dimarts, 8 de desembre de 2015

Àngel Colom: “Barcelona must have a grand mosque financed by moderate Islam”

We are visiting Àngel Colom, director of the Fundació Nous Catalans (New Catalans Foundation), a few hours before the latest arrests of alleged recruiters of Jihadist combatants in Catalonia. He welcomes us in the organization's headquarters, located in the central quarter of Santa Coloma de Gramenet (Barcelona conurbation).

- La Razon (Madrid-based daily) has written on its front page (Catalan President) “Mas and Junqueras' New Catalans travel to Syria to join the IS”. Are you aware of anybody connected to the Foundation that you head being fighting in Syria?

Absolutely not. Neither fighting in Syria nor merely supporting Jihadism.

- La Razon also says that, according to counter-terrorism sources, there are 10-12 combatants from Catalonia in Syria, having emerged from the milieu of New Catalans and (second-largest Catalan party) ERC's immigration working group. Can you vouch for the fact this is not the case?

Long ago I learned not to vouch for anything or anybody. However, from what I know and from the work that we are doing with the Muslim community, I can state that all of this is a fabrication by this Spanish nationalist pamphlet. It is a lie.

- Maybe the origin of the report lies in your tight connection with the Muslim community …

One thing is the religion of Islam, as respectable as any other, and a different thing is Islamist ideology. If, in Catalonia, there is an organization working to ideologically combat radical Islamism and stand side by side with democrats from the whole of Europe and all over the world, that is us. I do not know whether La Razon is aware of this, but Spain's Interior Ministry and security forces are.

- Why do you believe that this report surfaced?

They try to link the independence movement to Jihadism. It is one of their long-standing obsessions.

- Who is behind this?

- The PP (Popular Party) administration, the CNI (National Intelligence Centre), and a number of Madrid-based media outlets.

- Is there any chance that somebody, who was connected to your Foundation at some specific point in time, may have later radicalised?

If so, it would be a very rare exception, but I am not aware and very much doubt it. The people who come here know that they are working in a project whose values are completely opposed to Jihadist Fascism. Therefore, I am very calm.

Jihadism is Fascist

- Are there Jihadists in Catalonia?

There is a small radical minority, as in all over Europe. However, it is here where one must distinguish Islamists from Muslims. I said earlier that I was not vouching for anybody, but I do vouch for the huge majority of Muslim Catalans who have nothing to do with Jihadism. Look, here we also have a minority of Catalan Fascists of Catholic extraction who demonstrate on 12 October (Spanish national day) in Montjuïc, and we do not stigmatize Catholic religion as a result.

- Are there radical Imams in Catalonia?


- Do you (the Foundation) know who they are?

Yes, and sometimes we have reported them.

- Such as?

Abdelwahab Houzi, an imam in Lleida (one of Catalonia's four provincial capitals, in the West), who for years has been preaching an intolerant, mediaeval, sectarian Islam. In the past the local council buttered him up a few times. Now he is under greater control, but keeps preaching. Another case is an Imam in Reus (Southern Catalonia) who comes and goes from the Netherlands, and in Torredembarra (nearby town) they hold a gathering during Easter bringing together 3,000 of the faithful, who listen to sermons by Imams from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, Spain's police and Civil Guard (constabulary-type police) know it.

I do not understand why the Spanish Government does not expel radical Imams

- And, don't they do anything about it?

No. And I wonder why, knowing what they do and having identified them, they do not arrest and expel them. France and Italy do.

- What is your response to this rhetorical question?

Look, the current chairman of the Islamic Commission of Spain (officially recognized umbrella organization), Mr Mounir Benjelloun Andaloussi Azhari, is somebody ideologically close to Justice and Charity, a movement banned in Morocco.

- Banned?

It is considered illegal and terrorist.

- Why?

It defends deposing the King of Morocco and setting up a caliphate. Needless to say, this is exactly what the IS defends. The thing is that a gentleman who supports this movement is the representative of Muslims in Spain, with the green light from the CNI and the PP administration.

