“Either they recognize our values or they can go and build the mosque in their own back garden,”

Milan mosque row shows Italian divisions over integration

(Reuters) – One afternoon in 2009, over a thousand Muslims knelt before Milan’s Duomo cathedral and prayed. The gesture, ostensibly about an Israeli bombing campaign, focused minds on the growing number of Muslims in Italy’s business capital and their desire for a recognized place of worship.

The mosque they were calling for was never built, mainly due to red tape and administrative inertia. But, six years on, the Charlie Hebdo shootings by Islamist militants in Paris have catapulted the issue back to center stage.

“After Paris it’s more urgent than ever to promote dialogue with Islam,” said Milan’s city manager for social policies Pierfrancesco Majorino.

“A mosque that can be controlled is better than lots of underground garages and circus tents.”

At least 1.6 million Muslims live in Italy but there are only a handful of official mosques. That means most worship takes place in private houses or in the hundreds of makeshift Islamic cultural centers and Koranic schools dotted round the country.

Milan’s center-left city administration has tried to speed up efforts to erect a mosque and has received some eight bids from builders. City officials hope to announce news in the next few months.

But while city hall is in favor, the anti-immigration Lega Nord party that runs the wider Lombardy region is set against.

“Either they recognize our values or they can go and build the mosque in their own back garden,” Northern League leader Matteo Salvini said.

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