An Italian member of the European Parliament (MEP) has jumped into a national controversy over face coverings for Muslim women in Italy, saying they should be banned because they are a "symbol of death".
Mario Borghezio of the populist Northern League party on Monday lashed out after a policeman in northern Italy fined a woman who wore a full-length loose black robe that covers the head and face, outside her home on Saturday.
The woman's mother called the treatment of her daughter - a convert to Islam - harassment, and said the local authorities were acting "worse than the Fascists did 60 years ago".
Borghezio praised the policeman and the town mayor who backed him for "doing their duty," noting that Italian law prohibits people from moving about with their faces covered.
Burqas, he said, were "a symbol of the most obscurantist type of Islamic fundamentalism in regards to women" and had also become a "symbol of death" because some of the women hostage-takers at the Russian school wore similar
An Italian policeman fined
Varroni triggering the controversy
"Unfortunately, they bring to mind the images of death of the 'witches' covered by black burqas (burqa is the name given in Iran and the Indian subcontinent to the covering) who were responsible for that horrendous massacre," he said in a statement.
The fining of Sabrina Varroni, a 34-year-old mother of four, married to a Muslim, revived a national controversy over Muslim head-coverings in predominantly Roman Catholic Italy.
Italians are divided over whether to allow headscarves to be worn in public, but there are no specific laws banning them such as in France, where they, and other religious symbols, are prohibited in state schools.
Senator Gianfranco Pagliarulo blasted the fining, calling it "an ignoble persecution that widens the distance between diverse cultures".
Pagliarulo, a Communist Party member, said the mayor of the town was shrinking from his duty of defending the rights of all his citizens and accused him of inciting religious intolerance.
"All that's left to do is to take my daughter away and put her before a firing squad for being different"
mother of Sabrina Varroni
Varroni's 70-year-old mother, Santina, said the behaviour of the local officials reminded her of life during the Fascist dictatorship of Benito Mussolini before the second world war.
"I lived through Fascism. I know what it is. This (town) administration is run by Fascists," she told Reuters by phone.
"All that's left to do is to take my daughter away and put her before a firing squad for being different," she said.
Santina Varroni said her daughter converted to Islam 11 years ago and began wearing a headscarf. She started covering her face completely four years ago after she returned from Haj, a pilgrimage to the Muslim holy city of Makka.