EU eyes body to train imams against ‘ideology of hatred’

Muslims wearing face protection masks, pray Friday prayer with social distancing, at Grand Mosque of Paris, France, 30 October 2020. The Imam of the Grand Mosque in Paris has recited a poem for the Republic and France during the Friday prayer. [EPA-EFE/MOHAMMED BADRA]

The European Union should quickly set up a new body to oversee the training of imams and make sure their messages to Muslim followers do not contribute to spreading an “ideology of hatred”, a top European Union official said on Monday (9 November).

Charles Michel’s remarks come a day before he will attend a video conference on the “European response to terrorism” organised by French President Emmanuel Macron.

Europe has suffered two Islamist militants attacks over the past 10 days, carried out by assailants in the Austrian capital Vienna and the French Riviera city of Nice.

“To fight the ideology of hatred, we need to set up as soon as possible a European institute to train imams in Europe,” Michel, who heads the European Council comprising the EU’s 27 heads of government, said in a Twitter message.

“Online messages glorifying terrorism must be quickly removed. There must be no impunity for terrorists and those praising them on internet,” he added.

Michel made his remarks while on an official visit to Austria where he paid tribute to the victims of last week’s jihadist attack in Vienna.

Austria's Kurz urges EU to do more to fight 'political Islam'

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz called on the European Union Tuesday (3 November) to do more to fight “political Islam”, which he said represented a grave threat to European values.

“It is very important to be firm on this. I think, for example, that we should have a debate at the European level connected to the idea that was raised some time ago to set up a European institute to train imams,” he told the media.

Michel said “this message of tolerance, openness can be conveyed at the European level … to ensure that the primacy of civil law is accepted,” he said.

Last Monday’s shooting was the first major attack of its kind in Austria for decades and the first blamed on a jihadist.

The gunman was identified as Kujtim Fejzulai, 20, a dual Austrian-Macedonian national who was convicted and imprisoned last year for trying to go to Syria to join IS.

“We think that this terrorist threat is a fundamental, grave, serious threat against the values” of modern Europe, Michel said, adding that “we have no intention of showing any weakness or laxity.”

On Friday, EU interior ministers will hold a regular meeting in which they are expected to discuss the recent attacks and new measures to prevent them.

Europe must strengthen border controls after attacks, says Macron

Europe must rethink its open-border Schengen area, including a more robust protection of the zone’s external frontiers, President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday (5 November), after a spate of Islamist attacks in France and Austria.

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