Rome, Oct. 29 (Reuters): Leaders of Italy’s Muslim community say they fear a controversial court order to remove crucifixes from a school could poison budding relations with Catholics.
“Christianity and its symbols are a part of Italy’s history, culture and art. We have no interest in ignoring that or taking it away,” said Omar Camiletti, an Italian Muslim and representative of the World Muslim League in Rome.
Acting on a complaint by Adel Smith, a firebrand Muslim rights activist who did not want his children to see crucifixes on their school walls, a judge last week ordered the school in Italy’s central Abruzzo region to take down the crosses.
The decision sparked outrage across Italy, prompting rebukes from the President and Vatican, fuelling debates on talk shows. A website has been dedicated to the issue at www.crocifissofena.com.
Muslim leaders across the country distanced themselves from the case and accused Smith, who has in recent months defended Osama bin Laden, of giving their faith a bad name.
”It causes acute embarrassment not only for the majority of Italians of Christian faith, but also for me personally and for other Italians of Arab origin or Muslim faith,” Ali Younes, the former head of the Arab-Abruzzo association said.
Camiletti said the controversy could undermine strengthening ties between Italy's overwhelming Catholic majority and its estimated one million Muslims, mostly descendants of immigrants.
At the beginning of the month, the leader of the centre-right National Alliance proposed giving resident foreigners the right to vote in local elections. Polls across the country showed the majority of Italians supported the idea.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, in a speech in the European Parliament, appealed for a dignified welcome for immigrants in Europe.
His remarks came after dozens of migrants died in three separate shipwrecks off Italy and were followed by an outpouring of public sympathy at a memorial service.
”Things like the funeral service and the vote proposal show the mood towards immigrants and Muslims was shifting in Italy. I hope this doesn't ruin it,” Camiletti said.
But the crucifix storm has shown no sign of abating and threatened to eclipse a European conference on inter-faith and inter-cultural dialogue to be held in Rome on Thursday.
On Wednesday, the official responsible for delivering the court order to the school refused to, on religious grounds, and her replacement was accompanied by a police escort. The judge has also requested an escort after receiving death threats.
Two laws stating that schools must display crucifixes, which date from the 1920s when Italy was a monarchy and the Fascists were in power, are still on the books but not enforced.
The Justice Ministry has ordered a review of the ruling and most ministers say the verdict will be toppled on appeal.