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Thursday, 23 September 2010

Spain: the dangers of locating mosques in industrial areas

Raising a center of worship in a place away from the city center can give wings to the fanatics. "A community can sometimes accept a self-exclusion principle to pass unnoticed. But it can also accept the will to hide or not to attract attention," says sociologist expert in the Islamic world Jordi Moreras, who points out that industrial sites can give shelter to militants. "The Salafi-inspired communities [they defend the purity of Islam] are supporting openly the relocation on this sites because they want discretion", he says.

A judicial report released on Monday warned of the danger of "segregation" which involves placing a mosque in the suburbs, referring to the intention to raise one in an industrial area of Lleida.

In Catalonia, between 15 and 20 places of worship of the approximately 200 existing sites are located on industrial areas, according to researcher Mr. Moreras.An investigation by the Catalan police in June warned of the spread of radical Salafi mosques through small mosques located throughout Tarragona. Of those five places of worship which cultivate a fanatical religious side, four are located in industrial estates: Tarragona, Reus Roda de Barà Torredembarra. Only the mosque in Valls is located in the center of the city.

Mr. Moreras, however, considers that the suburbs are not bad by definition to build a mosque, it all depends on how the local administration of the place is made. The judicial report on the location of the center of worship of Lleida is clear: the construction of the mosque in an industrial area is "against the regional planning legislation" and favors the "distance" and "isolation".

The president of the Federation of Municipalities of Catalonia, the Socialist Manuel Bustos, was surprised and disappointed yesterday by the report's content justice. "We are concerned that from many instances we, the mayors, are being told how to build cities," he said in reference to municipal autonomy. "With all due respect to a judicial report, we feel that it makes questionable assertions. There are many sporting and educational centers that are outside urban areas. Why this does not undermine social cohesion and an oratory does?" He asked Bustos. "Why a mosque in a residential area must always be better than in a larger space elsewhere?". Bustos argued that "the mayors are the ones who have information needs and problems of citizens".

The President of the Islamic Cultural Council of Catalonia, Mohammed Halhoul, avoided speaking about the substance of the debate. "The community is looking for an already prepared space, in which there is sufficient capacity. This is by far the most important thing," he said yesterday.

For Mr. Moreras, the key to solve these problems is to choose whether or not a polygon is the best option. That decision should be "taken in agreement with the religious community, the council and the citizenry." "Then the municipalities have to do everything that's possible to place these groups in the areas of citizenship," he says.

But consensus is not usually reached at first. Of the 60 conflicts documented until 2008 in Spain because of the location of places of worship, 40 have happened in Catalonia. "It is a devastating figure," says Moreras, whose last a study entitled A mosque in the neighborhood, analyzes this conflict since 2000.

"Industrial areas can be the solution to the conflict as they provide a decent living space, without visual impact, are located far from the city center and do not cause discomfort to the neighbors," says Morera. But there are cases that can't be resolver, for example, the one related to Lleida's mosque. In seven years, no satisfactory solution to the conflict has been found. The mosque is still in the Nord Street, closed twice in the last two months for exceeding the permitted capacity.

The City Council gave a plot in 2007 to house the mosque with a cost of 7,956 per month for 50 years. Now the expert appointed by the Superior Court of Justice of Catalonia says that this plot causes "segregation".

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