Italian Mayor's Crusade Against Islam: Bans Prayers & Burkinis

A coastal town in northern Italy is in disarray after its far-right mayor introduced a series of policies aimed against its immigrant Muslim population, with the latest being a ban on Muslim prayer passed in November last year.

Since her re-election in 2022 on an anti-immigration ticket, Anna Maria Cisint, the far-right mayor of Monfalcone, a port town located near the Adriatic Sea in northeastern Italy, has implemented several policies that hurt the town’s immigrant Muslim community, composed mostly of skilled workers and their families from Bangladesh. 

Their presence in Monfalcone is often attributed to the sprawling shipyard owned by the state-owned shipbuilding giant Fincantieri, whose policy of outsourcing labor over the past two decades led to a huge inflow of workers from Bangladesh. The Bangladeshi workers outnumber the Italians, especially during peak periods in building huge ships.

The growth in the Monfalcone’s working population due to increased immigration also corresponds to growth in its population, which has recently passed to 30,000, a good development for a country grappling with a declining birth rate. However, not everyone appreciates the rise of the town’s foreign-born population, especially its far-right mayor, Cisint, who has been governing on an anti-Islam agenda since her first mandate in 2016.

For instance, Cisint long desired to restrict the town’s family reunification policy, which allows Bangladeshi immigrants in Monfalcone to bring over their relatives in Bangladesh and raise their Italian-born children as citizens. In addition, she had also removed benches from the town’s main square, allegedly because immigrants used them. 

Other policies she enacted against the town’s Muslim community include limiting the number of foreign-born children being admitted to the town’s schools, scrapping cricket, a sport popular among Monfalcone’s Bangladeshi community, from its local sports festival, and even banning Muslim women from wearing burkinis at the beach. 

But her latest blow against Monfalcone’s Muslim community came in November last year when she banned Muslims from praying at the Darus Salaam Muslim Cultural Association on Via Duca d’Aosta. The policy came as a considerable shock for Monfalcone’s Bangladeshi residents, especially after the center received an envelope containing two partially burned pages of the Quran inside.

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

But Cisint claimed that she implemented the ban because Monfalcone’s Muslims allegedly violated urban planning rules because the premise where the center was located was a commercial space and not meant for religious congregations. She also cited safety as another reason for the ban after some concerned citizens showed her photos of “hundreds of people” entering. 

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

When asked to comment on the situation in Monfalcone during a press conference in January, Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, a far-right politician who has long rallied against Islamization in Italy and Europe, said that “those who choose to live in Italy must respect Italian norms.

But Konate said Monfalcone’s Muslim community has always respected local laws, citing the town’s extremely low crime rate, adding that Cisint had the motive to curtail their constitutional right to observe their religion.

It has had an enormous impact,” Konate, who is also an engineer living in Italy for 40 years, said. “We had been praying peacefully here for over 20 years. But this was not only a place for prayer – people came to meet and chat. Children came for after-school lessons. There are many Islamic cultural centers across Europe where you can pray, and nobody prevents it.

An estimated 8,000 people protested against Cisint’s anti-Islam policies last December 23rd, and Monfalcone’s Muslim community appealed the ban through the regional administrative court of Friuli-Venezia Giulia.

For the first time, we said, ‘we must defend ourselves,’” Konate, who is also an Italian citizen like many of the town’s Muslim residents, said.

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