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Cablegate: Muslims in Ireland - a Changing Community

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RR RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHNP RUEHROV RUEHSL RUEHSR
DE RUEHDL #0304/01 2261037
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 141037Z AUG 09
FM AMEMBASSY DUBLIN
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0114
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEHBL/AMCONSUL BELFAST 1041

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 05 DUBLIN 000304

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/12/2019
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PTER KISL EI
SUBJECT: MUSLIMS IN IRELAND - A CHANGING COMMUNITY

DUBLIN 00000304 001.2 OF 005


Classified By: Political/Economic Section Chief Dwight Nystrom for reas
ons 1.4 b and d

1. (U) Summary: The Irish Muslim community is one of the
fastest growing minority communities in Ireland and is one of
the major contributors to Ireland,s shift from an
overwhelmingly homogeneous society to a multi-cultural one.
The Irish Government has made some attempts at reaching out
to the Muslim community but as Ireland,s economic situation
has worsened the Government has put its integration and
outreach efforts aside- a move that could cause future
generations of Irish Muslims to feel alienated from
mainstream society. End Summary.

Background and Overview of the Muslim Community
--------------------------------------------- --

2. (U) The first trickle of Muslims arrived in Ireland in the
early 1950s to pursue educational opportunities. Many came to
study medicine, particularly at the Royal College of Surgeons
in Dublin. The community saw its greatest growth rates during
the economic boom in Ireland in the 1990s. Many of the
migrants that came to Ireland at that time were professionals
or university students and there was no particular
predominance in terms of nationality or region. Today, the
community includes Iraqi and Afghan refugees and a smaller
numbers of Irish converts. The 2006 census results listed the
number of Muslims in Ireland at 32,539. Current estimates
indicate that there are approximately 40,000 Muslims
currently living in Ireland. The diverse backgrounds and
fragmentation of the population has made it difficult for
Irish Muslims to establish any kind of official
representation.

3. (U) The majority of the Muslims living in Ireland are
situated in and around Dublin, Cork, and Galway. Small
Muslim communities exist in Limerick, Cavan, Ennis, Tralee,
and Waterford.

Major Mosques in Dublin
--------------------------

4. (U) In 1983 The Dublin Islamic Society acquired property
at 163 South Circular Road for what is the oldest mosque in
Dublin. Sheikh Yahya M. al-Hussein, a native of Sudan, serves
as one of the trustees of the mosque and continues to serve
as the Imam. The mosque is the headquarters of the Islamic
Foundation of Ireland (IFI).

5.(U) In 1992, to cope with the growing Muslim population in
Ireland, Sheikh Hamdan Ben Rashid al-Maktoum, Deputy Governor
of Dubai and Minister for Finance and Industry in the United
Arab Emirates, agreed to personally finance the purchase of
land for the construction of a Muslim National School and a
purpose-built mosque and Islamic Center in the Clonskeagh
area of Dublin. In 1996, the Islamic Cultural Center of
Ireland (ICCI) formally opened its doors. The new premises of
the mosque and Islamic center initially fell under the
authority of the IFI, but, seven months after the mosque,s
opening, the Al-Maktoum Foundation requested that the IFI
abandon its right to the property and instead reassign it to
the foundation. Thus, as the result of a highly contentious
court case, the Al-Maktoum foundation has run the ICCI since
the late 1990s. The mosque,s Imam, Sheikh Hussein Halawa,
is originally from Egypt.

6. (U) One of the fastest growing mosques is located in the
Blackpits area of Dublin. The Blackpits mosque generally
serves as the religious center for the South Asian community;
the numbers of Pakistani Muslims in Dublin has steadily
increased in recent years and the community is becoming one
of the largest Muslim groups in Ireland. The Blackpits mosque
is supported financially by the Bari family, an influential
and politically involved Pakistani-Irish family. The
mosque,s Imam, Ismail Kotwal, is a Pakistani Muslim who came
to Ireland from Leeds in the UK. Kotwal has attracted media
attention for his favorable remarks about Osama Bin Laden.

