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Germany's New True Believers
If Islam seems foreign to many Europeans, part of the reason is that it is. Unlike in America, where a prosperous Muslim diaspora has widely integrated and built its own local institutions, only rarely do Europe's mosques or schools preach and teach in German, French or any other local language. All over Europe, countless Qur'an schools and cultural centers are financed by wealthy Saudi charities. Paris's Grand Mosque and many others in France are backed by the government of Algeria. And in Germany, one third of its 2,500 mosques are run by Turkey. Sent to Germany for four-year tours, the imams are picked by Ankara's Bureau of Religious Affairs, which also has a say in topics for Friday sermons.
This state of affairs has no doubt added to the widespread perception that the European Union's 15 million Muslims live in an ethnic and religious ghetto. But in an effort to better integrate Muslim citizens into the general populace, German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble called earlier this month for more mosques to be built all over the country, as a visible sign that "Islam is a part of Germany and Europe." And, as part of a broader movement to radically redefine the relationship between mosque and state, he signed off on a plan to introduce German-language Islamic instruction at public schools throughout the country.
German officials are hoping that state-funded Islamic instruction, support for mosques, and other government favors, will help draw Islamic institutions out of the ghetto, wean them off foreign funds, and turn them into stakeholders in the German system. It is a process that is being duplicated all over Europe. In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy has talked openly of state-funded construction of mosques as a way to "cut the Islam of France off foreign influences." He has even proposed changing France's sacrosanct 1905 law requiring the strict separation of church and state. In Britain, the government already finances Muslim schools. In Italy, Interior Minister Giuliano Amato has set up a high-level dialogue with Italian Muslims, exactly along the lines of what Schäuble has done in Germany. Amato hopes to empower moderates and institutionalize representative Islamic bodies. The ultimate goal, Amato says, is to "consolidate Italian Islam" by establishing formal relations between the Muslim community and the Italian state.
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