Hamida Maiga looks out over a green field ringed by white suburban houses and low-rise apartment blocks, and imagines the spires of a mosque's minarets rising above it all. \n"Our one condition is that it should look like a mosque so that people, when they drive by, will know what it is," he says, standing with two other members of the town's new Muslim Federation, which hopes to build an Islamic center on the site. \nThat modest wish is a radical aspiration in a country where stone churches are the central architectural statement in almost all cities and towns and Christianity so permeates the culture that, for most French, it is an assumed part of the national identity. \nWhile people here may have grudgingly accepted a growing Muslim presence in their midst, many still resent displays of religious and cultural symbols that suggest the country's second largest and fastest growing religion is here to stay. \nBut as the country's first major wave of Muslim immigrants retire and their French-born children come of age, the largest Islamic community in Europe is pushing for the social and religious institutions that it believes are its due. \nIn so doing, they have pushed right up against the French tradition that dictates by law a strict separation of church and state and the celebration of secular values. \nIt is a tussle that is going on in various degrees across Europe: Last month, Germany's highest court ended a long legal battle there by ruling that an Afghan-born Muslim teacher cannot be forbidden to wear a head scarf in school. But the ruling left a loophole that may allow individual German states to pass laws expressly forbidding head scarves in schools. \nIn France, Muslim leaders have called for paid days off on Islamic holidays and the appointment of Muslim chaplains in hospitals, prisons and the military. At least two French cities now cater to Muslim women with female-only hours at public swimming pools. \nBuilding mosques is highest on the Muslim agenda, both because of a physical need and a desire to demonstrate that the religion has incontestably arrived. \n"Islam is a religion that is rising and is very strong, and that causes fear," said Zeinoul Abidine Daffe, a light-skinned Senegalese who, in his tweed jacket and glasses, looks like a college professor. \nDaffe and Maiga, a native of Mali, have both spent the better part of their adult lives in France. \nFor 20 years, they and most of France's 5 million Muslims made do with tiny prayer rooms -- often in the basements of buildings. Cergy's Muslims worship in a town gymnasium put at their disposal once a week. \nThere are already more than 1,500 mosques and Muslim prayer rooms in France, but only a handful have domes or minarets because local governments consider such identifying details unnecessarily ostentatious, even inflammatory. \nNow, dozens of mosque projects are making slow progress through France's formidable bureaucracy and at least 10 of the planned buildings will be architecturally recognizable as mosques, with domes or minarets or both. \nThe Cergy mosque, still at least two years from realization, has already excited passions and led one local opposition politician to warn that its minarets might rise higher than the town's church steeples. The comment won the town national attention: The conservative newspaper Le Figaro ran a cartoon of a priest and an imam cranking up the towers on their respective houses of worship, each trying to top the other. \nIn fact, there has been no decision yet on whether or not the mosque will have minarets, though the town's Muslim leaders clearly want them. Instead, opposition to the mosque has focused on technical details -- that it will clog traffic in the neighborhood, for example. \n"A big mosque can change the silhouette of a neighborhood and the character of a town," said Jean-Marie Chaussonniere, a white-haired Cergy lawyer who has emerged as the most vocal critic. \nChaussonniere argues that the taxpayers' money shouldn't be spent to support the construction of a mosque. \nCergy's Muslims failed for 20 years to win local government support for a mosque and had threatened to protest by holding Friday prayers outside the town hall. Their luck changed when the current mayor, Dominique Lefebvre, won the 2000 elections with a slim majority, the left's strongest mandate in the town's history. \nHe set about addressing the Muslim concerns, promising to place the religion on equal footing with Catholicism in Cergy. \nThe problem was that Cergy's Muslims lack means to build a mosque on a par with the local churches. The town wanted to keep them from turning for help to Islamic associations abroad. (Many of Europe's new mosques have been built with money from the rich countries of the Persian Gulf, particularly Saudi Arabia.) \nTo counter the risk of external influence, an increasing number of towns across France are bending the laws that prevent the government from subsidizing religious institutions. \nThey are leasing land to Muslims at nominal cost and subsidizing Muslim cultural associations that, in turn, administer the construction and operation of local mosques. \nCergy is doing the same -- albeit on condition that the town's Muslims unite under a single rubric, and sign a charter pledging allegiance to France's republican ideals.
Late last month, Beijing introduced changes to school curricula in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, requiring certain subjects to be taught in Mandarin rather than Mongolian. What is Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) seeking to gain from sending this message of pernicious intent? It is possible that he is attempting cultural genocide in Inner Mongolia, but does Xi also have the same plan for the democratic, independent nation of Mongolia? The controversy emerged with the announcement by the Inner Mongolia Education Bureau on Aug. 26 that first-grade elementary-school and junior-high students would in certain subjects start learning with Chinese-language textbooks, as
There are worrying signs that China is on the brink of a major food shortage, which might trigger a strategic contest over food security and push Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), already under intense pressure, toward drastic measures, potentially spelling trouble for Taiwan and the rest of the world. China has encountered a perfect storm of disasters this year. On top of disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic, torrential rains have caused catastrophic flooding in the Yangtze River basin, China’s largest agricultural region. Floodwaters are estimated to have already destroyed the crops on 6 million hectares of farmland. The situation has been
The restructuring of supply chains, particularly in the semiconductor industry, was an essential part of discussions last week between Taiwan and a US delegation led by US Undersecretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment Keith Krach. It took precedent over the highly anticipated subject of bilateral trade partnerships, and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC) founder Morris Chang’s (張忠謀) appearance on Friday at a dinner hosted by President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) for Krach was a subtle indicator of this. Chang was in photographs posted by Tsai on Facebook after the dinner, but no details about their discussions were disclosed. With
On Sept. 8, at the high-profile Ketagalan security forum, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) urged countries to deal with the China challenge. She said: “It is time for like-minded countries, and democratic friends in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond, to discuss a framework to generate sustained and concerted efforts to maintain a strategic order that deters unilateral aggressive actions.” The “Taiwan model” to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic provides an alternative to China’s authoritarian way of handling it. Taiwan’s response to the health crisis has made it evident that countries across the world have much to learn from Taiwan’s best practices and if