ROME (Reuters) - The head of one of Venice’s most prestigious museums on Wednesday apologized to an Islamic woman who was asked to leave by a guard because she was wearing a head veil.
The episode, which sparked controversy in the Italian media and rows between centre-left and centre-right politicians, occurred last Sunday in Venice’s Ca’ Rezzonico museum, which houses 18th century Venetian art.
“I’m sorry for what happened and if she ever wants to return to our museum, she will be more than welcome,” director Filippo Pedrocco told Reuters by telephone from Venice.
“She will be most welcome among all women,” he said.
The woman, who was visiting the famed museum with her husband and children, had already cleared security when she entered the building and had begun her visit.
When she reached the second floor, a room guard told her she had to take off her “niqab”, a veil which leaves only the eyes visible, or leave.
“The room guard was over-zealous. He should not have done it. She already passed security and his only duty was to guarantee the safety of the artwork in his room,” Pedrocco said.
The woman was believed to have been part of a well-off family visiting Venice, one of Italy’s most expensive cities, from Saudi Arabia or a Gulf state.
She refused to take off her veil and left the building, which faces Venice’s Grand Canal and houses works by such 18th century Venetian masters as Giandomenico Tiepolo.
Italian anti-terrorism laws from 1975 ban people from wearing face coverings in public but they are rarely enforced in cases of Islamic veils.
Italian media reports said the room guard, who Pedrocco said was a part-time guard employed by an outside security firm, would be disciplined and risked being fired.
But the guard, whose name was not disclosed, was hailed as a hero by some in the northern Italian Veneto region, which has often been the scene of tensions between long-time residents and Islamic immigrants.
Senator Roberto Castelli, a member of the anti-immigrant Northern League, asked the justice minister to make sure the guard was not disciplined or sacked “for doing his duty and making sure the law was respected”.
Giancarlo Gentilini, the deputy mayor of the city of Treviso, just north of Venice, just the guard should be “given an award and not punished”.
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