August 01, 2005
This law is actually nothing new: the basis for the Italian Public Security laws were written in 1931 (yes, during Fascism) and have been modified only slightly - no it is not a fascist bill anyway. Article 85, as its last revision of 2003, says:
It is forbidden to wear masks in public places.
It is forbidden to wear masks in theatres and other public exercises except when and within the terms communicated by the local Public Security authority.
Transgressors will be punished with a fine within Lire 20 000
and 200 000. (Translation mine)
The newest bill only increased the fine (to 2000 Euro) and authorized imprisonment as punishment for wearing face-concealing garments when not authorized. This law has been a non-issue for a long time in Italy. Yes, we had riots, but rioters would conceal their identity anyway, law or not.
These modifications to the law were proposed by a Senator belonging to the nationalist party Lega Nord (Northerh League)* on the basis that those coming to Italy must conform to the local culture, and it cannot be allowed for people to break the law on religious grounds.
There are already cries of racism coming from the left side of the aisle, but they are unjustified.
First, this law does not ban any and all Islamic garb, but only those covering the face; the hijab (headscarf) is clearly allowed.
Second and most important, this law bans any concealment of someone's face: helmets, balaclavas, masks, burqas etc. It meets the requirements of objective equality, and thus it is not a racist or discriminatory law.
Now, we just can hope that this decision will be enforced properly, because the chronic problem in Italy is not lack of laws, but poor enforcement of them.
* More than being nationalist, the Northern League has among its objectives to create an indipendent state in northern Italy, or at least switch to a strongly federal system. I think that the idea of secession of the North is ridiculous, but I'm all in favour of a decentralized, bottom-up government system.
Yes, wait and see.