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  • October 2017: Italy and Islam. State-religion(s) relationship and de-radicalization programs

In the last decades, the changes within Italy’s cultural-religious scenario have been dramatic. The presence of Muslims and Islamic groups in the country is the best example of these changes, although they do not involve only Islam and Muslims. Nevertheless, given its specificity (especially when compared to religions that have long been present in the Italy) and its complex history, Islam highlights the most striking aspects of the country’s neo cultural-religious pluralism: it indicates and signals the pluralisation of Italian society. Islam has, in other words, become the discursive substitute for religious and cultural pluralism, which implies other sensitive matters that are, in a way or another, correlated to this religion: gender roles, clothing codes, family models, the relationship between religion and politics, the role of religions within a democratic system, the rights and duties of the major religion and of religious minorities. In the light of these issues, Islam has become the most extreme example of ‘other’ religions; this term usually understood as ‘other than traditional ones’.
Together with the issues related with the emergence of transnational radicalism and terrorism, all of this may also explain the various activities that, in relation to the role and the place of Islam in the society, have taken place in recent years in Italy. Here are some important examples of that.

In the fist half of 2016, Italy’s Interior Ministry, Angelino Alfano, established a Council for relations with Italy’s Muslims: an advisory body which the Italian Government hoped would help Muslim minority groups to integrate better. Made up of academics and experts in Islamic culture and religion, the Council was tasked with coming up with proposals and recommendations on integration issues based on respect and cooperation.
One year later, the new Interior Ministry, Marco Minniti, and representatives of Italy’s nine major Muslim organizations signed an agreement called ‘National Pact for an Italian Islam, expression of an open and integrated community, adhering to the values and principles of the Italian legal system’. This pact aimed at creating a registry of imams and to require them to preach in Italian. In return, the Italian Government vowed to ‘facilitate the road’ toward the official recognition of Islamic organizations in Italy (see Preparativi all’intesa con l’Islam?). The pact was in fact hailed as a first step toward the normalization of the situation of Islam in Italy (see Il Patto nazionale per l’Islam italiano: verso un’intesa?). However, this pact has been criticized for creating a double standard: for example, no other religious group has been asked by authorities to hold sermons in Italian.

On May 2017, a training course called ‘Servizio di formazione degli esponenti delle comunità religiose presenti in Italia che non hanno stipulato intese con lo Stato’ started in Ravenna (Northern Italy), teaching imams and other religious leaders the basics of the Italian Constitution. Supported by the Italian Ministry of Interior, this course was part of efforts made to improve integration in the country. Their participants were non-Catholic religious leaders who come from non-EU countries but plan to work in Italy. The principal aim of the course was to create a climate of tolerance through the teaching of the rights and duties related to Italy’s democratic legal system. Participants have therefore learned about constitutional principles, including freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and the right to have a place of worship and practice religion.

In October 2017, the University of Bari (Apulia Region) opened up a one-year Master-Course in ‘Preventing radicalization and terrorism for supporting interreligious and intercultural integration policy’. This course aims at providing students with an interdisciplinary approach to the knowledge of the international phenomenon of religiously inspired terrorism and its evolution. In this perspective, it gives students the competences concerning investigation systems and methods of fighting terrorism, focusing the attention on the relationship between rule of law (on the one hand) and emergency and security (on the other). The course also aims at training members of the police forces, the armed forces, the judicial power, as well as researchers, experts in the national security, lawyers, journalists, university graduates in juridical, economic and humanist subjects. The study program involves legal, political and strategic issues, with a specific focus on Islam. It also includes the survey and risk prevention techniques, also investigating sociological and media profiles of the terrorism phenomenon. It must be noted that this course was born of guidelines for a de-radicalization program, established by Bari’s Public Prosecutor with the collaboration of some academic experts, on the basis of the ‘preventive measures’ related to the Italian Antimafia Code.
During the same period, the University of Siena and the University of al-Qarawiyyin in Fez (Morocco) signed a cooperation agreement that includes an exchange of faculty members, researchers and students and the creation of specific courses aimed at the formation of professional profiles capable of operating in a pluralist milieu. The coordinator, journalist Carlo Panella, explained that, at the University of Arezzo, a course of educational sciences had been already started, designed to train multicultural operators and ‘social educators specializing in anti-radicalization methodologies’: the synergy with the Moroccan university also aims to create a scientific-pedagogic centre specialized in the prevention of radicalization, he added.

In the end, these initiatives try to fill gaps left by the Italian legislator, whose attitude on questions related to Islam seems based on considering the Islamic organizations as ‘other’ than the denominations more compatible with the traditional system of State-denominations relationship established in Italy until now. This system has been determined through the peculiar implementation of Articles 7 and 8 of the Constitutions and the 1159/1929 Law (which was, in fact, approved during the Fascist regime). Hence, since Islamic groups are different from the traditional creeds, public and private actors tend to promote new pathways. Those presented here are some of the most recent and significant examples.

