Foreign Hands

European Muslims have always been subject to competing pressures, with domestic forces pushing toward conformity with the established society, while international factors encouraged commitment to global and pan-Islamic causes. Clergy and religious institutions were particularly subject to globalizing forces, because of their greater awareness of trends in home countries, but also because certain Middle Eastern states have been so proactive in funding mosques and ministries. Across Europe, the expansion of Islamic institutions has been led and controlled throughout by foreign governments and transnational institutions, which compete freely for influence in Muslim communities. It is impossible to understand the shades of Muslim religious thought and political activism in Europe except in the context of these rival interests: Saudi, Algerian, Moroccan, Turkish, and Pakistani.

Foreigners look with some puzzlement at the operation of Middle Eastern religious-political empires on European soil: at the least, the tolerance of activities by overseas governments looks like a dereliction of national security. In fact, European attitudes do have a rational basis, although it is rooted in a now-bygone political order. From the 1950s through the 1980s, west European political attitudes were shaped absolutely by the Cold War confrontation, and the Middle East featured chiefly as a theater of East-West ideological rivalry. The ultimate nightmare was that communists would establish themselves throughout the region, probably using secular socialist and nationalist parties as fronts, and that would place the region's oil resources in the hands of the Soviet bloc. To combat this threat, Western governments and intelligence agencies actively cooperated with the enemies of secular governments like Nasser's Egypt or Ba'athist Syria and Iraq, and that meant tolerating and allying with Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood. As Islamist exiles fled to Europe in the 1950s, Western governments made no objection to them establishing mosques and institutional networks, which would serve as valuable foundations for later organization. Internationally, the West saw conservative monarchies like Saudi Arabia as its principal allies in the region and welcomed Saudi efforts to spread its conservative varieties of Islam, as a bastion against leftism. In 1962, for instance, the Saudi government founded the World Muslim League as a means of financing mosques, preachers, and propaganda that reflected its particular form of Wahhabi Islam, and at the time, the move seemed unexceptional. Not until the 1990s did fundamentalist Islam seem vaguely as threatening to western Europe as Soviet communism had in its day.23

In itself, foreign support of fellow Muslims seems only laudable. What better way of showing charity than helping poor believers build a mosque that will help them develop a faithful community in a nonMuslim land? Recipients, too, find such a gesture hard to criticize. For a largely poor community, it is wonderful news when a wealthy government like Saudi Arabia offers to finance the building of a sumptuous mosque, which acts as a symbolic proclamation of the Islamic presence. Manchester lawyer Mohammed Afzal Khan, one of Britain's most respected Muslims, makes no apology for seeking Saudi funding for an Islamic Cultural Center in his city: "My attitude is, if it's a good cause, everyone has a right to contribute." In practice, though, such support makes it difficult for local communities to become autonomous, to develop a wholly European Islam, and even the best-intentioned donors impose their ideological preferences. The Saudis in particular have a strong theological agenda in encouraging one particularly rigorous and exclusive form of Islam, to the exclusion of what might be the traditions of many in the community concerned. In the words of a Muslim leader at Villeurbanne, near Lyon, "When Saudi Arabia gives you a million euros with one hand, with the other they give you a list of things you must or must not say." Accepting such benevolence means, in practice, acknowledging the charge that Islam on European soil is a foreign importation, even an arm of the imperialist ambitions of wealthy oil states.24

The Saudis have been among the most enthusiastic sponsors of mosques, including the ostentatious monumental structures. Around the world, the Saudis have funded the construction of over 1,300 mosques, including many in Europe. The King of Saudi Arabia personally sponsored the new Oxford Center for Islamic Studies that is intended visually and culturally to rival the medieval Christian foundations: the building has a showy minaret a hundred feet high. (Niall Ferguson sees this as a "fulfilment of Gibbon's unintended prophecy" of an Islamicized Oxford). Saudi money funded the Great Mosque of Lyon and the imposing Islamic Centers in London, Geneva, Edinburgh, Rome, and elsewhere, besides supporting countless smaller facilities. Other monuments to Saudi generosity include Madrid's vast Islamic Center, commonly known as the M30 because of the major freeway that it overlooks. This "comprises a very capacious mosque, a prayer hall for women, a library, a lecture hall and a medical clinic." The Saudis provided a million pounds toward the cost of the sumptuous new East London mosque. Even in Russia, Saudi money supported the vast new mosque built in the kremlin of the Tatar city of Kazan. In addition, Saudi money directly or indirectly supports 8 percent of the funding of France's mosques and Islamic centers. The splendid new mosque at Granada was built with support from the governments of Morocco and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). A wealthy sheik from the UAE paid for Stockholm's Great Mosque.25

While building activity is important, it does not necessarily determine the form of Islam that takes place inside the new structures. Across Europe, faithful congregations ingeniously shop around between the various charitable organizations to find donors who will attach the fewest strings to their benevolence: Moroccans are least interventionist, Saudis the most intrusive. But once a mosque is built, many believers find it difficult to escape from the interfering hands of

Muslim governments who want to shepherd their former citizens now living overseas.26

While the Saudis are famous for projecting their militant agenda, other governments like those of Algeria and Turkey have a vested interest in reducing extremist influences among their communities abroad. As we have seen, Western governments were happy to promote such foreign dabbling as a means of preventing the upsurge of radicalism among immigrant communities. To accomplish their goal, states and their ministries for religious affairs become closely involved in choosing the imams who will teach in such mosques and prepare teaching material for children in religious schools. Algeria and Morocco serve this function for their former citizens in France, as does the Turkish DITIB, the foreign branches of the Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet Isleri Baskanligi), in Germany and elsewhere. (The DITIB was the primary sponsor of the new Duisburg-Marxloh mosque.) The Diyanet controls about half the Turkish mosques in Europe. The organization appoints imams for the 140 Turkish mosques in the Netherlands, while the Moroccan government tries to control the hundred or so Dutch mosques of that ethnic group through a network of friendly associations.27 In consequence, clergy are conspicuously the least assimilated members of many Muslim communities, and the most likely to have close foreign ties. In the 1990s, only 4 percent of France's paid professional imams held French citizenship.

Sometimes, states compete for influence using only the slimmest pretence of a religious motive. Across western Europe, we find Algerian-and Moroccan-supported factions in constant conflict, sometimes reaching the point of physical violence. At Evry, near Paris, in 1996, a battle for control of the mosque led to a Moroccan victory over the Algerians, but only after both sides had wielded iron bars. The hostility is not surprising when we recall that the two nations fought a virtual proxy war in the western Sahara from 1975 through 1991. What such foreign-controlled networks have in common is a shared desire to prevent migrants from assimilating too easily into European societies, so that they commonly oppose attempts to integrate Muslim children fully into public schools.28

0 0

Post a comment