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New Italian Proposal Aims to Control Construction of New Mosques - 2004-03-26


Some members of Italy's center-right coalition government have proposed legislation to control the construction of new mosques. The proposal comes amid a heated public debate over the use of headscarves by teachers in schools and heightened fear of terror attacks in Italy.

Legislation on mosque construction was proposed by the Northern League, one of the parties in the center-right government coalition headed by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Outlining the law in the lower house, one party member said mosques in Italy are not just places or worship but, "sometimes serve as centers of recruitment for terrorists and to spread hatred for the West." He called the mosque a political place, which is symbolic of a civilization that has a 1,400 year history of opposition to Western culture.

Islam is the second largest religion in predominantly Catholic Italy. An estimated one million Muslims live mainly in northern cities like Milan where the Northern League has its stronghold and where public concern about the growing Muslim immigrant population is the strongest.

In the northern Italian village of Samone earlier this week a 40-year-old Moroccan teacher was denied a job because she wore a headscarf. School officials said her veil worn in the classroom risked scaring children.

But many in Italy called it discrimination. Italy's interior minister, Giuseppe Pisanu, came out in support of the teacher and called on the school to correct its mistake.

Italians have become more sensitive to the presence of Muslims and their traditions in recent months, as the fear of possible terror attacks in Italy rises.

Milan officials have in recent months arrested several terrorist suspects linked to local mosques.

And earlier this week, the newspaper Corriere della Sera published evidence given by an alleged Tunisian terrorist who was arrested in October 2001.

The man, codenamed Ahmed, told Italian investigators that his unit had planned to attack Milan's central rail station with explosives hidden in travel bags before the 2001 attacks in the United States. He also said he was to have committed a suicide attack on a NATO base near Naples, but did not get the order.

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