Francesco Alicino
  • April 2017: Easter Blessings on the State School Grounds in Italy

It is legitimate to offer religious blessings at public schools. This is now established by the decision of the Italian Council of State (CoS), which has reversed the decision of the Administrative regional tribunal of Emilia-Romagna (TAR Emilia-Romagna). One year ago, this tribunal had suspended the decision of the 16 board members of Giosuè Carducci Elementary School of Bologna, who had agreed to let a Roman Catholic priest offer an Easter prayer at their public school.
From a general point of view, the CoS states that the blessing cannot in any way affect the progress of public teaching and school life. As far as the case of Carducci Elementary School is concerned, the religious rite is provided for activities other than official ones. For these reasons, the blessing cannot infringe, directly or indirectly, the religious freedom of those who, while belonging to the same school community, do not belong to Catholicism: if they fear to be harmed by these religious rites, they can choose not to attend them.
In addition, the CoS affirms that the blessing is not in contrast with the supreme principle of secularism (principi supremo di laicità). As the Italian constitutional court stated in a historical decision of 1989 (n° 203), this principle does not imply indifference towards religions, but equidistance and impartiality towards the different religious denominations. In other words, the supreme principle of laicità is based on the State’s positive attitude towards all religious communities. That is the point, have replied the members of the school community who disagree with the CoS’s decision: if we interpret the supreme principle of laicità the way the CoS did, then all religious rites should have the opportunity to be held on school ground. As matter of fact, the supreme principle of secularism also implies the prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion or belief.
All this shows that the case over the blessing at the school is part of an enduring debate in Italy on where exactly the church-State boundary lies. The argument is that such rituals, which include the blessing, are part of the cultural legacy of Italy, a point contested by a group of parents and teachers who filed a legal action to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). It should be noted that, in 2011 the Great Chamber of the ECHR overturned an earlier decision of the ECHR’s Second Section, and ruled that State schools in Italy could hang up crucifixes, concluding that they were “an essentially passive symbol whose influence on pupils was not comparable to that of didactic speech or participation in religious activities.”
Thus, it does not matter what the ECHR will decide in the case of Giosuè Carducci Elementary School. In the light of the above considerations, we are sure that, once again, the decision will have an impact.

Reference: N. Colaianni, "Laicità: finitezza degli ordini e governo delle differenze", in Stato, Chiese e pluralismo confessionale, n° 39, 2013.

Francesco Alicino
  • May 2017: The Italian Case of Kirpan: “You must adapt to our values”

On 15 May 2017, the Italian Court of Cassation ruled against a Sikh migrant who wanted to carry a kirpan (a small sword considered a sacred symbol in Sikhism, one of five articles of faith called the punj kakkar) in public: hearing an appeal filed by the Sikh migrant who was fined 2,000 Euros for carrying a 20 cm. long dagger, the High Court said that public safety must be ensured (see the 110/1975 Law). This has shaken the Sikh community all over the world. Most Sikhs consider the ceremonial dagger (kirpan) an essential part of their religious identity along with their unshorn hair, a small wooden comb, a cotton underwear, and a metal bangle, since the end of 17th century when the tenth Sikh master, Guru Gobind Singh, established the Khalsa Panth by giving the followers of Sikhism a distinct identity.

While seeking the case to be referred to UN Human Rights Committee, legal director of the United Sikhs, Mejinderpal Kaur, said that “it’s regrettable that the Italian Supreme Court judgment is based on the view that immigrants should live in Rome as Romans do when religious freedom is global and across borders.”

From its part, the Italian High Court said that it is important to acknowledge the religious-cultural diversity in a multi-ethnic society. Nevertheless, migrants must ensure that their beliefs are legally compatible with host countries. So the Italian judges ruled that public safety from weapons was of paramount importance and superseded an individual’s rights. In order to justify and sustain this position, the Court also affirmed that migrants who choose to live in the Western world have an obligation to conform to the values of the society they have chosen to settle in, even if its values differ from their own. So, in this manner, the Court did not refer to the legal principles, including the supreme principle of secularism (as the Italian Constitutional Court has called it), as one might expect from a judiciary power. They referred to the generic “values” of the Western society (see also: Corte Suprema di Cassazione, Sez. I penale, sent. 14 June 2016, no. 24739, and 16 June 2016, no. 25163. On the decision A. Licarsto, Il motivo religioso non giustifica il porto fuori dell’abitazione del kirpan da parte del fedele sikh (considerazioni in margine alle sentenze n. 24739 e n. 25163 del 2016 della Cassazione penale)).

In addition, the Court confused a religious identity with immigration. In other words, it did not consider that, in the name of the fundamental right to religious freedom as well as the principle of secularism, some Italians might decide to convert, for instance, to Sikhism. In brief, the Court has set a precedent under which all migrants must ‘adapt’ to traditional (i.e. Western) values that, on the ground of the State-confessions relations, are in Italy strongly influenced by the Catholicism and other few (traditional) beliefs.

For all these reasons, the 15 may 217 judgment has raised a heated debate, also fuelled by some political parties, like the North League (Lega Nord) and Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d’Italia), which in the last years have been protesting against both immigration and the “new” (i.e. different) religious groups that are usually made up of immigrants.

Francesco Alicino, Vera Valente

D 9 January 2018    AFrancesco Alicino AVera Valente

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