7. (U) The Shia Muslim community is considerably smaller than
the Sunni community, and there is only one Shia Muslim
Islamic center in Ireland. The Ahlul Bayt Islamic Center,
located in the Milltown area in Dublin and popularly referred
to as the Milltown mosque or the Milltown center, officially
opened in September 1996. The mosque,s Imam, Ali Al Saleh,
is a medical doctor who came from a religious family
background.

8. (C)Siraj Zaidi, an interpreter at the office of the
Minister for integration and a member of Ireland,s Three
Faiths Forum, told Poloffs that that Sheikh Hussein at the
IFI is a reasonable man who is working hard for the Muslim
community, but that he is not good at controlling the growth

DUBLIN 00000304 002.2 OF 005


of conservative or extreme movements. Zaidi also noted that
the ICCI is good at building bridges but is very contrived
and controlled because of its relationship with the UAE. The
ICCI leadership, in Zaidi,s opinion, is detached from its
own community and is often taken by surprise when problems
arise. When there are problems, such as when ICCI members
were known to be celebrating after Margaret Hassan was
kidnapped in Iraq,ICCI leadership attempted to disassociate
itself from the issue. Zaidi told Poloffs that Blackpits Imam
Kotwal as an individual is not a harmful character, but is
only preaching what he understands as correct. He added that
the Blackpits mosque is a sign that the Pakistani community
in Ireland is beginning to separate itself out.

Interaction between the Mosques
-------------------------------

9. (C) Generally, the ICCI tends to have a middle-class
base, while the IFI is considered to be more working class.
Norma Murphy, Principal of the North Dublin Muslim School,
told Poloffs that the struggle over control of the ICCI
created a &world war8-type relationship between the IFI and
ICCI. While the tensions have calmed in recent years, Murphy
characterized the current relationship between the two
mosques as a &cold war8-type atmosphere. Murphy added that
the IFI, which lacks the funding of the ICCI, has asked her
to act as an intermediary with the Embassy of Saudi Arabia to
attempt to secure Saudi funds to cover the IFI,s financial
responsibilities for the Muslim school. Declan Hayden,
manager of the Intercultural Relations Unit at Dublin City
Council, told Poloff that the Muslim community is continuing
to struggle with the split between the ICCI and the IFI.


10. (C) The ICCI is widely viewed as the face of the Muslim
Community in Ireland to the Irish government, media, and
mainstream Irish society because it is the largest Islamic
institution in the country and the best funded. Father
Kieran Flynn of the Irish School of Ecumenics at Trinity
College Dublin told Poloffs that at the grassroots level
there is a feeling that the ICCI has assumed a role of
leadership that it does not necessarily deserve and that it
is not representative of the entire community. The ICCI does
not seek out the opinions of other Islamic institutions while
serving in this representative role and often takes a
decidedly Arab perspective on issues. Several members of the
Irish Muslim community have confirmed this sentiment to
Poloffs, pointing out that because the ICCI has financial
ties to the UAE it is not free to look out solely for the
best interests of Irish Muslims.

11. (C) The Muslim community has made several attempts at
setting up a representative body for the community. The
Irish Council of Imams, established in 2006, is the most
recent effort. However, the council only meets sporadically
and is not authoritative. Milltown mosque member Mohammad
Ali told Poloffs that the ICCI often calls meetings on short
notice and does not provide an agenda in advance, making it
difficult for council members to prepare. Moreover, Ali
noted that because the Shia community in Ireland is so small,
the Milltown center is often outnumbered during majority
votes.

