Despite the judicial authorization, the inhabitants of the city, a conservative stronghold, organized a banquet with pork dishes and placed severed pig heads in front of the building. The controversy had already broken out after the arrival of Afghan and Yemeni refugees. An image of the country that contrasts with the progressivism spread by K-pop.
Seoul () – Behind the image of South Korea as a progressive and very open country – spread mainly thanks to television series and the K-pop musical genre – sometimes hides a much darker realityat least for immigrants from Islamic countries.
For some time, the city of Daegu has been at the center of a controversy over the construction of a mosque that pits the local Muslim community against residents of the Daehyeong-dong district. A few years ago, a group of university students from the city had started to use an empty house in the neighborhood as a prayer room, but due to space constraints, in September 2020 the young people obtained permission from the local government to renovate the building and expand it. A few months later, however, the municipal authorities changed their minds under pressure from the neighborhood’s residents, who had complained about the work.
The matter went to court and the district judge ruled in favor of the Muslim students, asking the administration to withdraw the order to halt the works. At that moment, the neighbors took matters into their own hands and, after also losing the 2022 appeal, they blocked access to the works with their cars and with anti-Islamic banners.
Over the past year, the Daehyeong-dong community has been rocked by tensions: even though the citizenry actively supported religious liberty of the students, some residents continued to intimidate the community of believers. Last month, citizens opposed to the construction of the mosque organized their second public banquet in a few months in front of the works, offering pork based dishes and championing its menu as an essential element of Korean culture. A few months earlier, severed pig heads had been placed in front of the building’s entrance.
Islamophobia and xenophobia are phenomena that in recent years have proven to have deep roots in South Korea: not only in the city of Daegu, historically a conservative stronghold, but also in other parts of the country. In Ulsan, southeast of the Korean peninsula, a group of parents held a lengthy protest last year against the local school admission of some Afghan children refugees in Korea after the Taliban recapture of Kabul. In 2018, moreover, the arrival of 500 Yemeni refugees fleeing the civil war on Jeju Island fueled the controversy over reception policyafter the refugees were portrayed as a threat to South Korean society.
Although the rapid aging of the population would make immigration even more necessary to avoid the so-called “demographic bomb”, South Korea continues to be a country where coexistence between different cultures is very complicated.