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Minaret referendum mulled in parliament

Northern League says Italy should follow in Swiss footsteps

30 November, 23:34
Minaret referendum mulled in parliament

ROME - A constitutional referendum to ban the building of Islamic minarets in Italy is soon to appear before parliament, Simplification Minister Roberto Calderoli announced on Monday. Taking the lead from Switzerland, which drew widespread international criticism by passing its own anti-minaret referendum this weekend, Calderoli said it was time Italy affirm its Catholic roots. The motion in Switzerland passed with a surprise 57.6% vote in the face of opposition from the government, who said it violated the country's constitution and long tradition of tolerance.

The Catholic Church was among its loudest critics, with the Swiss Bishop's Conference decrying the move as an ''alarming mistake''. But Calderoli hailed the move as a triumphant ''yes to bell towers and no to minarets,'' that served as an important example for other European countries losing touch with their Christian identities. ''Respect for other religions is important, but we've got to put the brakes on Muslim propaganda or else we'll end up with an Islamic political party like they have in Spain,'' he said.

The announcement followed a short-lived proposal by another Northern League MP, former justice minister Roberto Castelli who seized on the Swiss referendum to suggest Italy put a cross on its flag. Both proposals received mixed reactions from the center right majority. While Foreign Minister Franco Frattini pointed to the Scandinavian countries, which all have crossed flags, he joined in the near unanimous criticism from his European Union colleagues in calling the Swiss referendum ''a worrying sign of intolerance''. Deputy House Speaker Maurizio Lupi of Premier Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom party urged coalition members to let both items drop. ''The last thing we need to be getting into right now is a religious debate about crosses and minarets,'' he said.

The Vatican daily L'Osservatore Romano has remained steadfast in its opposition to the initiative, which it likened to an early November ruling by the European Court of Human Rights against crucifixes in Italian classrooms. ''Both positions are based on the same, flawed principle that religion ought to be something we do in private,'' explained editor Giovanni Maria Vian.

The Northern League was not the only party in Europe hoping to seize on the Swiss referendum to curtail mosque building at home.
The nationalist Danish Peoples Party have said they too will seek a similar referendum in Denmark, where minarets have yet to appear. Italy, by contrast boasts one of the tallest minarets in Europe standing just a meter shorter than St Peter's Basilica, at the Mosque and Islamic Cultural Center in Rome. Italy has around 1.2 million Muslims, making Islam the second religion after Catholicism.

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