A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Funding Mosques Overseas


Q: Is President Obama using tax dollars to rebuild mosques around the world?

A: Yes — and to rebuild historic churches and temples as well. The State Department’s program to preserve overseas cultural landmarks started funding projects under President Bush in 2001.

FULL QUESTION

A mass e-mail sent out by the Christian, conservative American Family Association claims that Obama is giving foreign aid to overseas mosques.

Obama gives your tax dollars to rebuild Muslim mosques around the world.  While millions of Americans struggle to keep their homes and jobs, President Barack Obama can’t give your tax dollars away fast enough. [EET ]

August 26, 2010

Dear XXXX,

US taxpayer dollars are being given away to help rebuild Islamic mosques overseas. According to the Associated Press, the Obama administration will give away nearly $6 million of American tax dollars to restore 63 historic and cultural sites, including Islamic mosques and minarets, in 55 nations. See the State Department document here.

This is an outrage! Our country is broke. And can you imagine what the ACLU and others on the secular left would say if these monies had been spent to repair Christian churches? They would be screaming “separation of church and state!” Funding Islam on foreign soil with American taxpayer money? Not a whimper.

The latest taxpayer givaway includes $76,000 for a 16thcentury mosque in China, $67,000 for a mosque in Pakistan,$77,000 to restore minarets in Nigeria and Mauritania, and$50,000 for an Islamic Monument in India.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says the U.S. program to restore Islamic and other cultural sites in other countries is taxpayer money well spent.

Take Action
Contact your member of Congress today!

[/EET]

FULL ANSWER

Although this chain e-mail first appeared months ago, we have received a large number of inquiries about it recently, as Congress debates cuts in federal spending. It started when the American Family Association sent an e-mail to supporters and posted an item on its website claiming that “Obama gives your tax dollars to rebuild Muslim mosques around the world.”

The message points to a State Department document that lists recipients of the U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation Awards in 2010. According to the State Department website, the Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation “provides direct grant support for the preservation of cultural sites, cultural objects, and collections, as well as forms of traditional cultural expression, in eligible countries around the world.” U.S. ambassadors nominate projects to be funded.

But the program isn’t the brainchild of President Barack Obama. The program was created by Congress in late 2000 under President Bill Clinton, and the first grants were announced under President George W. Bush in 2001. The State Department says that, in total, the fund has contributed nearly $26 million to approximately 640 cultural heritage sites in more than 100 countries, and more than half was given before Obama took office.

It’s true that mosques are among the cultural sites that have received grant money under this program. But temples and churches around the world also have received funding, contrary to AFA’s claim that the “secular left” would be upset if “these monies had been spent to repair Christian churches.” When we searched the State Department’s database and lists of 2009 and 2010 projects for “mosque” and “minaret,” we found that 30 mosques or minaret restoration projects had received funding under Bush, and seven such sites had been funded under Obama. Also, 29 projects for churches and cathedrals were funded under Bush and 13 under Obama. Those totals do not represent all Christian or Islamic historical and cultural sites, however — our search for “mosque,” for instance wouldn’t pull up funding for an Islamic monument or conservation of ancient manuscripts, and our search for “church” didn’t pull up restoration of convents or monasteries. Plus — as anyone who has visited the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul or the Mezquita, a mosque and cathedral in Cordoba, Spain, could tell you — there are many ancient sites that were Islamic and Christian places of worship at different points in time. In fact, our searches of “mosque” and “church” both pulled up the $33,455 awarded to the 14th century Mosque of Old Dongola in Sudan, which was a church in the 9th century. And one of the “cathedral” projects in Uganda under Bush was the documentation of “historic buildings,” including “cultural sites, unique architectural designs, cathedrals, Hindu temples, mosques, state buildings and ancestral homes,” according to the State Department database.

The AFA e-mail points out that the State Department gave $76,000 to help restore a 16th century mosque in China in 2010 (the amount was $76,135), but it doesn’t mention that the document it links to also lists $72,600 that went to an Episcopal basilica in Macedonia to help with the conservation of early Christian frescoes. AFA says that a mosque in Pakistan got $67,000 — actually it was $67,500 — but doesn’t mention an $81,990 grant for “Restoration of the Late 17th‐Century Church of the Icon of the Mother of God of the Sign” in the Russian Federation, or $94,827 to restore a high altar and cloister of an 18th century convent in Guatemala City. Among the State Department’s “large grants” is $625,000 for the Church of the Holy Redeemer in Turkey.

The AFA says that the Associated Press reported on this program to fund cultural sites, including mosques. And the AP did report in August that “the Obama administration will spend nearly $6 million to restore 63 historic and cultural sites, including mosques and minarets, in 55 nations, according to State Department documents.” But that article cast the mosque-funding as “part of the U.S. government’s efforts to reach out to the Muslim world,” and the AP said the amount spent on Muslim sites was a “fraction of the total” given to worldwide cultural sites.

