In an effort to help combat the growing threat of terrorism in Western Europe, France and Austria have adopted new measures to combat religious extremism. The changes echo suggestions that were issued and lobbied for by the Conference of European Rabbis (CER), and focus on decreasing the influence of foreign financing and institutions on Islamic religious life in Europe.
Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the CER, welcomed France and Austria’s actions and called on others in the continent to follow suit. The measures are modeled on a “Manifesto for Combatting Religious Extremism” that the organization initially released following attacks in Paris in the winter of 2015 on the offices of Charlie Hebdo and the Hypercasher grocery. Amid growing threats of violence in the region, the document stressed the importance of acting against theologically inspired terror coming from religious leaders and institutions.
“Religious leaders have a unique responsibility to preach theology of the sanctity of life, peace and tolerance,” said Rabbi Goldschmidt. “Unfortunately, over the past year we have seen terrorist attacks tear apart Europe. As religious leaders, it is our responsibility to ensure that extremism is stopped at its root and that peace prevails.”
Besides promoting the concept of partnering with faith communities in rooting out terror, the manifesto made three core suggestions: that religious leaders be trained in Europe, that large donations to religious institutions from oversees be reported and scrutinized, and that all congregations have extremism-prevention officers.
“The problems of the Middle East are being imported to Europe, Paris is becoming Beirut, it’s a time of war, and we all have to do our part to fight it,” said Rabbi Goldschmidt.
As part of emergency measures that were extended for three months in France following the Nice attack, temporary laws have been enacted to cut off foreign funding for mosques and place restrictions on foreign-trained imams. Both phenomena have been identified as ways through which radical Islamacism has been imported to Europe. The legislation adopted by Austria was largely similar, but became part of the country’s permanent legal code.
Rabbi Goldschmidt told Hamodia that the CER circulated its Manifesto at the Davos World Economic Forum this past winter and followed up by sending letters to high-ranking ministers throughout Europe. He hopes that France will incorporate a modified version of the acts into its regular laws as well. He recommended that while religious leaders, including Jewish ones, are often dependant on overseas study, they should be required to attend institutions that are recognized by European governments as being free of violent radicalism and also get additional training in the nations in which they eventually practice.
France is currently in the process of setting up a system by which Muslim religious institutions will be supported by a levy on halal meat, as a means of reducing dependence on funding from foreign donors. The system is modeled after the country’s Jewish communal organization, the Consistoire, which is largely funded by an additional charge on kosher meat.