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Cablegate: Luxembourg Cabinet Agrees to Support the Muslim Religion

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RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHLE #0330/01 2181311
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 061311Z AUG 07
FM AMEMBASSY LUXEMBOURG
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 6016

UNCLAS LUXEMBOURG 000330

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SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PGOV PREL LU

SUBJECT: LUXEMBOURG CABINET AGREES TO SUPPORT THE MUSLIM RELIGION

1. Summary: On July 6, the Government of Luxembourg (GOL) approved
a draft law officially supporting the Muslim community. The law, in
the form of a "convention," will provide Islam with equal status
with other "convention" religions and will provide GOL payment for
the salaries and pensions for seven Muslim leaders. There are
already five "convention" religious groups in Luxembourg receiving
some 21 million Euros a year in subsidies. There seems to be a
clear political consensus in favor of the convention and it is
likely to be adopted in parliament within the next year or two. End
summary.

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Separation of Church and State
------------------------------

2. On July 6, after nine years of negotiations, the cabinet of
Government of Luxembourg (GOL) approved a draft law officially
supporting the Muslim community. After the cabinet's approval of
the draft law, Minister for Religious Affairs Frangois Biltgen
called a press conference on July 24 to provide details. Biltgen
explained that the state recognized certain religions as "officially
supported" religions. This status gives the state a say in
religious administration and appointment of clergy. In exchange,
the government pays certain operating costs and wages related to the
practice of the religion. Biltgen described the arrangement as
"benevolent and open neutrality" on the part of the state. Biltgen
explained that a convention with a religious group was not in any
way "official recognition" of a religious group since religious
freedom was guaranteed by the Constitution. Indeed, any religion
can be practiced in Luxembourg with or without a convention.

----------------------------------
The Muslim community in Luxembourg
----------------------------------

3. During his July 24 press conference, Biltgen said the GOL had no
precise statistics on the number of Muslims in the country because
religious affiliations in Luxembourg were protected by law. He
estimated that between 8,000 and 10,000 Muslims live in Luxembourg,
representing about two percent of the population. This would make
Islam the second largest religion in Luxembourg after Roman
Catholicism. Responding to a question by a reporter, Biltgen said
90 percent of the Muslims in Luxembourg were Sunnis. (Note: In
1998 and 1999, the war in the Balkans caused a mass influx of Muslim
asylum seekers. The GOL estimates that 32 nationalities are
represented among the Muslim community in Luxembourg; 65 percent are
from the Balkans, mainly from Bosnia Herzegovina and Montenegro.
According to the website of the Muslim community in Luxembourg
(www.islam.lu), the number of Muslims who have acquired Luxembourg
citizenship or who are born in Luxembourg is steadily increasing.
End note.)

------------------------
How the convention works
------------------------

4. In 1998, the Luxembourg parliament unanimously adopted a motion
allowing the government to negotiate conventions with religious
groups represented in Luxembourg. In order to benefit from such a
convention, religious "candidate" groups needed to meet the
following criteria: a) the religion needed to be practiced
worldwide; b) the religion needed to be recognized in at least one
other EU member state; c) the religious community had to respect the
country's public order; and d) the religion needed to be well
established in Luxembourg and have a sufficiently large community.
Since 1998, five conventions have been signed: with the Catholic
Church (a convention with the Roman Catholic Church already
existed), the Protestant church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the
Anglican Church, and the Jewish community. Luxembourg's Muslims
applied for a convention in 1998, but approval of the convention was
slowed due to the need of the Muslim community to organize.

5. During his press conference, Biltgen praised the Muslim
Community for their efforts in meeting two of his major requests.
The first was the creation of an assembly of the Muslim faith,
called "shoura," which represented a single interlocutor for the
Muslim community. Biltgen explained that the recognition of the
various entities among the Muslim community was essential to avoid
the risks of sectarianism. Although the convention was no guarantee
for a successful integration, Biltgen said it could create "an Islam
of Luxembourg, instead of an Islam in Luxembourg." The "shoura"
committee is composed of eleven representatives from the four
Islamic centers in Luxembourg: the Islamic Cultural Center of
Luxembourg in Mamer; the Southern Islamic Worship association in
Esch-Alzette; the Islamic Cultural Center of Wiltz; and the Islamic
Worship and Cultural Center of Western Luxembourg in Obercorn. The
second request was the statutory requirement to respect both the
Luxembourg Constitution and public order. On this subject, Biltgen
praised the moderate attitude of Luxembourg's Muslim community
during the controversy caused by the publication of cartoons in a
Danish newspaper last year that some Muslims believed to be
anti-Islamic.
-------------------
Convention benefits
-------------------

