Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Spain to Pay Off Mosques?

The New York Times is reporting on the Spanish government's proposal to give cash payments to the nation's 200 or so mosques. In the Times story, this is presented as a smart anti-terrorist measure.

The Spanish government has begun formal discussions on a proposal to expand financing to religious institutions, and security officials say that one intention is to subsidize mosques to make them less dependent on money from militant groups abroad.

The Justice Ministry proposal, which legal scholars say is likely to test the limits of Spain's separation of church and state, reflects a widespread belief among counterterrorism officials here that Spanish mosques are vulnerable to the influences of militant groups because they feel the need to turn to the militants for money.

Antonio Camacho, the secretary of state security at the Interior Ministry, says, "It's about keeping them from having to look outside for financing because the state does not, in a way, support their activities."

But then later, he says, "This is not about controlling them, no, no, no. It's about guaranteeing freedom of religion, because they won't feel committed to outside channels for financing."

The local Islamic leaders quoted in the story insist their financing comes from their own worshippers. But a Justice Ministry officials is cited as saying significant financing for Spanish mosques comes from untraceable sources in Saudi Arabia and Morocco.

So, under the new plan, the government offers them money, and makes no attempt to tie that money to any commitment to Spanish democracy and a free society. It makes no attempt to link the donation to a turning away from foreign (perhaps Wahhabist or worse) cash. It allows an Islamist imam, if he chooses, to take his foreign cash and augment it with a government grant. It only throws money at the mosques and hopes for the best.

This is a nation where the imact of Islamist terror is not an abstract, but a very real experience. This from a government that refuses to even listen to what is being preached in these mosques.

The Socialist government, elected in March just three days after the Madrid bombings, has been cautious in discussing its proposal. In May, it drew criticism from Islamic leaders and civil liberties groups by suggesting that Spanish laws needed to be altered to allow the government to monitor Muslim sermons.

It quickly backed away from the idea, and officials are now careful to avoid describing any proposals as an effort to control the mosques.

According to the Times, Jesús Núñez Villaverde, director of the Institute for the Study of Conflicts and Humanitarian Action, "told Parliament recently that Spain must find a way to dilute the presence of 'fundamentalist religious expression that is financed through its own channels, and for which we have not one single instrument of influence, contact or association.' "

But I don't think paying them protection money is the answer.