Thursday, July 15, 2004

U.S.: Sitting on the river bank...

ROME - Education authorities in Milan have blocked a plan by a local public school to create a separate class for Islamic students, a decision that fueled an ongoing debate over the role of Muslims in this predominantly Catholic nation.

The decision Tuesday came after days of raging controversy in Milan. Over the past months, two other cases have made headlines in Italy: that of a Muslim activist who went to court to have a crucifix removed from his son's public school classroom; and a kindergarten that asked a Muslim trainee teacher to remove her headscarf.

The plan by the Gaetana Agnesi school called for 20 high-school students of Egyptian origin - three boys and 17 girls - to study together. The girls would have been allowed to wear headscarves in class, and would have had Friday off for Muslim prayer services.

"The possibility of creating classes with students of the same language, culture and religion must be ruled out, because it would be in contrast with the constitutional principles and values aimed at overcoming all forms of discrimination," said Mario Giacomo Dutto, the head of school programs for the Lombardy region that includes Milan.

Giovanni Gaglio, the school principal, argued he was trying to guarantee the children a right to an education while preserving their cultural and religious identity.

"Our project was one of real integration, a challenge that I and all of us teachers believed in very much," he was quoted as saying Wednesday in the daily newspaper Corriere della Sera.

The students came from a self-governed education center that was part of an Islamic mosque, officials said Wednesday. The education center was not a school recognized by Italy, but it taught 400 children, largely of Egyptian origin.

The childrens' parents proposed the separate class.

But many politicians and teachers' unions condemned the move as discriminatory. After Tuesday's decision, the Northern League, a member of the government coalition known for its tough anti-immigration stance, called for Gaglio's resignation.
It is not the business of the schools to preserve the "cultural and religious identity" of immigrant groups but to help them integrate into the host country. It is the duty and responsibility of immigrant parents to preserve their own culture and religion. If Gaglio believes that segregation fosters integration, then he must either be Islamic or disingenuous.

Frankly, if the immigrant or convert parents of these children wish to have their off-spring untainted by Italian religious and cultural influences, then let them return whence they came or go to a country of their own religious persuasion.

Muslims who immigrate out of their own countries must learn to separate religion from politics in order to adapt to life in non-Muslim lands. It is this lack of separation which is responsible for Muslim demands for special preferences which no Christian would ever receive in any Muslim land. It is unconscionable that Islamic immigrants enter a host country and demand the host change itself to suit their needs. That sort of refusal to adapt and integrate declares that the purpose of the immigration is the expansion into and ultimate destruction of the host.

If Italian politicians had the courage, they would issue Muslims of any stripe an ultimatum -- integrate or leave.

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