6. Biltgen said the convention was "the expression of society's
desire to extend its hand to the Muslim immigrants and to welcome
them with respect and dignity." He announced the convention offered
Islam the benefits of equal status with other religions in
Luxembourg, the attribution of the legal status, and, above all,
payment of salaries and pensions to seven clergymen: one mufti,
monthly salary from 5,700 to 8,200 Euros; one Secretary General,
monthly salary from 3,800 to 6,100 Euros; and five Imams, monthly
salary from 3,000 to 5,500 Euros each. The four Imams will be in
charge of the four Islamic Centers in Luxembourg, the remaining Imam
will minister to Muslim asylum detainees and the Muslims in the
Luxembourg army.

7. The convention recognizes the mufti as the "Chief of the Muslim
Faith." The mufti is elected and nominated by the "shoura
committee," although the official nomination must be approved by the
Minister for Religious Affairs. The mufti is required to take an
oath in the name of Allah and the Koran. He is required to promise
obedience and faithfulness to the Grand Duke and to the government
established by the Luxembourg Constitution. He is also required to
abstain from any acts that would be a danger to the public order and
to security in Luxembourg. Biltgen said the Convention would not
provide any additional rights to the Muslim Community besides the
financial payments for its leaders.

8. Biltgen said the implementation of the convention still required
the drafting of internal regulations ("statutes") of the assembly of
the Muslim community in Luxembourg. The convention cannot be
adopted by parliament until the assembly of the Muslim Community
submits its statutes to the GOL. These internal regulations must
contain the selection criteria for the appointment of the Imams and
the mufti and members of the "shoura committee." (Note: The
official interlocutor of the Muslim community, Enrico Boaretto,
confirmed to Post that the final draft of the internal regulations
had been submitted to the various Muslim entities for a final vote.
End note.)

---------------------------------------------
21 million Euros to support religions in 2007
---------------------------------------------

9. The five "convention" religious groups will receive just over 21
million Euros in GOL subsidies in 2007 (a four percent increase from
2006). Twenty million Euros will be allocated to the Catholic
Church with its 254 clergymen and 292 religious teachers and other
technical-administrative staff. The Protestant Church receives
financial payment for two clergy of the Protestant Reformed Church
and for three clergy of the Protestant Church. Four posts are
allocated to the Jewish Community and two posts for the Anglican
Church. The Orthodox Churches from both Romania and Serbia receive
financial payment for a total of four posts. All religious workers
are employed under the "private employee status," which is
harmonized with the salaries of Luxembourg civil servants. Besides
salary payments, there are some "extraordinary" subsidies for
running costs. In 2007, 50,000 Euros was allocated for the
restoration of the Catholic presbytery and the same amount for the
construction of a new Orthodox church.

----------------------
Approval by parliament
----------------------

10. According Biltgen, there is consensus among political parties
to adopt the convention in parliament within the next year or two.
All political parties, except the Greens, have formally approved the
need for a convention with the Muslim community, including the
right-wing populist ADR (Action Committee for Democracy and
Justice). The Greens (seven seats in Parliament out of sixty) are
for a clear separation between state and church and oppose any
government financial support for clerics. It remains unclear,
however whether the Greens would actually vote against the
convention. Only one Member of Parliament - Independent Aly
Jaerling (formerly ADR) - is clearly opposed to the convention.
Jaerling has insisted taxpayer money should not be spent on
religious groups. Any discussions in parliament aside, Blitgen did
suggest that there might be some potentially difficult public
discussions about the draft convention in society more broadly.
Opinion polls have indicated many Luxembourgers have negative views
of Islam due to its perceived poor treatment of women and links to
terrorist activities.

11. Comment: Despite Biltgen's concerns, post thinks that any
public debate of the convention with the Muslim community will be
muted. The draft law has been in the works for many years, and
recent Muslim immigrants seem to have adapted to life in Luxembourg
quite rapidly. Post maintains regular contact with senior leaders
in the Muslim community and knows of no active anti-Islamic
sentiment or activities in Luxembourg.
KRAFT

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