Italy Rightists Raze Verona Mosque
By Hadi Yahmid, IOL Correspondent
"[The mosque destruction] reinforces Muslim fears of seeing the League in the ruling coalition," Ali Abu Shwaima.
ROME — Italy's far-right, anti-immigrant Northern League party has started its mission in the new government with bringing down a mosque in the northern city of Verona.
"[The mosque destruction] reinforces Muslim fears of seeing the League in the ruling coalition," Ali Abu Shwaima, the head of Milan-based Islamic Centre, told IslamOnline.net on Saturday, May 24.
Bulldozers brought down last week a building housing a Muslim prayer room in the city.
"I never felt at ease with this mosque," Elisonder Antonneli, the head of Verona city council, said.
"This place will be turned into a park and a car parking space and will be named after (Italian writer) Oriana Fallaci."
Fallaci, who died in 2006, was notorious for anti-Islam stances.
Following the 9/11 attacks, the far-right writer published a book entitled "Rage and Pride" in which she ridiculed the Noble Qur'an.
She has also authored another book "The Force of Reason" in which she warned that Europe was turning into "an Islamic province, an Islamic colony" and that "to believe that a good Islam and a bad Islam exist goes against all reason."
The Northern League has four ministers in Silovio Berlusconi's government, including the portfolio of the Interior.
The League grabbed 8 percent of the vote in last month's general elections, securing Berlusconi's right-wing coalition a comfortable majority in the parliament.
The party has nearly doubled its parliamentary strength from 4.5 percent two years ago.
The Northern League is widely accused of racism with many critics calling it the BNP of Italy, a reference to the British right-wing party.
Its election campaign played on issues such as immigration crime and economic and cultural fears from immigration.
Abu Shwaima, the Muslim leader, said Italian Muslims will face hard times under the far-right league.
"We believe the life of Italian Muslims will get more complicated," he said.
He said Muslims in the city of Verona used to find spiritual comfort at the razed mosque.
"The mosque destruction is sign of spiraling Islamophobia in many European countries," he said.
There are nearly 20,000 Muslims in Verona.
"I used to pray in the mosque for years," an Italian Muslim in Verona told IOL, requesting anonymity.
"But this Friday I went to the mosque for prayers but I could not as it was razed.
"We live in a state of anticipation and fear after the mosque was destroyed and we want Arab and Muslim governments to pile pressures on Italy to stop anti-immigrant and anti-Islam policies."
Abu Shwaima, the Muslim leader, has a similar message.
"We want to tell the Muslim world that mosques' construction in Italy is almost a mission impossible.
"Except for the Milan-based Islamic Center and the Rome mosque, there are no real mosques in Italy."
Last November, former Italian deputy Education Minister and League member Mariella Mazzetto angered Muslims after parading a pig on the site of a planned mosque in the northern city of Padua.
Two months earlier, League senator Roberto Calderoli called for a "Pig Day" protest against the mosque construction in the northern city of Bologna.
In 2006, protesters left a pig's head at a mosque building site in the central Italian city of Tuscany.
Italy has a Muslim population of some 1.2 million, including 20,000 reverts, according to unofficial estimates.