After French law on Muslim headscarves,
Italian village bans the burqa
Italy's reputation for religious
tolerance was in the balance last week after a ban on women wearing
burqas instigated in a tiny Alpine village began spreading across the
An Italian woman who converted to Islam nine years ago and took to
veiling her face after performing the Haj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, has
received two fines from the authorities in the village where she has
lived all her life.
Sabrina Varroni, 34, converted after marrying her Moroccan husband, with
whom she has four children. There are 10 other Muslims in the village,
but she is the only who wears the veil. The mayor of Drezzo, the
1,000-strong village near the Swiss border where she lives, has strong
views on such practices.
A member of the xenophobic and separatist Northern League, Cristian
Tolettini found two laws on the books to help him stamp them out: one
passed under Mussolini's fascist rule in 1931, banning the wearing of
masks in public, and another dating from 1975, at the height of the Red
Brigades scare, forbidding the wearing of items that disguise a person's
identity. And he has instructed local police to enforce them.
As a result, last week Drezzo's only policeman handed Ms Varroni two
penalty notices on successive days, each for about £25: once when she
was waiting at the bus stop for her children to come home from school,
once in the municipal office.
The following day she seemed likely to get another if she didn't remove
her veil. Instead she stayed indoors.
Despite the evident absurdity of a village woman known to all the other
inhabitants being fined for setting foot outside her home, Mr Tolettini
defends his action. For Ms Varroni to go around wearing the burqa, he
said, was "a continual and conscious violation of the law" which was
"not a question of principle but of correctness. The law of '75 was
enacted in light of the terrorism of the Red Brigades, and today too it
seems to me that reasons of security are not lacking."
Through a lawyer, Ms Varroni said: "I have been
wearing the veil for years, I am Italian, raised in Drezzo, and I have
never done any harm to anyone. Why are they so furious with me?"
The assault on the right to wear the burqa has been condemned as
"an ignoble act of persecution" by
left-wingers. Michele Ainis, a legal expert, told the newspaper Corriere
della Sera that the law enacted under Mussolini was
"one of the most fascist laws in 20 years of
fascism", and that he was sure Italy's Constitutional Court would
overturn this application of it. But this week Mr Tolettini's initiative
Mario Borghezio, a Northern League MEP, said the burqa deserved to be
banned because it is "a symbol of the most obscurantist type of Islamic
fundamentalism" and has become a "symbol of death" because some of the
women involved in the Beslan massacre were veiled.
In parliament, the Minister for Parliamentary Relations, Carlo
Giovanardi, told MPs that the ban would be enforced. And in a village
near Treviso, in the Veneto region, a Bangladeshi woman wearing a burqa
was challenged by a policeman in the street and taken to the police
station, where she removed it.
26 September 2004