Earlier this week, the mosque on Nord Street in the Catalonian city of Lleida, an hour and a half from Barcelona, was closed by order of the city council, which cited a violation of the fire code due to the volume of prayer attendees. According to an article in the July 23 edition of the Spanish daily El País, local imam Abdelwahab Houzi denounced the closure as political:
Houzi, who denies being a salafist, one of the most radical currents in Islam [sic], noted that the closure might be related to his opposition to the prohibition on using the Islamic full veil–principally the burka and the niqab–in municipal buildings [and other areas]. The city council of Lleida was the first in Catalonia [to pass such a prohibition] and was followed by 15 or so other cities and towns.”
El País also quotes the reaction of the mayor of Lleida, Àngel Ros, to Muslim prayers being conducted in the street following the closure of the mosque, which was to inform the Muslim community that he himself prayed in his house. Ros is variously described in the article as a socialist and a practicing Catholic, although nowhere is he forced to defend himself, as Houzi is, against religious stereotypes, thus avoiding an introduction such as: “Ros, who denies being a pedophile…” The emphasis on the domestic nature of Catholic prayers meanwhile calls into question the financial necessity of ubiquitous ornate churches.
Passing through Lleida yesterday, I asked a man from Casablanca whose pastry shop is located opposite the mosque if he thought it would reopen. He raised his eyebrows and said it was of no consequence to him as he prayed in his house anyway and as he was en route to northern Europe and away from countries where wages were insufficient to construct a mosque that did not resemble a garage.
In a cafeteria down the street, meanwhile, a group of immigrants from various locations in north Africa proved more willing to deviate from the mayor’s discourse, and asked me if I knew that Morocco was saturated with churches and synagogues, that the proposal to build a mosque at Ground Zero was merely a holier-than-thou charade being conducted by the Americans, and that the Catalonians were too xenophobic to even attempt such a publicity stunt. The group acknowledged, however, that Catalonian nationalism was predicated on a rejection of not only the Arab/Muslim other but other others, as well, and that in a certain town in the Basque Country children had recently been led to believe that Holland had won the World Cup.
As for identity battles occurring in the heart of the Kingdom of Spain, the El País article directly preceding the one on Lleida concerns an immigration judge in Madrid who, not content with applicants for Spanish citizenship who merely meet all of the citizenship requirements, has expanded his deliberations to include such details as whether or not applicants know how to prepare a Spanish omelette.