12. (C) The Milltown center is critical of some of the
ICCI,s decisions and is not comfortable with the ICCI,s
status as the representative organization for Muslims in
Ireland. At the same time, the Milltown center does not have
the resources to establish a strong communications mechanism
comparable to the ICCI,s. Ali feels that the ICCI does not
take a sufficiently strong stance against global extremist
violence and would like the ICCI to make its positions more
clear. Ali added that the Milltown center has worked closely
with the ICCI on issues of mutual concern closer to home.
For example, when Ali heard that a small number of children
at the ICCI Muslim school were absent from school and visibly
sad when al-Zarqawi * a senior al-Qaeda member * was killed
in Iraq, the Imams at the various mosques worked together to
speak with the families and address the issue. Ali added
that the notion to mourn the death of al-Zarqawi is not
coming from the school, but instead from the children,s
families.

A Superficial Relationship with Leinster House...
--------------------------------------------- ----

13. (C) The Irish Government looks to the ICCI as the voice
of the Muslim community. This renders the Islamic
communities outside of the ICCI and especially outside of
Dublin dependent upon the ICCI as its representation to the
political authorities. Government officials generally visit
the ICCI annually on Eid, and several members of the Irish
Muslim community have commented to Poloffs that it seems as

DUBLIN 00000304 003.2 OF 005


if the Government is taking an easy and comfortable route by
engaging only with ICCI and that the wider Muslim community
would like to see that the Government recognizes that there
is an Islamic community beyond Clonskeagh.

14. (C) Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern expressed interest in
interfaith and diversity issues. The Office of the Minister
for Integration was established during Ahern,s tenure in
2007 and Ahern was also responsible for the formation of
Ireland,s three faiths forum. Several members of the Irish
Muslim community told Poloffs that since becoming Taoiseach,
Cowen, distracted by the economic crisis in Ireland, has not
been heavily involved with or taken an active interest in
Muslim integration.

15. (C) Former Integration Minister Conor Lenihan was
generally seen as ineffective and insincere. Both members of
the Irish NGO community and the Irish Muslim community told
Poloffs that Lenihan (the brother of Finance Minister Brian
Lenihan) likely secured the position because he comes from a
political family and seemed to be using the role as a
platform for moving up in the Government ranks. They added
that he did not seem capable of comprehending the complex
issues associated with integration. John Curran took on the
integration brief in April 2009. Curran also is responsible
for Ireland,s national drugs strategy and community affairs
but Irish NGOs and the Irish Muslim community are cautiously
optimistic that he will be more capable and engaged.
Currently, the Minister for Integration does not have the
authority to affect change on the issues that matter most to
the Muslim community * health, education, and employment. It
is unclear how the Minister,s role will develop in the
future.

16. (C) Most government engagement is happening at the local
level, and officials from Curran,s office told Poloffs that
Dublin City Council (DCC) serves as a model for integration
programming. Currently, the Integration Office pushes funds
down to the local level and has given local councils the
freedom to distribute grants on their own discretion. In
2008, DCC used a Euro 25,000 grant to fund approximately 30
different integration organizations. The Integration Office
is likely to change this scheme in the coming years as it
evaluates each local council and determines which programs
have been the most effective.

...A Tighter Integration Budget...
----------------------------------

17. (C) Ireland,s faltering economy has paved the way for
cuts in Government spending on integration programs. The
National Consultative Committee on Racism and
Interculturalism(NCCRI), which had proactively pushed
integration programs and produced literature for the benefit
of the Muslim community and other minority groups, closed its
doors in December 2008. A number of NGOs receiving
Government grants fear further cuts will follow. Largely
because the Muslim community does not have any official
representation in the government, its members rely on NGO
groups as a link to the Government. The Integration office
is currently reviewing its programs in light of the economic
situation and has revised some of its schemes to be more cost
effective. For example, the office is planning an
anti-racism poster program for public transport rather than
launching a costly media campaign.

