Sources

Why Italy Refuses To Recognize The World's Fifth-Largest Religion

The small ceremonial daggers that Sikhs must carry at all times are such an important part of their religion that the London Olympic organizers allow them to be worn during events. So why does Italy have such a problem with them?

A smorgasbord of kirpans and swords (asleen_kaur)
A smorgasbord of kirpans and swords (asleen_kaur)
Flavia Amabile

ROME - Should a boy scout walking around with a Swiss-army knife be considered dangerous? Should Swiss-army knives be banned altogether? Well, for the Italian interior minister, if the small knife is carried for religious reasons, then the answer is yes.

Last May, after years of court cases and appeals, the interior minister announced that it was refusing to recognize Sikhism as a religion, on the grounds that the kirpan, the small ceremonial dagger that Sikhs must carry at all times, is dangerous.

The announcement was a great disappointment for the Italian Sikh community. "We are sad. Obviously we respect Italy and its laws, but after all these years of honest work in this country, we were hoping for a positive outcome," says Harwant Singh, president of the Italian National Sikh Dharam Parchar Committee.

"I'm surprised that legal status is denied to a community which is a symbol of integration. They are the pillars of the production of the Parmesan cheese, just to give an example," says Andrea Sarubbi, a member of parliament with the center-left Democratic Party, who is trying to find a solution to the dispute.

The first Sikhs arrived in Italy in the 1980s. They moved to northern and central Italy, where they worked hard without complaining, glad to create their own Italian families. Today, there are 60,000 Sikhs in Italy. "We wanted to live and stay here forever," says Singh. "We have always followed the rules. We are a peaceful community, but we wish others respected our religion too."

Despite being founded in the 15th century and being the fifth-largest religion in the world, today in Italy, the Sikh religion has no legal existence. It is just an association like any other.

Traditions and rules

Sikhs have to follow many rules. Men cannot cut their hair and must cover their heads with turbans. They also have to carry a comb, which is a sign of cleanness, traditional pants, a steel bracelet -- and the much disputed kirpan dagger.

The turban has also been an issue in the past. The Italian Interior Ministry only authorized its use in official ID photos in 1995. Even if, once in a while, there are some problems at airport security checks, the issue of the turban is considered settled.

But this is not the case for the ceremonial dagger. After a first refusal from the interior ministry, Italy's main administrative and judiciary body, the state council, confirmed that the kirpan was illegal in June 2010. In August 2011, Sikhs appealed, pointing out that the dagger was only carried under the belt, and could not be drawn. Moreover their religion does not require a specific length and so the knife can be shorter than 4 centimetres – so as not to be considered a weapon. Last May, the ministry rejected these objections.

"Now we have to think about our next move, but we'll fight the decision," says Singh. "We have 60 days to appeal the administrative authority or 120 days for an extraordinary appeal to the Italian president," he adds.

Before his next appeal, the president of the Sikh community in Italy is due to meet up with representatives of the government, to see if there is room for a new decision. "It is important for us. Many people see us as Talibans. We have to make them understand that we are totally different. But we also want our religion to be respected in all its aspects," Singh says. "A multicultural society has to face the dimension of the different faiths. They are difficult challenges but they cannot be avoided. They exist and need solutions," says Sarubbi.

Read the article in Italian.

Photo - asleen_kaur

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Economy

Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money but the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.


Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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