Minister okays Dutch or foreign state support for mosques
March 24, 2009 1 Comment
The government is allowed to subsidise mosques, Home Affairs Minister Guusje Ter Horst has stated. Shhe will not take action either against donations from foreign regimes. The risk of these is exaggerated, Ter Horst writes in a letter to the Lower House.
“The principle of the separation of Church and State does not exclude any form of support from the government to a religious community,” Ter Horst maintained. As examples of permissible support, she referred to the subsidisation of “specific social activities by a religious organisation.”
No application can “generally” be made for financial support from the government for the building of a mosque. This means the construction is “usually” completely dependent on donations from members of the Muslim community, with financing “sometimes” being obtained from abroad. This is “primarily financing from countries in the Middle East” via “foreign governments, Islamic NGOs and wealthy people”.
Ter Horst will not intervene to stop donations from foreign regimes. “Contacts between a foreign government and its (former) citizens in the Netherlands may solely take place on a voluntary basis and may not hamper integration. There are no indications that these criteria are not being met.”
The minister mentions a series of examples of foreign funding that she claims are not detrimental to integration. For example, although donations from wealthy residents of the Gulf region to mosques in the Netherlands are “increasingly visible”, they are not intended for the acquisition of influence. “These wealthy people mostly finance mosques as part of the compulsory Zakat, one of the foundation stones of Islam, which spurs Muslims to give away part of their property as an act of charity,” the minister explained.
Last year, Morocco established a council for Moroccans in Europe. This “is intended to serve the specific religious and cultural needs of this community, and to preserve the Moroccan identity, faith and traditional values against the background of religious fundamentalism and extremism,” Ter Horst declared. This council is no more detrimental to integration than the Turkish Ministry of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) “which pays the salaries of all imams attached to Diyanet mosques” in the Netherlands, Ter Horst reasoned.
Anxiety about ultra-orthodox Saudi influence is a thing of the past, the minister suggests. “Where mosques are concerned, there were worries about security risks”. These involved “the spread of ultra-orthodox salafism by the Saudi government and Saudi Islamic organisations”.
The minister also suggests that other issues are outdated. “There was anxiety about anti-integration risks in connection with the building of the Wester mosque by Milli Gorus in Amsterdam and the funding of the Essalam mosque in Rotterdam by a sheik from the United Arab Emirates. Recently, there was also publicity about organisations linked to the Turkish Fetullah Gulen movement.”
“The risk that a Dutch mosque is influenced from abroad always exists (…) but should not be overestimated. The principle of the separation of Church and State in our democracy means that government intervention in religious communities is not always possible, nor desirable. Both this principle and the freedom of religion mean that the government cannot in theory take action concerning the composition of the board of a mosque and the financing of a mosque, even if these are managed to some extent from outside the country.”
But there are mosques and donors who appear more moderate than they actually are. “It is sometimes difficult to assess the risks because the organisation has a double face: it outwardly supports moderation and integration, while the atmosphere inside the walls is completely different.”
To recognise and deal with “facade politics of this sort”, Ter Horst has developed a set of instructions, intended for local governments and civic organisations. This will be made available via Nuansa, the knowledge and advice centre on Polarisation and Radicalisation (www.nuansa.nl).
Summing up, the Labour (PvdA) minister observed that “it is primarily the strength of the Dutch mosques themselves that can limit the risks of foreign financing.” It is not necessary to give the government more powers; there is already a “good system for monitoring, enforcement and sanctions.”
The cabinet will present a bill this year concerning the obligation of foundations to publish their annual accounts. “This will also make the financial situation of mosques more transparent, as they are often managed by foundations. It also means that it will be more difficult for financiers, foreign or not, to secretly acquire influence in a mosque.”
Source: NIS News, 24 March 2009