The Dean of the Faculty began with greeting the guests at the event.
Maurizio Ambrosini, full professor of the Faculty and Head of the Italian team of ACCEPT PLURALISM Project, introduced the topic of the meeting with a brief presentation (entitled ”Immigration, religious pluralism, social cohesion. An open question”). He thus emphasized how the aspects of religious life, such as freedom of religion and association, are part of the civil liberties, and for this reason they should be recognized to everybody, including minorities.
Report and Conclusions
The Dean of the Faculty began by greeting the guests at the event.
Maurizio Ambrosini, full professor of the Faculty and Head of the Italian team of the ACCEPT Project, introduced the topic of the meeting with a brief presentation entitled “Immigration, religious pluralism, social cohesion. An open question”. He tried to emphasize how the aspects of religious life, such as freedom of religion and association, are part of civil liberties, and for this reason they should be recognized to everybody, including minorities.
The first part of the meeting consisted of the presentation of three reports by academic experts on the subject.
The first guest to present his report was Paolo Branca, professor of Islamic Culture at the Catholic University of Milan. His talk focused on the way the topic of the religious freedom of minorities is handled. Politics intervenes “ex post”, i.e. too late, or exploits the issue in two ways: by avoiding it, in order not to lose support, or by frightening people, to gain consent. So, for example in the case of the mosque in Milan, the Interior Minister and the Mayor of the city passed the buck so as not to lose votes. There is no “Islam emergency”, as many people affirm, but only one issue that we have to handle. And the best way to do this would be to consider that Muslims are a diversified population, so it would be better to create many places of worship in different quarters, not only one mosque that easily becomes a target of controversy . Finally, we should highlight practices that are not recognized, or considered by the media, but that are very common, such as mixed couples, or the fact that 15% of young Muslims do not seek exemption from the Catholic religion classes at school.
The second guest was Alessandra Facchi, professor of Philosophy of Politics at the University of Milan. Her speech had a more theoretical and normative approach, and examined the issue of individual rights against collective ones. The community, or collective, rights as Taylor stated, are necessary to guarantee the survival of minority groups, and group survival is the primary goal, before that of individual members. But religious freedom is an individual right, example e.g. observing holy days falls within the religious rights of the person, because these do not implicate obligations of compliance to collective laws. Finally, economic and social rights must be rethought on the basis of gender and religious freedom. According to Rodkin, multiculturalists’ policies disregard private and familiar situations, where the major incidents of discrimination and intolerance take place.
The third and final speaker was Marzia Barbera, professor of Law at the University of Brescia. She outlined the bills awaiting debate in Parliament and municipal ordinances regarding religious freedom. For example, there are municipal ordinances against the burqa in situations where people have never seen a woman with a burqa, but this is justified for “reasons of public safety”. Some examples of bills, on the other hand, are: in May 2009: extending the ban on covering the face according to a Law passed in 1975 to the burqa and the nikab (PDL – right wing); to ban the burqa and the nikab because it is against human rights and is a symbol of extremist groups (LEGA – extreme right wing). The ban is justified by the protection of the rights of immigrant women. But who decides what an expression of religious freedom is? The judge, as Professor Barbera says, should choose on a case by case basis.
After these three speakers, representatives of civil society and politicians were invited to speak.
The first was an Imam of the Islamic Community in Milan, Abdullah Tchina Dahmane, who underlined the fact that only a very small percentage of the Muslim community wears the Islamic headscarf or burqa, so these bills are not very useful. Integration must be promoted within these associations, where people speak Italian, but have different backgrounds, and the mosque can help this process.
A second speech was made by a member of the Association of Young Muslims of Italy. He wondered why in Milan anyone can open a cultural center of any kind except an Islamic center. The Islamic centers are not just places of worship, but provide aid to mediation, interaction and integration, “embankments” against the barbarization and decay of society.
Federico Maggi, a member of the Community of Sant’Egidio, declared their goal of interreligious dialogue at national and international level, a process which has to start from the community. An example is the work in the Ivory Coast to strengthen Muslim-Christian relations.
Giovanni Minali, of CGIL (a trade union), covered the issue of religious freedom in the workplace. The question of representation is important in the world of work, but there are conflicts because the rights of workers may clash with personal rights. The solution lies in flexibility, but also in this case requests of parity and equality arise. Flexibility of working hours, food in canteens and holidays to meet the requirements of religious and cultural minorities is not always easily obtained, and Italian workers are hostile to flexibility. For this reason, the CGIL in collaboration with the Chamber of Commerce is preparing a Handbook of equal rights for all workers. Contrary to what one might expect, many families and businesses apply for regularization of their workers, but Italy is very far behind on the issue of recognition of religious equality and freedom, including in the field of work.
Penaglia, of CISL (trade union), stressed that the purpose of the trade union is to protect the whole person, not only at work, and for this reason cultural rights are also involved.
A good, but almost unique example of cooperation between management and trade unions for the integration of immigrant workers is to be found at the branch of Ikea in Corsico (Milan), which is a Swedish firm.
Silvotti, ARCI, talked about the growing importance and presence of immigrants in this association, and how this fact is changing behaviors and attitudes in our country, promoting greater attention towards minorities’ requirements.
Michele Mardegan, President of the Cultural Commission of the City of Milan, referred to the national level of the problem, talking about the failed assignment of an area for the mosque in Milan, due to the absence of a national plan and highlighting that the government has to take a rapid decision about this.
Finally, Andrea Fanzago, Vice President of the Municipal Council, as his colleague, hoped for a rapid solution to the problem, especially in view of the arrival of many foreign visitors for the EXPO 2015.
Both highlighted that we all have to handle these issues, and must not stray from them, first of all by removing them from the election campaign. The Municipality, however, should not work alone to this end.