Consider the absurdity, 1436 years and 1.6 billion Muslims later; the Italian Republic still does not recognise Islam as an authentic religion. The usual suspects, i.e. Buddhism, Hinduism and Judaism, are all state-endorsed, as are obscure ones such as Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Islam, however, is an ‘illegitimate cult,’ and its 1.5 million adherents in Italy, a pack of dogmatic hobos. The narrative is simple, and best expressed by Abdel Latif Chalikandi, a cultural mediator at the Mosque of Rome: “Are you a Muslim or an Italian?”

In January 2015, the right-wing dominated council of the Lombardy region in Italy passed a new building regulations bill. This legislation added a series of draconian restrictions on the construction of new places of worship for unsanctioned religions. It also stipulates that the architectural proportions of such places should fit in with the surroundings, effectively outlawing minarets. With this ‘unsanctioned’ list being a party of one, these regulations have become known as the ‘anti-mosque’ laws.

While Pope Francis insists that equating Islam with violence is wrong, his denominational lieges in the Lega Nord party say the new laws will calm fears shared by all Italians. The dominant political entity in Lombardy seeks to ensure that Italy’s second largest religion doesn’t grow. Despite populist and center-left politicians vocally opposing the laws, calling them Islamophobic, the Lega Nord remains nonplussed. It’s as Roberto Anelli, a senior party leader, says: “I say to anyone who doesn’t like this law: go home.”

Not all Italians are on board the Muslim hate-train, Amid the secular outcry, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi decided in March, 2015, to refer the offending legislation to the Constitutional Court. Judges will consider whether Lombardy has exceeded its power by redrawing the relationship between state and religion, and whether the new laws leave too much to the discretion of local mayors. After all, under one provision, local mayors unhappy about the construction of a new mosque may organize a local referendum before granting or refusing permission.

In the US, on March 4, 2015, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that city public schools will now recognize Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr as official holidays. Italy, meanwhile, refuses to move past the middle ages and work to diminish a long history of animosity between Catholics and Muslims. Pope Francis recently proclaimed: “Authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence.” Looks like Italian politicians didn’t get the memo.

S. MUBASHIR NOOR,

Islamabad, March 20.