- The teaching of the Islamic religion in schools : a proposal arousing debate
Islam in Italy is always the subject of debate, particularly because of the little knowledge that public opinion and politicians have of religion and the Muslim world. The proposal by the Deputy Minister for Economic Development, A. Urso, to teach Islam in schools, with an hour of optional teaching as an alternative to the (equally optional) teaching of the Catholic religion, has ignited a debate which is above all fuelling the current divisions on the right.
Deputy Minister Urso, member of the right-wing party Alleanza Nazionale, has, with this proposal, brought about much needed reflection in Italy ; it remains for the moment, unfortunately, limited to political groups. The xenophobic Northern League party has declared its opposition to the teaching of Islam by referring to "safeguarding" Italy’s Christian roots (although the relationship between the League and the Vatican are tense). The Minister of the Interior, Maroni, (Northern League), says that, unlike Catholicism which is a unitary religion with a clear hierarchy led by the Pope, in Islam you can say anything because "the Imam interprets the Qur’an freely, there is not one set of dogmas, there is no clear message to convey". Beyond the dubious expertise of some Italian ministers in religious matters, the proposal is stirring up the minds of Berlusconi’s PDL.
But the debate should not be limited to political confrontation, as it could be an opportunity to reflect on the content and complex solutions to such an issue. Comparing this to solutions adopted in other EU countries is surely necessary, as the multitude of alternatives also reflects the complexity of this type of education (cf. the article by A. Pisci, L’Islam tra i banchi di scuola). The Minister for European Policy, Ronchi, is suggesting one hour’s teaching of the history of religions (which remains optional). For many, Muslims included, teachers who are Italian or have been trained in Italy should be found, so as to guarantee "correct" teaching.
Numerous issues have been identified in relation to teaching a religion other than Catholicism and especially Islam. The issue of what curriculum to adopt is not the least of them, then a response has to be found to a kind of anxiety among citizens about Muslims, which goes hand in hand - according to the current government - with the need to control the territory and its residents from abroad. What is more, the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI in Italian) is opposed to this proposal, like other figures in the Vatican - although stances also vary in the Catholic world.
The reflection takes place firstly on the pedagogical and legal level, particularly in relation to the issue of women’s liberties, wearing the veil at school etc. But when it comes to Islam, there is a very strong temptation to talk about terrorism and the opportunity was not lost on the Northern League, following an attack in which a Libyan citizen tried to blow himself up in front of a barracks on 12 October 2009 in Milan. An Islamic terrorist motive was obviously evoked by right-wing politicians, which was enough for them to challenge the right to citizenship, but also the meaning of the word ’integration’, which is all too often misused. The act which was committed seems, however, to be connected rather with the difficult social and economic situation of its perpetrator, than with Muslim or terrorist organisations. But regardless, sliding from teaching to religious extremism is common. Reading the Italian newspapers (not just theirs, moreover), we immediately perceive the difference in the ways these events were viewed by the left and the right. Berlusconi’s daily Il Giornale highlights the opposition of the League and the CEI (article of 20 October 2009) and - in what is a habit that crosses the political boundaries of our press - shows a photo of a veiled, young girl to speak of the teaching of Islam.
The internet gives us a quick, but on the spot, view of the current debate : the attention is more focused on Italians and Italian politicians, and then on what Muslim organisations think about it. However, Muslims are very interested in discussion and reflecting together on the solution to be adopted ; they welcomed the opening initiated by Minister Ronchi’s proposal. If for them the ’yes’ prevails over the ’no’ to teaching, methods will have to be defined and a careful selection of teaching staff (origins, training and orientation) undertaken. In general, everyone prefers the teachers to be trained in Italy, for the curriculum to correspond to ministerial instructions, for it to be delivered in Italian. They also favour ethical principles of solidarity, peace and love for the creation (according to Hamza Piccardo, President of the UCOII). For members of the COREIS (Comunità Religiosa Islamica), teachers should be Italian citizens, Muslims and qualified and the teaching must have a secular nature, provide the doctrinal, historical and cultural basis of Islam and therefore be aimed at all students. Others, on the Muslim side as on the left (PD), stress the importance of teaching the history of religions so that children get to know one another better, while advocating that the task of teaching religion to the faithful is left in the hands of communities (Izzedin Elzir, Imam of the UCOII in Florence).
It only remains to await the continuation of this debate at the level of national and/or local education, especially since there is not a shortage of "provocative" arguments on both sides and that Muslim speakers are almost always suspect because of their religious affiliation. Will the proposal by Minister Mara Carfagna to ban the wearing of the burqa and the niqab at school, although no incident has occurred, be welcomed as an "important signal" to move forward a broader debate on Islam ?
Will schooling and state education - pillar of modern democracies - ultimately be the primary interest to defend against any instrumentalisation and oversimplified opposition of Islam and the West ?
- Euthanasia : the case of Eluana Englaro, continued
The Italian Senate has just approved a law on end-of-life treatment, in answer to both the public emotion aroused by the Englaro case and the request made in the strongest terms by Catholic Bishops for a law designed to prevent judges in the future authorising the end of hydration and nutrition in cases involving a permanent vegetative state. The approved text not only goes in the direction desired by the Catholic Church for cases involving a permanent vegetative state, but addresses the broader issue of prolonging life by introducing the concept of the living will, which allows only a doctor the right to impose care for the patient. The text seemingly introduces the living will to Italy, but removes all content that would restrict the care team.
The centre-left coalition opposes the text in the name of individual freedom as recognised by Article 32 §2 of the Constitution : "No person shall be compelled to health treatment, except when provided for by law. The law can in no case violate the limits imposed by respect for a human being". For the text to become law, it must still be passed by the Chamber of Deputies.