Features » Churches and Religion
RELIGIOUS TENSION IN CARTAGENA
Staff Reporter / 2010-06-06 10:22:02
An Iman in Cartagena is being accused of prejudice against non-muslims and prostitutes. The case has reached the courts, and Yazih Koudri is defending himself against accusations made by two shopkeepers from the city centre. Both say their clients have stopped visiting their businesses because the Iman scares them away. The road in which they are situated is also a red light area and they say the religious man’s objective was to stop people approaching the prostitutes.
The raging war between religion and the city’s flourishing sex-trade sector has gotten so heated that a number of prostitutes have also gone to law enforcement authorities seeking protection. The women have filed charges against the well-known imam, Yazid Koudri, and some of his followers, who they claim have insulted, threatened and even tried to physically abuse them.
While the investigation continues, the sex workers have been able to seek a restraining order against the imam and members of his congregation: they must stay at least 200-meters away from them. Still, the Muslim leader makes no apologies. “We are not against what these women want to do, but not on the street where our children can see them,” said the controversial Koudri, who is leader of one of the biggest mosques in the Murcian city of 210,000.
And it appears that this holy war against male pleasure isn’t about to be resolved in the courts. Koudri has gathered more than 200 signatures demanding that Cartagena city officials force the girls off the streets and into their homes, where they should practice their trade. However, the petition-signing isn’t Koudri’s only strategy, according to the prostitutes. A group of women who work the streets in the city’s historic center have been living in fear for months. They claim that Koudri has organized small vigilante groups of his Muslim followers, who regularly patrol the streets alongside him and “hurl insults and threaten violence” toward any prostitutes they see.
But Koudri paints a different picture. He claims that when children pass and gawk at the women, “they show them their breasts and we cannot permit this.” That is why stronger measures “should be adopted other than just police presence,” Koudri explains.
Sources close to the ongoing investigation say that Koudri has ordered his vigilantes not only to chase after the prostitutes but also their Arab clients. Cartagena is home to one of Spain’s most important naval bases, where ships from all over the world dock and the sex trade thrives. “Whores galore,” is how one website dedicated to sex-tourism spots around the world describes this city.
The current spat between the city’s most famous Muslim cleric and the street walkers began over a year ago when the city, after receiving numerous complaints, closed down the infamous Taurino bar where clients went to seek sex for money. Since then, some of the women have taken their business to the streets. According to one woman who filed a complaint against the imam, Koudri tried to run her down with his automobile. “You are a slut and a whore,” he allegedly told her. “You are sick.”
But it is not only prostitution. Some Muslims complain that Koudri scolds them if he sees any of them drinking alcohol in a bar or gathering in places where women frequent. “It can be anywhere, an international phone-call center or a neighbourhood grocer.”
Cartagena Mayor Pilar Barreiro asked the Interior Ministry to beef up the police patrols in hot areas. Rafael González Tovar, the Murcia government official, has asked both sides to ease tensions and the authorities to better coordinate police patrols.
Tags: Religion, Cartagena