The rhetoric of radicalisation: Mosques in Italy
Amara Lakhous - 19/12/2008
The phenomenon of radicalisation does not come out of the blue. On the contrary, it ensues from a series of negative elements: misinformation, political exploitation, scant knowledge of the other, self-marginalisation, etc. The case of the mosques in Italy allows us to understand the limits of the rhetoric of radicalisation and the risks of uncompromising stances.
An important premise should be made. In Italy, the terms mosque and hall of prayer are not properly understood. There are very few mosques such as the one in Rome, financed by Saudi Arabia, inaugurated on June 1995, which can host 4000 worshippers. Instead, the total number of prayer halls (apartments, garages or other spaces) amounts to 750. The average capacity of these places of worship is of a 100 persons. 750 times 100 rounds up to 75000 persons. And that’s less than the number of spectators at the Olympic Stadium of Rome.
Today Muslim places of worship can host less than 8% of the Muslims residing in Italy. Despite this figure, the construction of a new mosque or the opening of a prayer hall still stirs up controversy.
Bologna is the most significant case. The district council donated to the local Islamic community a land in the outskirts of town (52.000 m2, of which 6.000 of building land) to build a mosque. However, following to the protests of the clergy and of some political forces such as Alleanza Nazionale and Lega Nord, the mayor Sergio Cofferati and his committee revoked the decision, and accepted to consult the citizens through a referendum.
Sociologist Stefano Allievi is perfectly right in affirming that “Cofferati made a serious mistake in calling on a referendum. Objections can be made on the extension of the project, on the solidity of the interlocutors, on the chosen location, on financial intervention. There could be problems regarding the road network as for parking. England, in this sense, has brilliantly solved the problem by requiring guaranteed parking space for every place of worship, regardless of the religious confession. However, asking for the consent of a presumed majority on the free exercise of the rights of minorities in inadmissible .
A few days before Cofferati’s decision, Vice President of the Senate, Roberto Calderoni, put forward the proposal of the Pig-Day: “As of now I put at the disposal of the committee against the mosque both myself and my pig for a stroll on the intended building ground, exactly like I did before in the town of Lodi. The land was considered infected and not usable anymore” .
The reaction of the Bolognese clergy is just as worrying, as it refuses any parallelism between parish and mosque: “the parish – underlined the vicar bishop Monsignor Ernesto Vecchi – belongs to the social structure of the Italian people, the mosque is something that is introduced in it .
I shall just quote the comment of Silvio Daneo, catholic representative and former national deputy secretary of the World Conference of Religions for Peace (Wcrp): “How can a bishop claim such assertions? I suppose a bishop should have studied some elements of the history of the Church, he must have learned something on the planetary diffusion of the Catholic Church! Where the hundreds of thousands Catholic parishes scattered in the five continents, up to the smallest islands of Polynesia and Micronesia, part of the social structure of those peoples? Weren’t they rather something that was introduced in the social context? After decades, sometimes centuries, now, the countless parishes are a given social reality and are part of the same social structure of those countries”.
It must be repeatedly reminded that 10 thousand Italian citizens have converted to Islam. Furthermore, we mustn’t forget that Muslim immigrants are not “birds of passage”. In Italy, they pay taxes, they send their children to school, pay mortgages for their houses and most of all go back to their countries only for the holidays, as tourists.
The democracy of this country is at stake, and the former is measured according to the respect of minority rights and not through the power of the majority. We run the risk of treading on the constitution that guarantees freedom of worship. Suffice it to quote articles 8 and 19: “Everyone has the right to freely profess his own religion under any form, individual or associated, to make propaganda and to exercise the cult in private or public, as long as the rites are not contrary to public morality”, or more “All religious confessions are equally free in the face of the law. Religious confessions other than the Catholic religion have the right to organise themselves according to their own statutes, providing they are not in contrast with the Italian legal order”.
Muslims in Italy have the right to places of worship, like all other believers. At the same time, they must be transparent, must declare the origin of financings and isolate the preachers of violence.
Furthermore, mosques must accomplish their religious and cultural duties: for example to teach Italian to immigrant families, and especially to women. There is a need for transparency and communication when asking to translate the Friday sermon from Arabic to Italian, to give the possibility to non Arab immigrants and to Italian converts to understand it.
* Italian-Algerian writer and anthropologist, author of the novel “Scontro di civiltà per un ascensore a piazza Vittorio”, E/O, 2006. Has recently defended his Ph.D thesis at the University of Rome “La Sapienza”: “Vivere l’Islam in condizione di minoranza. Il caso degli immigrati musulmani arabi in Italia” (Living Islam as a minority. The case of Arab Muslim immigrants in Italy).
This article is part of a series of features on the radicalisation in Europe and the Mediterranean. It was drafted within the framework of the DARMED project, realised by Cospe (Co-operation for the Development of Emerging Countries) and supported by the EU.
"Preventing Violent Radicalisation 2007"
"With financial support from the Preventing Violent Radicalisation Programme
European Commission - Directoracte-General Justice, Freedom and Security"