By William McGee*
HAVANA TIMES — The city of Havana is reportedly set to be the site of one of the largest mosques in Latin America, which will serve Cuba’s estimated 10,000 Muslims, with the funding allegedly provided by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
In an era of near-daily Islamic terror attacks across the world, and given Saudi-funded mosques’ propensity for breeding terrorists and fomenting hatred and intolerance, is this well-meaning gesture towards Cuba’s Muslims, who have long been agitating for a place of worship, really a wise idea?
Even German vice-chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, whose country, in 2015, famously welcomed largely Sunni Muslim foreign migrants, has warned that Saudi Arabia is funding Islamic extremism beyond its borders. Since Chancellor Merkel’s controversial decision to open Germany’s borders, the European nation has since seen an up spike in Islamist attacks.
In my native UK, whose capital alone has, since the turn of the millennium, built over 400 new mosques, a great many belonging to the fundamentalist Salafi or Deobandi movements, our overstretched security services have prevented 13 potential terrorist attacks on the country in under four years. Since 2014, investigators in the UK have, on average, been making terror-related arrests at a rate of one a day.
Aside from the real threat of terrorism, Saudi-funded mosques have long been known for preaching a hardline version of Islam by promoting the subjugation of and violence against women, condemning liberal values and non-Islamic systems of government, and preaching intolerance towards activities enjoyed by the wider Cuban population, such as drinking alcohol and premarital relations.
The location of the mosque is also a symbolic one. Old Havana is little changed since the days when the Spanish treasure fleet would rendezvous there before making the arduous journey back to the then colonial master. Old Havana is a treasure trove in itself, of grand and beautifully-restored colonial buildings, rightfully earning it UNESCO World Heritage status. Tourists flock from all over the world to marvel at the municipality’s unique charm, which may well now be under threat.
A provisional mosque was already opened in Old Havana in 2015, with a historic building altered with the addition of an incongruous minaret. With many of Havana’s charming but crumbling buildings in urgent need of restoration, perhaps investment could be better redirected. This would surely be of more use to the Cuban population than the construction of a mega-mosque.