Italy’s recent effort to increase positive inter-religious dialogue recently took a turn for the worse. A controversial move by a Northern Italian court to allow Muslim women to wear burqas in public has revived a heated debate among parliamentarians and human rights groups throughout the country.
Despite an anti-terrorism law, passed in 1975, forbidding Italians from covering their faces in public, the prefect of Treviso reportedly made his decision based a 2004 police department document indicating that wearing the burqa was legitimate because it was an ‘external sign of religious faith’.
However, the document also says that it should not be worn in places such as banks or post offices because of the possible ‘alarm’ this would cause to other people. In these situations, police can and should identify the wearer.
Nonetheless, the move has provoked indignation from a vast array of Italian MPs who do not support the ruling. Spokesperson for Interior minister Giuliano Amato stated, ‘We have already said several times, and we reiterate it now, that the use of the burqa is unacceptable’. Equal Opportunities minister Barbara Pollastrini added, ‘I am indignant. Covering up women’s faces is an offence to their dignity’.
A few MPs did back the measure, however, including Family minister Rosi Bindi, known for her firm Catholic beliefs and politics. Bindi acknowledged that it is right to be ‘respectful of the veil’ as long as women wear it of their own free will.
Current reports indicate that Italy’s Muslim population has reached 1.2 million, making it the second largest faith in Italy, after Catholicism.