Kebabs Are Under Fire in This City's 'Ethnic Food Ban'

The city of Verona, which has World Heritage Site status, has banned the opening of any new restaurants that offer mostly “ethnic” or deep-fried food.

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Mar 2 2016, 3:00pm

Photo via Flickr user abhisheksrivastava

"Two households, both alike in dignity In fair Verona, where we lay our scene From ancient grudge break to new mutiny Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean."

Shakespeare was writing about "fair Verona" during the time of the fictional Romeo and Juliet, but he could have been writing about Verona today. That's because two metaphorical households—Italians and immigrants, largely Muslims—are at odds in the Northern Italian city again. And this time it's all about food.

The city of Verona, which has World Heritage Site status, has banned the opening of any new restaurants that offer mostly "ethnic" or deep-fried food.

Verona's mayor, Flavio Tosi, is pulling no punches: "Thanks to this provision there will be no more openings of establishments that sell food prepared in a way that could impact the decorum of our city," he said. According to The Telegraph, Tosi has long been affiliated with the far-right, anti-immigrant Northern League party, although he was elected as mayor of Verona after he ran as an independent.

"This protects not only our historic and architectural patrimony of the city center, but also the tradition of typical culture of the Verona territory." By "patrimony" and "culture," Tosi evidently means something akin to "pasta" and "cheese."

Critics say that it is the proliferation of gyro- and kebab-vendors that Tosi opposes. RT spoke with Arzu Merali, Director of Research at the Islamic Human Rights Commission, and she says she sees the laws as "part of a pattern of systemic racism and Islamophobia across Europe." Merali continues, "What's happened now with measures like this is that it's much easier now to have policies, which are openly racist, and to dress them up very lightly with things like 'keeping traditional character' and so on and so forth."

Muslims make up around 2.6 percent of the Italian population, with approximately 1.5 million Muslims living there. Islam is not formally recognized in the Catholic country and, in 2008, the Northern League party was accused of bringing down a mosque in Verona. Just this week, Italy's highest court imposed a ruling that will make it more difficult to construct new mosques in Italy, which only has six official ones.

Verona is not alone in its new law. Legislation known as "Unesco laws" are being considered in several Italian cities, purportedly intended to keep Italy Italian and to keep out immigrant-run businesses like souvenir shops and restaurants.

With tensions rising all over Europe as refugees pour into its countries, including Italy, we have to believe that this fight against "ethnic" food will not end happily. Just ask Romeo and Juliet—feuds can go bad fast in Verona.