ImmigrationSpanish “kebab laws” worry, upset Muslim immigrants
Withy persistent unemployment and worries about radicalization, more Spanish cities are placing limits on businesses typically owned and operated by immigrants from North Africa. In the city of Terragona, for examples, these regulations – informally called “kebab laws” — disallow commercial licenses to any kebab shops, dollar stores, or Internet cafes within 500 yards of existing ones. Additionally, these businesses would have to comply with stricter hygiene standards and business hours. Muslim leaders in Spain and civil rights advocates say these laws are a thinly veiled effort to discourage Muslim immigration.
At a City Council meeting in Terragona, Spain, the ruling Popular Party branch proposed a new measure to limit the number of kebab shops and other traditionally immigrant-owned businesses in the city’s historic quarter.
As theLos Angeles Times reports, the legislation, referred to as the “kebab law,” would disallow commercial licenses to any kebab shops, dollar stores, or Internet cafes within 500 yards of existing ones. Additionally, these businesses would have to comply with stricter hygiene standards and business hours.
Alejandra Fernandez, the head of the Popular Party and a candidate for mayor, said that the changes “would prevent immigrant ghettos and protect traditional Spanish businesses.”
“My tomatoes are Spanish, and so are the potatoes I sell,” said Nouari Benzawi, an immigrant from Algeria who has lived in Spain for twenty years and holds dual citizenship. “Please explain this to me! Do I need to sell pork to be a ‘traditional Spanish business’? Do I need to sell wine? I pay my taxes. I don’t sell contraband. So what are they so worried about? This is called discrimination. My business is legal!”
The majority of the roughly 1.6 million Muslim immigrants in Spain (3 percent of the total population) are from nearby across the Mediterranean Sea, including Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. Further, many Muslim leaders in the country say that their communities have been disproportionately hit by the economic crisis Spain is suffering from. Currently, the unemployment rate for Muslim immigrants stands at 23 percent, with double that rate for the youth population. Many of them also live along the coastal Catalan provinces, which includes cities like Tarragona and Barcelona.
“Our coastal region has always had the most immigration, and we’ve never had any problems,” said Joaquim Garola, the town councilor for citizens’ security in Reus. “In recent years, more Muslims have arrived. Now, for example, let’s say a bunch of Muslim kids are milling around after school. It’s better if we disperse them, because they could form a ghetto. What we’re doing is in their interest and in ours.”
Reus controversially and famously attempted to ban burqas last year. The country’s Supreme Court blocked the measure, but the township rewrote the language to include anything that covers the face.
“It’s not to stop the Muslim burqa or niqab,” protested Garola. “It also applies to people wearing motorcycle helmets while walking down the street. It’s not religious.”
Most Tarragona residents, however, claimed that they were not aware of the kebab law, and many worried that the ordinances might affect their favorite businesses. Additionally, many saw the matter more skeptically.
“It’s election season. We’re used to this. They think it’ll win them votes,” said resident and local imam Muhammed Bokadira.
Hilal Tarkou, a Spanish lawyer who also heads the local Watani Islamic Association in Tarragona, agrees.
“Whenever there’s a crisis, they always blame the weakest ones — the immigrants,” he said.