Qatari activism in France should greatly worry those who care about the stability of European democracies. For years, Qatar has been the focus of many claims about its Islamic fundamentalism and its alleged support for the Muslim Brotherhood, Iran, ISIS, elements of al-Qaeda, Hamas, the Taliban and other Islamic extremists.
Qatar's emir, Tamim bin Hamad al Thani, recently provided solid proof that France is a privileged field of projection for his country, which, for more than a year, has had a severe boycott imposed on it by its Gulf neighbors. A July meeting in Paris between the Emir of Qatar and French President Emmanuel Macron was the third held in just a few months. Contracts worth more than 12 billion euros have already been signed, making Qatar the third largest French customer in the Gulf after Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Qatar, however, casts its shadow not only over the French economy.
Money from Qatar finances many of the "mega-mosques" in France. These are large structures with minarets -- not the improvised mosques that have sprung up in garages, storefronts and cultural centers. The Great Mosque of Poitiers, for instance, sits in the vicinity of the site of the Battle of Tours (also known as the Battle of Poitiers), where Charles Martel, ruler of the Franks, stopped the advancing Muslim army of Abdul al-Rahman in the year 732.
The imam of Poitiers today, Boubaker El-Hadj Amor, announced that the mosque, with a prayer hall for 700 faithful and a minaret of 22 meters, was made possible thanks to money from the organization "Qatar Charity." In a video, the imam of Poitiers admits to having benefited from Qatari funds to continue the mosque's construction, interrupted for several years due to lack of funding from local believers. "What we have built is thanks to Allah and with the help of the 'Qatar Charity' organization", the imam said.
According to the newspaper Libération:
"[W]e are currently witnessing a relative muzzling of the historical partners of Islam in France, Morocco and Algeria. Although they remain opulent donors, maintain close links with the first generations of immigrants and have locked up key positions within the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), these two countries see their influence diminishing among the youngest [generation]."
"... Qatar operates an insidious, but consensual, entryism, within the Union of Islamic Organizations of France (UOIF), France's representative of the [Muslim] Brotherhood."
"Through the UOIF, Qatar's idea was to take control of Islam in France", says Georges Malbrounot, a reporter at Le Figaro and co-author of the book "Nos très chers émirs" ("Our dear Emirs") about the relations between France and Qatar.
With its 17-meter-high minaret, large dome rising 14 meters and exterior illumination at night, the Assalam mosque "illuminates the city of Nantes." The mosque apparently answers a real need for the Muslims of the city. The faithful used to pray in the Arrahma Mosque and the El Forqane Mosque (formerly the Saint-Christophe Christian chapel, before it was transformed into an Islamic prayer hall), but Muslim community leaders say they were too small for the community's needs.
The Assalam Mosque in Nantes. (Image source: Belgacem Ben Said/Wikimedia Commons)
Qatari money is also flowing into Mulhouse, an Alsatian city, where Qatar Charity helped to build the An Nour Center, which includes a large mosque -- "one of the most impressive in Europe". The Qatari media described the project:
"The centre is strategically located in the border region of France, Germany and Switzerland, where Muslims constitute more than 20 percent of the total population of the city of 256,000 people. More than 150,000 people from the three countries will benefit from the project".
In Marseille, Qatari money is also financing the future Great Mosque of Marseille that will accommodate between 10,000 and 14,000 worshipers -- in a city that already hosts "about 70 mosques and official prayer rooms," according to the Regional Council of the Muslim Faith. The government of Qatar, in addition, has given millions of euros to the Grand Mosque in Paris.
Among the Persian Gulf states, Qatar now seems to be preeminent in creating Islamic history in France. Bernard Godard, who for years served as a consultant on Islam for the Ministry of the Interior, said: "It cannot be said that Islam in France is financed mainly by Saudi Arabia. It contributes a little but much less than countries such as Qatar or Kuwait". The French scholar, Bérengère Bonte, last year wrote a book entitled, The French Republic of Qatar ("La République française du Qatar").
Qatar has also reportedly helped finance the Saint-Denis campus of the European Institute of Human Sciences (IESH). This private "Muslim University" offers Arabic language and theology courses to post-graduate Muslim students. In fifteen years, its enrollment has grown from 180 students to almost 1,500.
Qatar is, as well, behind France's first state-funded Muslim faith school, the Lycée-Collège Averroès. The school was at the center of a dust-up a few years ago when one of its teachers resigned after writing that the school was "a hotbed of anti-Semitism and was 'promoting Islamism' to pupils". The school is financed by government funding, tuition fees, and donations from the Muslim community. But when it became necessary to buy a new building and renovate it, for 2.5 million euros, the Saudi Arabia Development Bank agreed to pay 250,000 euros, and the NGO Qatar Charity 800,000. According to the newspaper Libération:
"But when it became necessary to buy a new building and renovate it, for 2.5 million euros, the Saudi Arabia Development Bank agreed to pay 250,000 euros, and the NGO Qatar Charity 800,000."
Then there is what is known as "the Great Mosque of Saint-Denis," located in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis, which has a high concentration of Muslim immigrants. Ahmed Jamaleddine, treasurer of the Amal association, which is behind the construction of the mosque, says: "We have funds from abroad... Everything is transparent: it comes from the faithful of Saudi Arabia and Qatar."
Saint-Denis also happens to be home to a famous Cathedral, the Basilica of Saint-Denis -- which contains the royal necropolis where many of France's kings are buried, including Charles Martel, noted earlier, who stopped the advance of the Muslim army in 732.
The Emir of Qatar appears to have a far greater grasp of French history than many French do. Qatar is a country of which democracies would do well to be wary.
Giulio Meotti, Cultural Editor for Il Foglio, is an Italian journalist and author.