AP, Aug. 24, 2010: The amount spent on mosque restoration projects is a fraction of the total in the 2010 Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation, which also will fund projects to restore Christian and Buddhist sites as well as museums, forts and palaces.

Fuzzy Reporting

Many readers also asked us about U.S. funding of mosque restoration after an Atlanta television news station, WSB-TV, reported in November that “the State Department is sending hundreds of millions of dollars to save mosques overseas.” News anchor Justin Farmer said that the State Department’s Agency for International Development gave money to mosques in Cairo, Cyprus, Tajikistan and Mali. He said that the money given to the Cairo mosque was “part of” a $770 million program to fix the city’s sewer system.

We spoke with a USAID official, who told us that the Cairo sewer project, which did total about $770 million, began in 1984 and ended in 2006. It was a major undertaking that wasn’t specifically directed to the mosque, though about $2.3 million was used “to help lower the groundwater at the mosque area, replacing the old sewage collector, and providing a healthier environment for people living in the area,” the official, who would not be identified by name, said.

USAID official: A high level of groundwater, resulting in part from leaking sewers and the rise and fall of the Nile, had been threatening the structural integrity of many of the buildings in this area. USAID did not pick and choose which buildings to rescue, based on religious or any other criteria. Rather, the broad effort was intended to improve the sewage system for everyone.

The USAID site includes information on the $2.3 million spent on the 1,000-year-old mosque, as well as more than $15 million allocated by USAID and the Egyptian government to restore a 1,300-year-old mosque, along with a Roman tower, a Greek Orthodox church and other buildings.

In Cyprus, $5 million was given to restore a mosque and a Greek Orthodox monastery, a project that ended in 2006. The Mali and Tajikistan projects involved funding for computer equipment.

So how did WSB-TV come up with “hundreds of millions” for mosques overseas? We contacted the station and were put in touch with Brad Stone, who researched the story. He told us the story covered “both past and present projects,” including the Cairo sewer program. But, as we said, the scope of that project went well beyond the mosques, and ended years ago. The WSB-TV story was about finding ways to cut current spending.

We don’t know how much USAID spent in 2010 for projects that benefit mosques. The agency says it obligated $18.8 billion for the fiscal year for all projects The official we contacted said that other mosques that have benefited from USAID money over the years were funded for “secular purposes, such as restoring historic and cultural sites and structures or reducing social conflict by creating opportunities for at-risk youth to channel their energies into productive endeavors. … In addition, faith-based organizations and religious groups are valued partners in USAID’s humanitarian relief and development work.”

We take no stance on whether or not the State Department should give grants to cultural sites overseas, whether they are mosques, churches, temples or other historical structures. But the AFA e-mail linking Obama to the funding of mosques is misleading, and the Atlanta news report gives a false impression.

— Lori Robertson and Lauren Hitt

Correction, March 18: We originally wrote that the Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation was “created by Congress in 2001 under President George W. Bush.” Congress created the program in fiscal 2001, when President Bill Clinton was still in office. The first grants were announced after Bush became president.

Sources

FactCheck.org interview and e-mails with USAID official. 9 and 10 Mar 2011.

U.S. State Department. “U.S. AMBASSADORS FUND FOR CULTURAL PRESERVATION 2010 AWARDS.” accessed 10 Mar 2011.

U.S. State Department. “U.S. AMBASSADORS FUND FOR CULTURAL PRESERVATION 2009 AWARDS.” accessed 10 Mar 2011.

U.S. State Department website. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation page. accessed 10 Mar 2011.

U.S. State Department website. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation searchable projects list. accessed 10 Mar 2011.

Associated Press. “US helps fund mosque, minaret restoration around the world as part of cultural outreach.” FoxNews.com 24 Aug 2010.

WSBTV.com. “Mosque Makeovers With Your Tax Dollars.” 11 Nov 2010.

USAID site. Telling Our Story, Middle East archive. accessed 10 Mar 2010.

USAID. “USAID-Financed Restoration of Church and Mosque on Cyprus Supports Cultural Heritage and Tolerance.” press release. 5 July 2002.

USAID. Telling Our Story, Before & After, Restoring an Historic Mosque. accessed 10 Mar 2010.

USAID. Telling Our Story, Bridging the Digital Divide in Ancient Culture. accessed 10 Mar 2010.

USAID. Tajikistan Success Story. accessed 10 Mar 2010.

USAID. Where does USAID’s Money Go? accessed 10 Mar 2010.

Stone, Brad. WSB-TV News. E-mails to FactCheck.org. 10 Mar 2010.