Anti-Shari'a 9/11 Protest Will Go Ahead Despite Hurdles, Organizers Say
(CNSNews.com) - Anti-Islamist activists are still planning to demonstrate in Brussels next Tuesday to mark the sixth anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks and protest against the "Islamization of Europe," but organizers are grappling with legal difficulties and warnings that violence may erupt.
Organizers from Denmark, England and Germany planned the event several months ago, but ran into legal hurdles when Brussels Mayor Freddy Thielemans banned the demonstration, citing the potential risk to public order.
Thielemans wrote in an op-ed on August 20 that by choosing 9/11 for the demonstration the organizers obviously intended to draw a link between terrorism and the religion of Islam, a move he called "incitement to discrimination and hatred."
A loose alliance calling itself SIOE ("Stop Islamization Of Europe") said it would go ahead regardless of the ban, while appealing against the ruling. The activists deny the racism allegation, saying their aim is to prevent Islam from becoming the dominant political force in Europe and stop the "creeping" introduction of Islamic law (shari'a).
On August 30 an administrative appeals court upheld the mayor's ban, but SIOE took its case to another tribunal, and a Brussels civil court decision is expected shortly.
Socialist lawmakers in the European Parliament wrote Wednesday to Thielemans - also a socialist -supporting his decision to ban the rally.
"Like you, we are convinced that the people behind this demonstration want above all to stigmatize a community for dark racist and xenophobic reasons as is proven by the readiness to lump Islam together with fundamentalist terrorism," said Martin Schulz, a German who heads the Euro-parliament's socialist group, a collection of 33 left-leaning parties from all 25 E.U. member states.
Amid reports that neo-Nazis are planning to turn up, the alliance fractured this week when a German organizer said the protest should be called off because of the risk of extremist activity.
The Danish and English organizers distanced themselves from the German position, saying the protest in the European capital would go ahead as planned on September 11.
At the same time, they are continuing to appeal on their Web sites for participants to follow a set of simple rules, including restricting slogans to the main theme and carrying only national flags, not party political or organizational banners.
"Racists and violent people or organizations are not welcome to join our demonstration," they said.
Meanwhile a controversial Muslim organization that had been planning a counter-protest in central Brussels on September 11 has called off its event, after Thielemans turned down a request for permission.
Arab European League (AEL) representative Mohamed Benhadou said in response to emailed inquiries that the group had planned "a peaceful demonstration to call for rapprochement between communities and to stop racism."
But it accepted the mayor's argument that the presence of "a large group of right wing protesters puts our security at risk because of possible provocation," he said.
The AEL, which was founded in 2000 by a Lebanese-born political activist, was accused by a government anti-racism body in 2002 of inciting hatred. It has called for Arabic to be recognized as an official language in Belgium.
About four percent of the population of Belgium is Muslim, although the proportion is much higher -- estimated at 17-20 percent -- in the Brussels region.
Thielemens has approved a demonstration in Brussels on September 9 by a group that suspects the Bush administration of orchestrating the 9/11 attacks and wants an international inquiry.
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