium on the building of new mosques amid terrorism fears in Italy sparked outrage among Muslim leaders and the opposition on Thursday.

The Northern League (NL), the main ally of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, suggested the ban after two men were arrested on Tuesday on suspicion of planning attacks in and near Milan. Maroni told the daily La Stampa: “These arrests show that … terrorism is entrenched in Italy, and that we must be vigilant. Unfortunately it is not easy to distinguish between places of worship and those that recruit terrorists and finance the planning of attacks.” Maroni’s party has lodged a motion in the Lower House of parliament for a ban on the building of mosques and Muslim cultural centres in Italy until parliament passes a law to oversee their construction, La Stampa reported. “Mosques are springing up like mushrooms, and mayors can do nothing about it because there is no law,” said Roberto Cota, the head of the NL’s group in the Chamber of Deputies.

Mario Scialoja, who heads the Italian section of the Muslim World League, said such a law would “create discrimination”. “A law that penalises non-Catholic places of worship would be unconstitutional,” he told AFP. The centre-left opposition Democratic Party also rejected the proposal. “It would not be useful, and it is unacceptable,” said party spokesman Ermete Realacci. “We are proud to be in a country with freedom of religion, and (banning new mosques) does not seem to be the way to address the problem of terrorism,” he said. The Italian Communist Party went further, its immigration expert slamming the NL for its “latest attempt to criminalise Muslim citizens who live in Italy”. “Those who equate Islam with terrorism are really pandering to those who want to divide the world in an absurd war of civilisation,” Maurizio Musolino told the ANSA news agency.

Right: The Vatican, for its part, said “civil society” had a right to determine whether a mosque is in fact being used as such. “On the one hand we need to recognise the legitimacy of the place of worship that is the seat of an authentic spiritual presence,” said the Vatican’s Culture Minister Gianfranco Ravasi. “But if it becomes something else, indeed civil society has the right to intervene and check,” he told reporters. afp