Muslim immigrants in Palma de Mallorca, the capital of the Balearic Islands in Spain, have succeeded in forcing the expulsion of all female parking meter enforcement officers from a city neighborhood that is home to a growing Muslim population.
The move reflects the increasing assertiveness of Spain's Muslim community, which in recent years, has sought to impose its will over Spanish society on a variety of issues deemed offensive to Islam.
Female parking enforcement officers patrolling the streets near a mosque situated on the Plaza de Pere Garau in downtown Palma have been subjected to a systematic campaign of harassment and humiliation by Muslims who insist that only male officers should be allowed to work in the area.
In recent weeks the tensions have escalated to the point where female parking officers have been verbally abused and spit upon by Muslim immigrants seeking to force the women out of the neighborhood.
Amid a growing concern for their physical safety, female employees have now been withdrawn from the area and replaced with an exclusively male workforce. The decision was made by a private company called Dornier SA, which runs a concession to manage the public parking system in Palma.
The move has outraged Spaniards across the political spectrum. Many conservatives, who view the issue within the larger question of Muslim integration, resent what they see as the gradual encroachment of Islamic norms in towns and cities across Spain.
On the Spanish left, which has long promoted Muslim immigration and the multicultural ideal, the conflict in Palma is being viewed as an infringement of women's rights, which are supposed to be guaranteed by the Spanish Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.
The UGT labor union, for example, has called on the Mayor of Palma, Mateo Isern, to enforce Spanish law and reassert municipal control over the Muslim neighborhood by reinstating the female officers, even if it requires that they be escorted by armed police when working in Muslim areas.
In a strongly worded statement dated September 4, UGT spokeswoman Maite Silva said the city council has an "obligation to ensure the freedom of workers to perform their duties and freedom of movement in the area." Silva said it was "intolerable" that Muslims are violating the rights of the population in general and women in particular.
She continued: "If the Palma City Council cannot prevent sex discrimination on city streets, the city should articulate the mechanisms at its disposal to separate from society those who are intolerant and who do not respect the laws of this country. It is unacceptable that in a free and democratic society female workers are prevented from doing their job because they are women."
A local activist group called Lobby de Dones (Lobby of Women) has called for political unity to address the "social alarm provoked by the withdrawal" of the female parking officers and said the city "must ensure real integration and enact all necessary measures to avoid creating ghettos."
(The Lobby de Dones has also been pushing for a ban on burkas in Palma. The group says it is alarmed by the rapid increase in the number of women wearing the Muslim face-covering veils in public spaces in Palma and other parts of the Balearic Islands, which include the islands of Majorca, Minorca, Ibiza and Formentera. There are now an estimated 42,000 Muslims living on the islands.)
So far the call to reason has fallen on deaf ears. The Palma City Council, fearful of inciting the city's Muslim population, has instead been seeking to mediate a compromise.
On September 3 municipal officials announced that the city would beef up the police presence in the neighborhood "to guarantee the security" of the female employees "if they voluntarily want to return to working in the affected neighborhood." But the city will not force the public parking concessionaire, Dornier SA, to reverse its decision to prohibit women from working in the neighborhood. As a result, Muslim immigrants have effectively succeeded in imposing their will on the city.
Meanwhile, Muslim leaders in the city deny there are any problems. According to Youssef Jouihri, the president of the Muslim community of the Balearic Islands, "in Islam, women are jewels to be guarded. We are not allowed to devalue them when they are working. If anyone has been harassing women, they are not authentic Muslims."
The dust-up in Palma is just one incident on a growing list of Islam-related controversies in Spain, where the number of Muslims has jumped to an estimated 1.5 million in 2012 from just 100,000 in 1990.
In January 2012, for example, two radical Islamic television stations began 24-hour broadcasting to Spanish-speaking audiences in Spain and Latin America from new studios in Madrid. The first channel, sponsored by the government of Iran, is focused on spreading Shiite Islam, the dominant religion in Iran. The second channel, sponsored by the government of Saudi Arabia, is focused on spreading Sunni, Wahhabi Islam, the dominant religion in Saudi Arabia.