18. (C) Representatives from the Irish Refugee Council, the
Immigrant Council of Ireland, and the New Communities
partnership believe that the Government takes a very
short-sighted approach to handling immigration and diversity
and that both the Government and mainstream Irish society
have an undercurrent of suspicion towards the new communities
in Ireland. Itayi Viriri of the Immigrant Council of Ireland
commented that he was not sure that mainstream Irish society
would react favorably to public spending on integration
programs during economic recessionary times. All three
representatives noted that they believe the Government is
expecting immigrant communities to return to their home
countries. This is in spite of the fact that in some cases,
particularly in the case of the Irish Muslim community, the
country is now home to second generation immigrant
populations.

... And an Apathetic Attitude towards Political Engagement
--------------------------------------------- -------------

19. (C) By all accounts, the Muslim community has not been
politically engaged for a number of reasons. The older
generations of Muslim immigrants are still tied to their home
countries and are uninterested in issues affecting Ireland.
In other cases, some immigrants are afraid to become
politically active because of their experiences in their home

DUBLIN 00000304 004.2 OF 005


countries. Parents in the community often discourage their
children from studying politics and instead encourage more
traditional professions such as medicine or engineering.
According to several members of the Muslim community in
Ireland, Muslims are generally content with their situation
and are seeking to avoid drawing attention to themselves.
Liam Egan, an Irish convert, expressed his frustration to
Poloffs because the mosques in Ireland are proactive in
arranging protests on international issues such as Gaza and
the war in Iraq, but are very reluctant to take a stand on
issues closer to home because they fear possible backlash.

20. (C) Shaheen Ahmed, a Pakistani immigrant and Fianna Fail
Party Member who failed to secure a local council seat in the
2009 elections, told Poloffs that Muslim electoral candidates
are at a disadvantage because of Ireland,s strong pub
culture and history of political nepotism and republicanism.
Zaidi stated in a meeting with Poloffs that the Muslim
candidates failed in the 2009 local elections because many of
them did not fully understand or appreciate the party they
were running for or the Irish political system. Moreover,
the candidates did not address the issues that their
electorate cared most about.

21. (C) Irish political parties have started reaching out to
migrant and minority voters but have not specifically looked
at the Muslim community. Both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael
hired staff to reach out to the Polish community for the 2009
local elections but did not attempt to reach out further to
other communities. This is likely due to the comparatively
small size of the Irish Muslim community and, according to a
Fine Gael policy adviser, that, therefore, Muslims are
unlikely to impact an election. A Labor Party official told
Poloffs that the party has difficulty running immigrant and
minority candidates because Labor already has longstanding
party members selected for Labor strongholds. It is
difficult to give new candidates a meaningful chance in an
election because they often have no choice but to run in
areas in which they will surely lose.

22. (C) Some Muslim candidates have seen success in
Ireland,s political arena: Moosajee Bhamjee became
Ireland,s first ever Muslim Member of Parliament in 1992.
Bhamjee,s stance opposing the closure of Ennis hospital and
his involvement with the community through his psychiatry
practice were major factors in his election. Bhamjee told
Poloffs that it is up to the Muslim candidates to establish
roots in their constituencies and build support based on
local issues. Bhamjee chose to stand down from the Dail in
1997 to return to his profession. Dr. Mazhar Bari, a
prominent academic and Irish citizen of Pakistani origin, ran
for Dun Laoghaire county council with the backing of the now
defunct Progressive Democratic Party in 2004 and lost by a
margin of just 110 votes. Bari, whose family funds the
Blackpits mosque and who currently represents Ireland at the
European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, told
Poloffs that running for local council was a positive
experience and that he hopes to run again in 5 to 10 years.

