The New York Times has an article about how European countries are working to train Europeanized imams for their mosques.
I think I’ll file the odds of this working as somewhere between “not bloody likely” and “hysterical laughter.” There are two rather obvious problems: First, how are they going to train enough imams – compared to the number of experiences ones coming in from out of the country – to make a sizeable difference? And second, and more importantly – why would the Muslim communities in these countries, already disconnected from the mainstream, consider an “official” imam to be more credible than one from their home country, or one nearby?
No, this is an idea with its plans in the very wrong place. Allow me two countersuggestions, one cheap and effective, one expensive and potentially much more beneficial.
The expensive solution is to actually integrate these Muslim communities into their embedding European societies. This is potentially very difficult – it would require groups to assimilate both linguistically and culturally, until they feel that they have more invested in their adopted countries than in their home countries. This would have to happen to the extent that fiery rhetoric from other countries sounds as alien and irrelevant to them as it does to everyone else – which is no small proposition, especially as immigration from these countries has been a large-scale phenomenon and cultural ghettoization is already firmly in effect. And frankly, the idea of European countries working full-force to assimilate minorities worries me some.
The alternative, which may really work better in this case, is to adopt two or three of the “Three C’s” that regimes everywhere have used for stability: Cooptation, corruption and coercion. If an imam is coming in to the country and making noise, fine – encourage him to be part of the system. Hey, let’s have a union for imams. Is that mosque up to building code? Let’s get this imam a bit of funding for his speaking tour – but not that one. Make sure that enough imams have personal reasons to not want to mess with the system too much.
It shouldn’t take too much work or money, relatively speaking, to get a critical mass of the incoming religious leaders to have a vested interest in the system. For the ones who are persistent trouble and don’t listen to the first two C’s, there’s always the third – in this case in the relatively mild form of deportation. Actually clubbing someone over the head and leaving them in a ditch is surprisingly rarely necessary, and is frequently counterproductive.