And why are the citizens of Cremona being so unfriendly? Well, there is that small matter of Muslims plotting to blow up the local cathedral. And imagine! After that, when Cremona non-Muslims hear the word “Muslim,” they think, “terrorist”! What Islamophobes! “Flow of Muslim Immigrants Strains the Reputation for Tolerance of a Small Italian Town,” from the New Duranty Times (here is why we call it that), with thanks to Van Impe:
CREMONA, Italy – After the bombs in London in July, the first offer from the new Muslim leadership here was to form posses to keep an eye on possible militants. This city, gentle and refined, the home of Stradivarius, declined.
Another idea that did not work was a possible service by both Muslims and Christians in the treasure of a cathedral here – which, prosecutors say, Muslim militants considered blowing up three years ago.
But Sadiq el-Hassan, a leader at Cremona’s mosque, insisted that because the London bombings made future attacks in Europe a near certainty, something long overdue had to happen: Muslims, finally, needed to take a stand.
“Our mistake is that we were quiet,” said Mr. Hassan, 40, a Tunisian who in dress and speech seems nearly Italian. “After all that happened after Sept. 11, we never came out and said, ‘These things are bad.’ But it’s not too late.”
It may not be too late, but Muslim leaders here worry that time is nonetheless running out on Italy’s patience with them – and that worry has set off an unusual degree of self-criticism.
It has not happened much in Europe, but Mr. Hassan is now planning for the Muslims of Cremona to show publicly that they are as much against terrorism and violence as Italians are. In coming weeks, Muslims will march – in numbers, Mr. Hassan hopes – against extremism carried out in the name of Islam.
“If the million Muslims who live in Italy don’t say anything, it means we are giving a green light to the terrorists,” he said….
“Cremona is a racist city,” said Tamsir Ousmane, 44, from Senegal, whose languages include Italian, French, Russian and English, and who runs a call center downtown. “If I want to rent a house, I can’t. They won’t rent to me. Unfortunately, it is like this. But we are here. We work here. And we pay taxes.”
Maria Anselmi, 64, sitting on a park bench with five other older women, spoke of her fear of a terrorist attack, more acute after the bombings in London, and about her anxieties about immigrants in general. “In a while there will be more of them than of us,” she said. “They are going to squash us.”
But relations with Muslims have been especially difficult. Nearly a dozen members of a former mosque were arrested in recent years, and two were convicted in July for belonging to an extremist cell plotting to carry out terror attacks. The plots included blowing up the cathedral here, which dates from 1107.
“The city found itself at the heart of a series of investigations that suggested it was a crossroads of international terrorism,” said Andrea Gibelli, a legislator from the Northern League, a conservative party that has advocated a hard line on immigration. “It was very uncomfortable.”
The League has been instrumental in closing several mosques. While it has not moved against the new and more moderate mosque here, where Mr. Hassan is vice president, Mr. Gibelli is skeptical – and not only because of the specific terrorist threats. Muslims, he said, have been reluctant to integrate. Mosques, he said, “are not places of prayer – they are for politics.”
“They want to create areas where they can hide behind the protection of religious freedom, completely detached from the rest of the city,” Mr. Gibelli said.
While the Northern League is on the far right, there seems to be a broader and growing opinion that Muslims in fact need to do more. One priest who is highly supportive of the Muslim community here conceded that in joint prayer groups against violence, perhaps only 10 percent of participants were Muslim. There has been talk for more than a year about a Muslim march against violence, but it has not yet happened.
Mr. Hassan concedes the criticism is valid. “Integration is difficult,” he said, “because when you integrate, that is when you have identity crises. But we have to try.”
And in this corner of Italy, which he says has been good to immigrants like him, he is hoping that the planned march makes a clear, page-turning statement to change what it means to be a Muslim in Europe. At the moment, he said, Italians “don’t trust us anymore: they hear ‘Muslim,’ and they think ‘terrorist.'”