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Dealing With Europe's Hate-Preachers

DW staff / AFP (dre)July 23, 2005

European countries have different ways of dealing with imams who preach hate. Following the attacks in London, some are vowing to crack down harder.

Police across Europe monitor Friday prayersImage: dpa

For many investigators, they are the water that germinates a seed of discontent into full-grown hate for the Western world.

At the very latest since the Sept. 11 attacks in America, European imams have been on police authorities' watch list. Investigators are quick to crack down on those who are found to preach anti-Semitism and praise terrorist attacks in their Friday sermons. Several have been deported from European countries, such as Italy, France and Great Britain, and many governments have tightened their laws regarding imams following the train bombings in Madrid in 2004 and the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh last fall.

Muslime in London Jamme Masjid Moschee Brick Lane
The "Jama Masjid Mosque" in LondonImage: dpa - Bildfunk

But now there's talk of cracking down even harder, at least in Great Britain, which sports some of the continent's most rigid anti-terror laws. The government of Tony Blair has had the right since 2003 to remove British nationality from dual-nationality foreigners deemed to represent a threat to the country. This law was applied in the case of the radical preacher Abu Hamza al-Masri.

Now they are considering strengthening anti-terrorist laws to make "indirect incitement" to terrorism an offense.

France tough on imams

Something akin to this is already in place in France, where the strict separation of church and states makes it easier for authorities to crack down on imams. In 2004, the government attempted to deport five imams. A new clause to current French immigration laws allows for deportation if a foreigner is judged to have incited discrimination, hatred or violence against a person or group.

Nicolas Sarkozy, französischer Wirtschafts- und Finanzminister
Nicolas SarkozyImage: AP

Earlier this year the interior ministry set up regional intelligence offices in order to monitor support for Islamic extremism. Following the London attacks on July 7, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy (photo) said he is prepared to strip imams who preach violence of their French nationality.

Following the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh allegedly by a Muslim extremist with Dutch nationality last fall, the Dutch government promised to come down hard on imams. Hard-line iimmigration minister Rita Verdonk got parliament to ban foreign imams from 2008 on. In order to have some control over what is being taught, the government introduced state-sponsored training courses for Imams. But only a few have so far signed up.

In Belgium the interior ministry has set up a network of information-gathering on radical Islam, with 58 anti-terrorist experts reinforcing police in the main cities. Austria, where five percent of the population are Muslim, recently toughened its legislation by making possible the expulsion of imams whose sermons are "a danger to public security."

Germany has deportation problems

Betende in der Al-Nur Moschee in Berlin
TheAl-Nur Mosque in BerlinImage: dpa

A law which came into effect on January 1 in Germany should in theory make it easier to expel "spiritual inciters to disorder" but the procedures are proving cumbersome. Recently the constitutional court blocked the deportation of an imam who described Germans as "useless, stinking atheists."

Spain, which was hit by Islamist terrorism in March 2004, has no specific legislation to track imams who preach violence. There is still no official register of imams or Muslim places of worship.

However, last week the interior minister appeared to signal future toughening of the law when he said that Spain "cannot tolerate sermons which help fertilize terrorism."

"Jewel of Islam" sitting in Norway

Italy, which is exposed to the risk of Islamist terrorism because of its military presence in Iraq, does not have specific laws either. The interior minister can ask for the expulsion of an imam, but this can be appealed before the courts.

Several other countries, especially in northern Europe, have also chosen not to institute changes to their legislation, preferring to treat each case under existing laws.

Mullah Krekar, Gründer von Ansar al-Islam
Mullah KrekarImage: AP

Norway, for example, has for two years been seeking the legal means to expel Mullah Krekar, an Iraqi Kurd who founded the extremist group Ansar al-Islam and has been described by al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden as a "jewel of Islam."