- Have you reported this?

I have talked about this with European experts on Jihadism and they do not understand anything. We find ourselves in a situation where the Spanish Government, which is not working for the security of everybody, is accusing us, us who fight radical Islamism, of connivance with radicalism.

- When incidents such as those in Paris take place, a portion of Catalan society demands a more robust public rejection by the Muslim community against radicals' violence. Do you also miss that?

Years ago I used to think this same way, and I thought that it had to be solved. Now, thanks to extensive talks, Muslim communities have evolved in this direction. After the Paris terror attacks there have been gatherings to condemn them, with more than 80 Muslim communities from all over the country present, to denounce those who claim to be acting in their name. It is true that no gathering involving thousands of people has taken place. However, if it was necessary some day, and I hope it is not necessary, it will take place. Do not doubt it.

- How is the integration of Muslims in our country progressing?

For more than one year we have been working on a National Plan to achieve a country-wide agreement solving the fitting of Muslims into Catalonia. If we do it right, it will serve the purpose of further isolating the tiny minority that radical Islamists amount to.

I would not accept a mosque financed by Qatar or Saudi Arabia

- Does a way to make Muslims feel even more at home involve building Barcelona's famous grand mosque?

For years I have been defending the view that Barcelona cannot be the capital of the Mediterranean if it lacks a grand mosque which is furthermore an architectural jewel.

- Do you understand the reticence displayed by a portion of Catalan society when they hear grand mosque and Barcelona? Not to mention this is a very attractive issue, from a political perspective …

This will come into being of its own accord. In very few years we should be able to lay down the foundation stone of a mosque, of which I want to feel equally proud, as the Catholic Catalan I am, as if it were Sagrada Familia and Santa Maria del Mar (next to Fossar de les Moreres military cemetery, in Barcelona). 

-What shall we do with prejudices?

We must leave them behind. Together with fears and political correctness.

- How should the construction of this grand mosque take place?

The city's local council, together with political parties, must initiate the setting up of a consortium, with the participation of the countries of origin of most Catalan Muslims.

- Are you talking about Morocco?

With Morocco and her King it is easy to talk, because they practice Maliki Islam, very much compatible with European and Catalan values. I am also thinking, however, of Senegal, Pakistan, Mali, and Bangladesh. All these countries may take part in a consortium that would finance the grand mosque's construction. Morocco, for example, has a specific plan that has already resulted in the setting up of a number of mosques in European cities.

We would prevent them from seeking to finance this place of worship and lay down its ideology on the basis of an Islam contrary to European values

- And, what would we get out of this?

We would avoid the temptation by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, to seek to pay for this place of worship, laying down its ideology on the basis of Wahhabi, Salafi Islam, which is opposed to European values.

- What if they were the ones financing the mosque?

Just like I squarely state that a grand mosque is necessary in Barcelona, I say that I am completely against it if Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, finance it.

- Why?

- They would drive the practice of an Islam which is the root of present-day radicalism. Our option must be a mosque with modern values of peace and understanding, and with a school training the Imams who will later teach the Quran in Catalan mosques. Concerning this, there must be no fear.  

What are you therefore expecting from Barcelona City Council.

A brave mayor who takes the bull by the horns, and political parties that properly explain this to citizens.

- And what are you expecting from the countries you mentioned earlier?

I have talked about this with many of them, and they already agree. The issue has moved forward a long way, and now it is necessary that someone take the first step and that everything starts rolling. If we manage it, the radicalism that may exist will gradually shrink until it becomes an anecdote.

The above interview was conducted by Iu Forn, and published in elnacional.cat on 29 November 2015. The original, in Catalan, is available here. The text in brackets provides some additional background information for international readers. Àngel Colom tweets at @angelcolom, and the New Catalans Foundation at @NousCatalans. Translation by Alex Calvo.

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