Italy and the Muslim prayer rug

SHAFAQNA - Amid increasing anti-Muslim sentiments, Italian politicians have blasted the provocative action of two right-wing councilmen who removed prayer rugs from Turin city hall shortly before a Muslim conference.

The incident was “an arbitrary and violent act,” said Michele Paolino of the Democratic Party, The reported on Wednesday, July 29.

Paolino condemnations were echoed by many other democratic leaders who rallied to the sides of Muslims in the community, condemning the actions of these two men.

Controversy erupted after councilmen, Roberto Carbonero and Fabrizio Ricca, members of the anti-immigrant party Northern League, or Lega Nord, removed prayer rugs from Turin city hall before a Muslim conference.

“If someone wants to pray, there are lots of religious centers they can go to,” La Stampa reported the councillors as saying.

“It’s not as if people build a chapel whenever there’s a Christian conference.”

Building a reputation for xenophobia, the Northern League has been gaining ground since its victory in last June 1 elections.

The councilmen’s move was seen as indicator of a growing influence of a growing far-right, xenophobic movement countrywide and across Europe.

Italy has a Muslim population of some 1.7 million, including 20,000 reverts, according to the figures released by Istat, the national statistics agency.

Since the early 1980s, Italy has given taxpayer revenue to religious faiths the government recognizes.

The funds are used largely for the upkeep of religious structures, including Jewish and Buddhist temples, Greek Orthodox churches, and Jehovah’s Witnesses congregations. But mosques aren’t on the list.

The Mosque (or Masjid) of Rome — completed in 1995 as a goodwill gesture to help diminish a long history of animosity between Catholics and Muslims — is the only Islamic structure that has received government recognition, and funds, in Italy.

A Pew Research Center poll released in January found that Italians — at 63 percent of respondents — lead Western Europe in holding “unfavorable” views of Muslims.

Greeks came in second, at 53 percent, while a majority of French, British and Germans viewed Muslims favorably.

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