Training Imams in Europe: Italy Chooses the Wrong Partner
by Lorenzo Vidino
May 17, 2005
Multimedia for this item
Over the last few months, determined to fight the radicalization of their burgeoning Muslim populations, various European governments have explored the possibility of training local imams in order to educate them to Western values and to indirectly control what is preached inside Europe's mosques. Following similar initiatives in Holland, Britain, and Spain, the Italian government today announced its intention to finance the creation of an institute that will train Italian imams. While the initiative is laudable and necessary, it is perplexing to see that the organization that will co-finance the institute is the Muslim World League, a Saudi charity that has spent millions of dollars to spread Wahhabism worldwide and is currently under investigations in the United States for its suspected terrorism-financing activities.
The League and its affiliate organizations (WAMY, IIRO...) have spent millions of dollars in Europe and throughout the world to disseminate their extremist ideology. A few months ago, the AIVD (Holland's internal intelligence agency) warned about the activities of the League and other Saudi charities.
"These institutions, such as the Muslim World League (also known as Rabita Trust), Al-Haramain, World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY) and International Islamic Relief Organisation (IIRO), are officially known as ?non-governmental organisations (NGOs), but in fact maintain close ties with parts of the Saudi establishment. Although to the outside world they strongly emphasise their strong humanitarian aims, these organisations are primarily focused on propagating the Salafist interpretation of Islam. They concentrate on setting up and supporting mosque centres with an orthodox persuasion, hiring, training and subsidising imams with a like persuasion, publishing and disseminating Salafist literature, et cetera."
The AIVD is also clear about what the consequences of the Saudi-financed spread of Wahhabism/Salafism are:
"The recruitment for the Islamic war which took place in the Netherlands over the past year, can therefore not be seen as mere isolated incidents. They are rather the first tangible illustrations of a tendency, closely related to a stealthy entrance of a violent radical Islamic movement in Dutch society, which is also taking place in the rest of the western world. The outlined development is a significant threat for the Dutch society. People who can be included in this radical Islamic movement are positioning themselves explicitly outside the democratic legal order. They are not only willing to support or use violence if they deem it necessary to defend ?true Islam,? but they are also decidedly trying to discourage the full participation of Muslims in Dutch society. By employing a strategy of provocation they are trying to drive a wedge between Muslims and non-Muslims"
Italy, like most European countries, has understood the need to control what is preached inside its mosques. But it still has to learn who is behind this rhetoric and has chosen the worst partner for its initiative.