by Oliver Lane
After Muslim pupils refused to sing traditional carols at last year’s Christmas service, one Milanese school has switched to hosting a “winter concert” — but many have reacted angrily to the idea.
Headmaster Marco Parma of the Istituto Garofani di Rozzano school was forced to resign his post over the weekend after a number of senior figures in Italian political life — including the prime minister — moved to attack his decision to cancel Christmas for his pupils.
Social democrat prime minister Matteo Renzi was uncompromising in his defence of traditional Christmas when he condemned the veteran teacher, remarking: “Christmas is much more important than a headmaster being provocative… If he thinks he is promoting integration and co-existence in this way, he appears to me to have made a very big mistake”.
“Discussion and dialogue does not mean to say we can drown our identity for the sake of a vague and insipid form of political correctness”.
The politician was more qualified in his speech when he came to Christmas itself, which he insisted was acceptable for both atheists and Christians — missing out mention of Italy’s rapidly growing Muslim population. He said: Italians, both non-religious and Christians, will never give up Christmas”.
The Istituto Garofani di Rozzano school is a large institution south of Milan, with a diverse pupil population of over 1,000. At least one fifth of the pupils are foreign born, and many are Muslim, reports Corriere Della Sera. Their annual Christmas celebrations have for the first time this year been moved forward to take place in January instead, and have been re-christened a “winter concert” of secular songs.
Speaking before his resignation and while he was insisting he held the backing of school governors, headmaster Parma said of the reasons behind the decision: “In a multi-ethnic environment, it causes problems… last year we had a Christmas concert and some parents insisted on having carols. The Muslim children didn’t sing, they just stood there, absolutely rigid.
“It is not nice watching a child not singing, or worse, being called down from the stage by their parents.”
The headmaster also invoked the spectre of terrorism, claiming that so soon after the Paris attacks such a “provocation” as singing traditional Christian carols in a school would be “too dangerous”.
The school already took down the traditional crucifixes adorning the walls of the classrooms earlier this year — despite their presence being mandated by Italian law.
Italy’s Northern League, an increasingly popular political movement which advocates the country’s industrialised north breaking away from the less developed south and leaving the European Union has gone even further than the prime minister in their condemnation. League secretary Matteo Salvini told the press any teacher or headmaster who attempts to erase Christmas should be fired. Anyone who tried to put away the manger or hide the Christmas story was “not suitable for the job”, he said.