French government considers banning foreign funding of mosques

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The proposal comes as pressure mounts on the government to do more to prevent domestic terrorist attacks. France is “just now waking up” to the threat of Islamist extremism, one expert told DW.

As his country reels from the brutal slaying of a priest in Normandy – the second “Islamic State” (IS)-linked terrorism incident in France in July – Prime Minister Manuel Valls said on Friday he would consider tougher rules for the funding of mosques.

Valls and other members of President Francois Hollande’s administration, including Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, are facing mounting pressure from the public to step down in the wake of the most recent attack. The government had already garnered criticism after the Bastille Day killings in Nice earlier this month left 84 people dead. Critics pointed out that security at the site of the attack was lacking, in spite of the state of emergency that has been in place since the November 13 massacre in Paris last year.

Speaking with newspaper “Le Monde”, Valls said it was time for a “new model” for relations with Islam and that he was open to the idea of banning financing from abroad for mosques being built in France. He also called on imams to be trained in France – a proposal echoed by Dalil Boubakeur, the rector of the Grand Mosque in Paris, earlier this week.

Frankreich Premierminister Valls mit Innenminister Cazeneuve nach KabinettssitzungFrench Prime Minister Manuel Valls and Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve are facing calls to step down

France’s historic blind eye

French mosques have received a substantial amount of funding from North Africa and the Middle East over the years. One study, published by the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP) organization in Berlin in 2010, said that 62 percent of the budget of the Union of Islamic Organizations in France came from other countries. Many mosques have largely been dependent on funds from Algeria, Morocco and Egypt. The Saudi royal family and Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood were among those foreign entities credited with helping build certain mosques around the country.

Ronja Kempin, a security expert with SWP, told DW that the French government has traditionally steered away from involving itself in religious matters. Secularism “made France blind” to religion, and she suggested this was a reason why the foreign funding of mosques has not been a prime concern of the government until now.

“You could say the French state is just now waking up” to the problem of radicalization in the religious community, she said.

An outpouring of grief for slain priest

Focus on de-radicalization

The proposal to halt foreign funding for mosques is but one of the government’s recent efforts to address the ongoing threat of homegrown terrorism.

In his interview with Le Monde, Valls said it was as a failure that the priest’s murderer, 19-year-old Adel Kermiche, had been released from prison after being caught attempting to travel to Syria. Consequentially, he said judges needed to evaluate potential terrorists on a different, case-by-case basis.

In September, Valls announced that the government planned to open up centers across the country to help formerly radicalized Islamists reintegrate into society.

“The fight against jihadism is probably the greatest challenge of our generation,” Valls said at the time.

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