European Eye on Radicalization
A recent article in the Danish newspaper Berlingske revealed what seems to be the latest move in Qatar’s actions to fund and infiltrate European mosques and Islamic centers.
This time it was the Hamad bin Khalifa Civilization Center in the Great Mosque of Copenhagen — in the city district of Nørrebro — which had allegedly received nearly a quarter-of-a-billion dollars in donations from the Gulf State.
Built in 2014, the Hamad bin Khalifa Civilization Center is one of the biggest mosques in Europe and the first purposely built mosque in the Scandinavian country.
In order to increase its grip on the Center — which is property of the Danish Islamic Council — the board of directors has been partly replaced, so that Qatar now holds an absolute majority.
Notably, the new board features Shaheen al-Ghanim, previously working at the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs in Qatar.
The response from different Danish parties and perspectives has been quite strong. The Danish People’s Party’s foreign spokesman Pia Kjærsgaard, for instance, complains: “If you sit on the board of a mosque in Denmark, but live in Qatar, it is clear what interests you are trying to protect. And it is not Denmark.” Kjærsgaard added that some of the initiatives Qatar is allegedly undertaking in the country would “make your hair stand on end”.
More broadly, Danish politicians have demanded from the government an end foreign interference in Danish mosques after Qatar has taken control of Grand Mosque in Copenhagen.
When it emerged shortly afterwards that the controversial Qatar Charity, which is tightly linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, had donated money to a free school in Aarhus, the Minister for Immigration and Integration Mattias Tesfaye explained: “The government considers it very serious if forces with a medieval view of democracy, freedom, and equality, are trying to gain influence in Denmark through donations … to undermine democracy and fundamental freedoms and human rights.”
At the same time, the government announced that it will propose a bill banning the receipt of donations “from certain natural and legal persons”.
Imam Abu Bilal, convicted of calling for the killing of Jews, has preached several times in the mosque but, when that information came out in February, representatives of the Grand Mosque said that Abu Bilal Ismail was not considered extreme, even though he features in a video urging to “destroy the Zionist Jews”.
To make things worse, there is the fact that the radical statements of this preacher seem to date back at least to 2014-2016, when he was imam at the Grimhøj Mosque in Aarhus and was filmed with a hidden camera while explaining that stoning women to death is the right punishment for fornication.
Western Myopia Vis-a vis the Risks of Religious Soft Power
Arguably, the fact that the latest issues related to Qatar influence in social and religious affairs in Europe came to light is extremely positive, as it has allowed Danish politicians and the public to engage in a much-needed debate about the appropriate level of scrutiny on religious so-called soft power exerted by some outside countries.
Moreover, the Danish debate is showing a high degree of wisdom and farsightedness, as opposed to a sort of myopia that is widespread among European countries when it comes to these kinds of interference, financial or otherwise.
The Qatar Charity has funded 140 mosques and Islamic centers in Europe, most of them in Italy, where this debate has barely begun.
The abovementioned myopia is not usually a result of nefarious intentions — at least not exclusively. More often, it is due to the lack of knowledge and awareness of soft power mechanisms, radicalization processes, and financing systems.
Christian Chesnot and George Malbrunot, who recently published their in-depth investigation of Qatar funding to the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe, The Qatar Papers, investigated Qatar and Qatar Charity activities in Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, Kosovo, Great Britain and France, and, in their own words, the extent of the founding astounded them.
It is possible to curb problematic Qatari behaviors, as has been seen with the increasingly strong pressure exerted by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries since mid-2017 that has reined-in Qatar’s adventurism in places like Libya and Syria. In a similar fashion, Denmark’s peaceful but firm reaction to Qatar’s meddling in its intern affairs represents a model that more than one European country should now follow.
 Christian Chesnot — George Malbrunot, Qatar Papers. How Doha finances the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe, Global Watch Analysis Editions, 2019, p. 8.
 Ibid. p. 7.