Spain's Muslim Business Owners Feel Squeezed By New Zoning Proposals : Parallels Catalonia is home to mainland Spain's largest Muslim population. But politicians in one area are proposing laws to "protect traditional Spanish businesses" that Muslim leaders say are discriminatory.
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Spain's Muslim Business Owners Feel Squeezed By New Zoning Proposals

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Spain's Muslim Business Owners Feel Squeezed By New Zoning Proposals

Spain's Muslim Business Owners Feel Squeezed By New Zoning Proposals

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Spain's Mediterranean coast is home to that country's largest Muslim community. Today, 1 in 10 people living there are Muslim. That ratio doesn't sit well with some Spanish residents. In one town, politicians have proposed new zoning laws to preserve what they call the local flavor. But Lauren Frayer reports that what some call protecting Spanish tradition, others call discrimination.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Speaking Spanish).

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Ahead of municipal elections, Spain's airwaves are filled with campaign promises. Here in Tarragona, ruling conservatives want to limit the number of kebab shops in the town center to prevent what they called ghettos and instead protect traditional Spanish businesses.

NOUARI BENZAWI: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: "My tomatoes are Spanish and so are the potatoes I sell," says Nouari Benzawi, an Algerian immigrant who runs a local kebab shop and halal grocery store. "Do I need to sells pork to be a traditional Spanish business? Do I need to sell wine?" He doesn't, for religious reasons. He's a Muslim who's lived in Spain for 20 years. He's married to a Spaniard and has a Spanish passport.

BENZAWI: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: "My business is legal," Benzawi says. "I pay my taxes. I don't sell contraband. So what are they worried about? This is called discrimination." Muslims in Spain tend to be lower-income, first-generation immigrants, disproportionately hurt by Spain's economic crisis. Benzawi says this zoning proposal will only make matters worse. Tarragona's conservative party leaders refused to talk to NPR. But another member of their party expressed concern about Muslim youth congregating in the town center. I decided to ask a Muslim youth what he thinks.

HUSAM LAKCHOUCH: Hello, my name is Husam.

FRAYER: Husam Lakchouch's family invited me for a traditional Moroccan couscous at their home in Tarragona.

LAKCHOUCH: If you have many Muslims living together, you will have Muslim shops, Arab shops, mosques. They think that it's a ghetto. They are afraid of that. I don't know. I think that it's a little bit racist.

FRAYER: This is the same area that banned Muslim burqas as last year. Spain's Supreme Court overruled the ban. The town took out the word burqa. Councilman Joaquim Enrech Garola says the ban now applies to all full-face coverings.

COUNCILMAN JOAQUIM ENRECH GAROLA: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: "It's not to ban the Muslim burqa or niqab," he says. "It also applies to people wearing motorcycle helmets walking down the street. It's not religious." This is what confuses Muslims. Why are lawmakers banning pedestrians from wearing motorcycle helmets and limiting kebab shops when unemployment here tops 30 percent?

IMAM MUHAMED ABDUL-RAHIM BOKADIRA: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: "It's election season. We're used to this. They think it'll win them votes," says Muhammed Abdul-Rahim Bokadira, the imam at Tarragona's Islamic Center, where hundreds of faithful gather every Friday to pray in a poorly lit basement that used to be municipal market.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (Praying in foreign language).

FRAYER: Among those praying here is Hilal Tarkou, a lawyer who heads a local Muslim group.

HILAL TARKOU: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: "Politicians say they want to preserve the aesthetic of the city," he says. "But they're doing it at the expense of its newest citizens. Whenever there's a crisis, they always blame the weakest ones, the immigrants." For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Tarragona, Spain.

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