From the New York Times, with thanks to Scaramouche, who comments: “Under the guise of integrating its growing Muslim population, the Spanish government is funding the spread of Islam in Spain.”
In early October, the government created a foundation to help “minority religions” integrate into Spanish society. Seemingly modest, it is still a remarkable step for this nation once forged by religious wars against the Muslim rulers. Spain’s Inquisition persecuted Muslims, Jews and Protestants alike to impose Catholic dominance.
The new foundation, with only $3.5 million to start, intends to finance projects for Jews and Protestants as well. But above all it intends to improve the government’s relations with Muslims and to give them more of a voice in national issues.
“We have been asking for funds and it’s only a small start, but it’s positive,” said Mansur Escudero of the Islamic Commission of Spain.
Since the Madrid bombings, the Spanish police have stepped up monitoring of terrorist suspects and they track Muslim clerics whom they fear could incite their followers to violence. But at the same time, many Spaniards say that it is indispensable to improve the dialogue with the moderate Muslim majority.
A leading voice for that position is Prime Minister JosÃ© Luis RodrÃguez Zapatero, who recently called for “an alliance of cultures” in the Western and Muslim world as a way to isolate those who advocate violence.
Since taking power in March, Spain’s new Socialist government has set out to improve its links with Algeria, Tunisia and, above all, Morocco, with which relations soured under Spain’s previous conservative administration.
As one of several initiatives, Spain recently announced that 2005 will be The Year of Morocco, while Morocco has declared 2006 to The Year of Spain. The culture ministers of the two countries said that events and themes would include theater, contemporary art exhibitions, translations of literature and restorations of artworks.
The new foundation, however, reflects Spain’s quandary when dealing with any religious issue. Spanish officials have openly said they would like to reduce Spanish Muslims’ dependence on foreign financing. A number of Spain’s 400 Muslim prayer houses and mosques have received money from Libya, Morocco or Malaysia. Europe’s largest mosque, located just outside Madrid, was built by Saudi Arabia.
Spain initially planned to subsidize mosques directly, but backed away from that idea. Officials said the government could not justify financing mosques when it is striving for a greater separation between church and state. The government hopes to tackle one of the country’s most prickly issues, reducing both the state financing of the Roman Catholic clergy and, in turn, Catholic influence on politics.