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Italians and Bangladeshi Community disturbed as far-right mayor bans Muslims Prayers, sparking pandemonium in town

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Monfalcone’s Bangladeshi Community and others claim that the decision to forbid burkinis on the beach and to forbid prayer in cultural centers is a manifestation of anti-Islamic sentiment.

It was unexpected to open the envelope that had two half burned pages of the Qu’ran. For almost two decades, the Muslim community in Monfalcone, an Adriatic port town, had lived in relative peace up until that point.

The envelope was received shortly after Anna Maria Cisint, the far-right mayor of Monfalcone, forbade prayers on the property. It was addressed to the Darus Salaam Muslim cultural association on Via Duca d’Aosta.

“It was hurtful, a serious insult we never expected,” said Bou Konate, the association’s president. “But it was not a coincidence. The letter was a threat, generated by a campaign of hate that has stoked toxicity.”

The population of Monfalcone has surpassed 30,000. In a nation where the birthrate is fast dropping, a positive demographic trend like this one should be encouraging. However, in Monfalcone, where Cisint has been promoting anti-Islamic policies since gaining her first mandate in 2016, the increase has not been well received.

 

The expansive shipyard held by the state-controlled giant Fincantieri, whose policy of outsourcing labor over the past 20 years has resulted in a massive influx of skilled foreign workers, primarily from Bangladesh, is primarily to blame for the town’s population boom. Italian laborers are greatly outnumbered by cheaper immigrant laborers, particularly during the busiest times for building massive cruise ships.

The arrival of relatives through the family reunification policy—which Cisint would like to restrict—as well as their children who were born in Italy have strengthened Monfalcone’s Bangladeshi community.

“If it wasn’t for the contribution of the foreign community, Monfalcone would become a ghost town,” stated left-leaning councillor Enrico Bullian for the larger Friuli-Venezia Giulia region.

Cisint, a politician supported by Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party and Matteo Salvini’s League party, easily gained reelection in 2022, primarily on an anti-immigration platform that helped the far-right of Italy gain prominence.

Removing the seats from the main area was one of her first initiatives; the reason given was that the benches were primarily utilized by immigrants. Cisint made an effort to restrict the amount of foreign students enrolled in schools, and the sports festival eliminated cricket—a sport that is particularly popular in Bangladesh. She outlawed Muslim women from donning burkinis at the beach last summer.

However, the most significant impact has been caused by Cisint’s November prayer ban, which also affects a second Muslim cultural center in the town.

According to Konate, an engineer who has spent 40 years living in Italy, “it has had an enormous impact.” Here, for more than two decades, we had been praying in silence. However, people gathered here for more than just prayer—they also came to socialize. Kids arrived for lessons after school. Throughout Europe, there are numerous Islamic cultural centers where prayer is accepted and no one forbids it.

Because the space was intended for commercial usage rather than religious purposes, Cisint asserted that the Muslims had disregarded urban planning regulations. She added that safety was a consideration after receiving pictures from the public depicting “hundreds of people” entering.

“I didn’t say ‘close down and you must not pray’,” Cisint told the Observer. “The space was being used in a distorted way – it was a mosque. They need to respect the laws.”

The prohibition is consistent with an Italian organization called Meloni’s Brothers’ demand to close hundreds of mosque-free Muslim prayer locations nationwide. At a news conference in early January, Meloni—who has long denounced “Islamization” in Europe—was asked to comment on “the Monfalcone situation” and replied, “Those who choose to live in Italy must respect Italian norms.”

According to Konate, the mayor’s goal was to restrict the Muslims’ constitutional right to pray in Italy. The town’s remarkably low crime rate is evidence that the Muslims in Monfalcone have always complied with the law.

But he said that the ban was a “watershed” moment after years of quietly enduring the hostility.

A protest against the move and Cisint’s anti-Islam campaign, which many believe is being used to enhance her profile in the hopes of competing in June’s European elections, was led by an estimated 8,000 people on December 23.

The Muslim community is also using the regional administrative court to protest the prayer ban.  “For the first time, we said ‘we must defend ourselves’,” recalled Konate, an Italian national like many of the Muslims in Monfalcone.

Cisint stated that Monfalcone’s social services are under strain due to the population’s exponential increase in foreign-born individuals. However, she finds nothing wrong with Romanians, who make up the other sizable immigrant group in the town. She stated, “They come, they integrate, and they respect Italian norms.”

Cisint recount an extensive list of misconceptions about Muslims, including the idea that women must hide their faces and go behind men. She says she has built more schools “because they are having so many babies” and has done a lot for the neighborhood. She claims that Muslims have no interest in learning Italian and that their primary motivation for doing so is to become citizens.

Nonetheless, a Muslim woman claimed that it was difficult to get a spot in the lessons led by the authorities during an Italian lesson led by volunteers. “It seems that everything is done to make life difficult for Bangladeshi residents,” stated Cinzia Benussi, her instructor.

A women’s organization composed of Italian immigrants and natives has formed among the tensions to heal the divide left by Cisint’s policy.

At a recent meeting, 27-year-old student Nahida Akhter, a native of Monfalcone and the daughter of a Fincantieri employee, stated, “It’s important to have this group to share ideas and help change the opinion of those who are fixated on the same prejudices.”

Financial advisor Fulvia Taucer continued, saying, “There has never been an issue with this community … Monfalcone is everyone’s home.”

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Dulal Ahmed Chowdhury is the Editor of The Daily Dazzling Dawn. Previously, he has been serving in important positions in all the famous national dailies of the Bangladesh since the nineties. He has played a commendable role in journalism by participating in various events at the national and international levels. United Nations Conference, World Climate Conference, SAARC Summit are notable among them.

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