“To go around with your face covered is a crime, you can’t do it,” Castelli claimed.

ROME, June 6, 2005 (IslamOnline.net & News Agencies) – Italian politicians and Muslim leaders have reacted angrily to statements by a minister from the anti-immigrant Northern League (LN) that Muslim women covering their faces in public should be fined.

“Northern League ministers are … feeding a culture of fear and defensiveness against migrants of Islamic origin,” Paolo Cento, vice chairman of the parliament’s justice committee was quoted as saying by Reuters.

Justice Minister Roberto Castelli said any Muslim woman covering her face in public should be reported to police and fined.

“To go around with your face covered is a crime, you can’t do it,” he told reporters.

“Women who do so must be reported to the police and fined.”

The local prefect has quashed fines imposed last year on an Italian revert to Islam from nearby Drezzo, who wears a niqab.

Two other women have been fined for wearing the garment elsewhere.

Fanning hysteria

Italian opposition politicians demanded the resignation of Castelli and other Northern League ministers, whose party has come to be defined by its anti-immigrant rhetoric, according to Reuters.

They accused the minister of fanning hysteria, noting that his comments were irrelevant because it was rare to see a woman dressed in a niqab on Italian streets.

The controversial remarks also drew fire from leftwing parties.

Marco Rizzo of the Communist party said they were “at the threshold of incitement to racial and religious hatred”, reported The Guardian.

Surprised

Muslim leaders and organizations, meanwhile, expressed surprise at the “provocative” statements, insisting that the niqab has never caused problems in Italy, reported Agence France-Presse (AFP).

“The niqab does not deserve all this noise,” said Hyman Al-Zabad, imam of Brescia in the north of the country. “It is not a duty for Muslims.”

The majority of scholars – including those of the four juristic schools – hold the opinion that a woman is not obliged to cover her face and hands.

The president of the World Islamic League’s Italy section, Mario Scialoja, said he had never seen one worn in Italy.

Italy, with a population of 57 million, is home to an estimated 1 million officially registered Muslims, making Islam the country’s second-largest religion. But social services groups say the number is much higher and growing.

A judge last month ordered celebrated Italian writer and journalist Oriana Fallaci to stand trial on charges of defaming Islam in a recent trilogy written in response to the Sept. 11 attacks.

In the books, which sold more than 1 million copies in Italy, Fallaci claimed that Muslim immigrants had “multiplied like rats”.

Castelli said Fallaci, who lives in New York, would not be found guilty because the government would change the defamation law to clear her, local news agencies ANSA and AGI reported.

Anti-EU

The LN, one of the constituent elements in the ruling coalition, is known in Italy as xenophobic and euro-skeptic, according to AFP.

Castelli’s anti-Muslim remarks made him the third LN minister in the space of a few days to provoke controversy.

His Social Affairs colleague Roberto Maroni said Friday that Italy should consider abandoning the euro and reverting to the lira.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi Sunday disavowed criticism by another LN minister of the country’s president and telephoned the head of state to disassociate himself from the remarks.

Roberto Calderoli, minister for reform, had reacted to the rejection of the European Union constitution in referendums last week in France and The Netherlands by attacking President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, a supporter of European construction and strong advocate of the euro.

“He is one of those who pushed our country into entering the euro at any price,” Calderoli said. “Today he must accept defeat.”

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