The Generation Gap and Resistance to Integration
--------------------------------------------- ---

23. (C) Many of the second and third generation Irish
Muslims are struggling with balancing their religious beliefs
and their parents, expectations with popular Irish culture.
Parents are overwhelmingly afraid of their children
integrating too fully into society because of the strong pub
culture and Catholicism that exists in Ireland. Murphy told
Poloffs that some of the parents at the North Dublin Muslim
School have been particularly resistant to programs in the
school designed to facilitate integration and &Irishness.8
Murphy added that some of the parents in the school have held
on tightly to their traditions despite living in a western
society. For example, Murphy has heard from the children
that some of the parents are taking on second wives even
though it is illegal in Ireland. At least in part because of
this sentiment, a generation gap is emerging between Irish
born Muslims and their immigrant parents. Doaa Baker, a
young Iraqi-Irish Muslim, told Poloffs that she finds the
mosque leadership in general to be judgmental and out of
touch. Mohammad Ali of the Milltown center told Poloffs that
it has been a challenge teaching the Irish Muslim youth that
they can engage in Irish society while also upholding their
culture and religious beliefs. He admitted that the center
had lost some of its teenagers to alcohol and drugs.

24. (C) The religious nature of the Irish school system is a
major issue for Irish Muslims. Muslim students can opt out
of prayers in school and Catholicism courses but often the
schools do not have the resources to move the children into a
separate classroom. As a result, Muslim children often sit
through religion classes without participating. Dr. Faheem

DUBLIN 00000304 005.2 OF 005


Bukhatwa, head of the board of the North Dublin Muslim
School, told Poloffs that this gives Muslim children a sense
that they are the "other" and is not helpful from an
integration standpoint. Bukhatwa added that employment
opportunities are not always equal in Ireland and expressed
his concern for the Muslim youth if the school and employment
situations are not corrected.

25. (C) Norma Murphy told Poloffs that she believes a number
of Muslim immigrants find Ireland attractive because of the
generous social welfare benefits and that Government should
do a better job of educating the Muslim community on what is
expected of them in a Western society. She opined that the
immigrant community would not recognize that it should
organize or participate in society unless the Government
pushed it to through educational programs provided by the
mosques.

Some Positive Signs
-------------------

26. (C) The Garda (the Irish police force) has taken positive
steps by assigning approximately 400 liaison officers to work
in the force,s intercultural office. The officers meet with
representatives from the various immigrant minority
communities on a regular basis. The Garda has established a
positive relationship with the ICCI and Buckhatwa told
Poloffs that the force is one of the better organizations in
Ireland in terms of planning for the future.

27. (C) Second- and third-generation Irish Muslims, for the
most part, consider themselves Irish and identify with Irish
society more than their parents, nation of origin. Several
Muslim immigrants told Poloffs that they would not return to
their home countries simply because their children would
refuse to return with them. Mohammad Ali of the Milltown
center noted that when he spends time with the Irish Muslim
youth the subjects of conversations and jokes are decidedly
Irish. He also noted that the teenage generation was
particularly responsive to his personal campaign to encourage
Muslim participation in the 2009 local elections. Moreover,
several members of the Irish Muslim community have opined to
Poloffs that integration needs to be a priority both for the
Muslim community and for Irish mainstream society, and
recognize that the Muslim community could do more to reach
out to the Irish Government and to become more involved with
society.

Comment
-------

28. (C) Overall the Muslim community in Ireland is content
and moderate, but local government officials, NGO workers,
and some members of the Muslim community itself have
expressed concern that the situation in Ireland could
eventually mirror the situation for Muslims in other European
countries if the Government does not take a serious look at
its integration and outreach efforts and policies. Ireland
has the distinct advantage of being able to look at the
integration strategies that other countries have taken and
evaluate which strategies will fit its situation best.
Because the number of Muslims in Ireland is so small, the
community has effectively self-regulated and acted quickly on
any sign of problematic elements. It is all too aware that
any negative action from the margins of the community would
reflect badly on the entire population. The Irish-Pakistani
population is continuing to grow and is likely to build
stronger ties with the Pakistani population in the UK. As
the Muslim community in Ireland writ large continues to grow,
self-regulation is likely to become more difficult and will
require greater engagement with other elements of Irish
society.

ROONEY

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