Secular European governments give money to Muslim congregations in an effort to defang radicalism imported from foreign sources.
A recent push by the German government to educate a generation of European-born (and Enlightenment-minded) imams — to wean the nation’s Muslim population from a class of religious leaders trained and paid by Turkey — belongs to a controversial strain of thinking in Europe. The idea is to commit tax funds to mosque-building and other integration efforts with the goal of drying up foreign, and sometimes radical, streams of money.
Some programs are more promising than others. Nicolas Sarkozy argued in a 2004 book (before he became president of France) that Paris should make an exception to its century-old tradition of strict laïcite, or secularism, and give money directly to Muslim groups to build mosques. Secular groups, understandably, howled, but Sarkozy’s argument at least confronted a nagging problem with unintegrated Muslims in Europe.
“What is dangerous is not minarets,” he wrote in The Republic, Religions, Hope, “but caves and garages that keep clandestine religious groups hidden.”
A glamorous French-funded mosque, goes the logic, is better than a back-alley prayer room with literature and funding from Riyadh, Damascus or Tehran.