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Campaign seeks to block mosque construction near Pisa’s tower

The Leaning Tower of Pisa is seen behind the Cathedral of Pisa on July 19, 2012. The “Torre di Pisa,” the bell tower of the cathedral in the Italian city of Pisa, is known worldwide for its unintended tilt to one side. The tower began to lean in 1178 due to soft ground that could not properly support the structure's weight. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Clarissa Cavalheiro

PISA, Italy (RNS) A  campaign to block construction of a new mosque near the Leaning Tower of Pisa imperils Italy’s commitment to religious freedom, warn those who defend Muslims’ right to build it.

The proposed mosque, a few hundred yards from the world-famous tower, has been approved by Pisa’s city council, but opponents say it is too close to the tower, one of Italy’s top tourist attractions. Opponents also fear it could radicalize local Muslims.

“Today we are at war whether you like it or not and we have to fight it with whatever we have,” said Daniela Santanche, a lawmaker from the center-right Forza Italia party who joined protesters in Pisa last weekend (Aug. 20).

“Mosques should be closed, not opened, because they are not places of worship but places that preach hatred.”

Those leading the “No Mosque” campaign say they have gathered more than 2,000 signatures, which they claim is enough for a referendum to overturn the council decision.

But Izzedin Elzir, the president of the Union of Italian Islamic Communities, said any referendum would be “unconstitutional” and threaten Muslims’ religious freedom.

“Our rights should be protected,” Elzir told RNS. “This campaign is based on prejudice and opposition generated by politicians who want to win votes by exploiting fear after the recent attacks in France, Belgium and Germany.

“They need to take responsibility for fanning the flames of prejudice and creating panic,” he added.

Elzir said around 300 Muslims attend Friday prayers regularly in Pisa but he estimates there are as many as 3,000 Muslims in the town, including migrants who have moved there from Senegal, Tunisia, Morocco and Bangladesh.

The mayor of Pisa, Marco Filippeschi, said any move to block the project would be in contravention of freedom of worship, which is enshrined in the Italian constitution.

“For 20 years Muslims from Pisa have been coming together in a small mosque in the center of town and no one has ever protested,” Filippeschi said. He also stressed that “not one cent will be spent by the council administration to build the mosque.”

The dispute over the mosque made headlines just days after Italian authorities ordered the expulsion of a Tunisian man who they accused of planning an attack on the Leaning Tower.

Bilel Chiahoui, 26, was arrested after posting messages on social media praising the terrorists behind recent jihadist attacks in Europe and sharing plans to attack the monument.

One of Italy’s most recognizable landmarks, the Leaning Tower sits beside the city’s cathedral and baptistry.

Construction of the eight-story tower, which tilts dramatically to one side, was begun in 1173 and completed in 1399.

About the author

Josephine McKenna

Josephine McKenna has more than 30 years' experience in print, broadcast and interactive media. Based in Rome since 2007, she covered the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and election of Pope Francis and canonizations of their predecessors. Now she covers all things Vatican for RNS.

4 Comments

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  • When I saw the headline, I thought this was going to be about a landmarks preservation dispute with tinges of allegations of Islamophobia. The remarks from Mussolini’s granddaughter put that thought to rest.

  • Classic islam. The Leaning Tower is perhaps Italy’s most iconic secular building, certainly outside Rome. So muslims want to islamicise the whole area. And the dummy councillors approved the takeover. Ciao Italia, ciao Italistan.

  • I’m with the protesters. They are no-doubt good Italian Catholics who know of hundreds of better-suited places the Muslim immigrants can worship, closer to where they actually live and not this high-cost piece of real estate.

    This is the work of Muslim mullahs, again pushing the envelope as far as they dare, hoping to establish their caliphate to encompass all of Europe within a few years, even in the back door of one of the main centers of Christianity. They worship a dead prophet who has only brought dissention to Arabic people over the past 14 centuries. The protesters have a rght to question these outsiders who are only seeking to buy attention to their cause, and further radicalize those who’re unable to be married, succeed at making a living, and otherwise assimmilate into the general Italian culture.

  • I guess it’s nice to see irrational responses to a simple building plan are not limited to America.

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