Also in January, the first child born in Spain in 2012 was Fatima, whose parents are Muslim. According to one estimate, 75% of all babies born in Spain on January 1, 2012 were born to immigrant parents, primarily from Morocco.
In December 2011, some 3,000 Muslim immigrants took to the streets of downtown Terrassa to protest recent cuts in social welfare handouts. The size and spontaneity of the protest, which was organized and attended by Moroccan immigrants, caught local officials by surprise.
Also in December, Islamic Sharia law arrived in the Basque city of Bilbao when a Chechen immigrant tried to murder his 24-year-old son-in-law, a Christian, for marrying his 19-year-old daughter, a Muslim.
In September, Muslim immigrants were accused of poisoning dozens of dogs in the city of Lérida, where 29,000 Muslims now make up around 20% of the city's total population. Local residents say Muslims killed the dogs because according to Islamic teaching dogs are "unclean" animals.
Also in September, the regional government in Catalonia revealed that during the first six months of 2011, it prevented 14 forced marriages and the genital mutilation of 24 Muslim girls.
In August, the municipality of Salt, a town near Barcelona where Muslim immigrants now make up 40% of the population, approved a one-year ban on the construction of new mosques. It is the first ban of its kind in Spain. The moratorium follows public outrage over plans to build a mega-mosque financed by Saudi Arabia.
In December 2010, a high school teacher in the southern Spanish city of La Línea de la Concepción was sued by the parents of a Muslim student who said the teacher "defamed Islam" by talking about Spanish ham in class.
Also in December, Lérida became the first municipality in Spain to ban the burqa head covering in all public spaces. Women found violating the ban will be fined up to €600 ($750).
In November 2010, the Spanish cities of Ceuta and Melilla, two exclaves in northern Africa, officially recognized the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha (Festival of Sacrifice), as a public holiday. By doing so, Ceuta and Melilla, where Muslims make up more than 50% of the total populations, became the first Spanish municipalities officially to mark an Islamic holiday since Spain was liberated from Muslim occupation in 1492.
In October 2010, the Islamic Association of Málaga, in southern Spain, demanded that Television Española (TVE), the state-owned national public television broadcaster, stop showing a Spanish-language television series because it was "anti-Muslim" for criticizing certain aspects of Islam, such as forced marriages and the lack of women's rights in Muslim countries.
That same month, residents of the Basque city of Bilbao found their mailboxes stuffed with flyers in Spanish and Arabic from the Islamic Community of Bilbao asking for money to build a 650 square meter (7,000 square feet) mosque costing €550,000 ($735,000). Their website states: "We were expelled [from Spain] in 1609, really not that long ago. … The echo of Al-Andalus still resonates in all the valley of the Ebro [Spain]. We are back to stay, Insha'Allah [if Allah wills it]."
In September 2010, a discotheque in southern Spanish resort town of Águilas (Murcia) was forced to change its name and architectural design after Islamists threatened to initiate "a great war between Spain and the people of Islam" if it did not.
In January 2010, Mohamed Benbrahim, an imam in the city of Tarragona near Barcelona, was arrested for forcing Fatima Ghailan, a 31-year-old Moroccan woman, to wear a hijab Islamic head covering. The imam had threatened to burn down the woman's house because, according to him, she is "infidel" because she works outside of the home, drives an automobile and has non-Muslim friends.
In December 2009, nine Islamists in the city of Reus, also near Barcelona, kidnapped a woman, tried her for adultery based on Sharia law, and condemned her to death. The woman just barely managed to escape being executed by fleeing to a local police station.
In another case, a court in Barcelona found Mohamed Kamal Mustafa, a Muslim cleric at a mosque in the southern Spanish city of Fuengirola, guilty of inciting violence against women after he published a book entitled, "Women in Islam," in which he advised men on how to beat their wives without leaving incriminating marks. An unrepentant Mustafa characterized his 22 days in jail as a "spiritual retreat."