19 December 2010
About 150 people protested Saturday outside the site of a conference in Paris organized to criticize the "Islamization" of Europe. Protesters held banners reading "United Against Islamophobia" and "Fascists, get out of our neighbourhoods." Socialist Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe had asked police to ban the conference, but police allowed it to go forward under surveillance. The conference was organized by several French groups, including nationalist political group Bloc Identitaire, that frequently complain about what they see as Islam's growing influence over traditional French values. France has Western Europe's largest Muslim population. Claiming to represent a wide range of political opinion, from Marxists and feminists to hardcore secularists and right-wing activists, the groups said they would coordinate their fight against what they call the Islamisation of Europe. Several hundred people from all over Europe attended the conference, which also was broadcast over the Internet. "Resistance against Islamization is alive. Nothing can stop it!" Bloc Identitaire wrote in a statement about the conference on its Web site. Several speakers came from outside France. Oskar Freysinger, a lawmaker with the nationalist Swiss People's Party, arrived wearing a bulletproof vest and accompanied by bodyguards. Freysinger had campaigned last year to ban the construction of minarets in Switzerland — a law that drew international condemnation when voters approved it in defiance of a government recommendation. At the lunch break, organizers served wine and pork sausage. French Muslim and left-wing groups denounced the conference as divisive. The president of the mainstream French Council of the Muslim Faith, Mohammed Moussaoui, said, "We are strongly in favour of the right to free expression but we feel that such a meeting is a threat to national unity and to our ability to live together." Mr Moussaoui said that the talk of "Islamization" was just a cover. "The use of the term is a way of fanning fear among European populations, to make them afraid of losing their identity because of the presence of Muslims."
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