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Anti-Islam movement reaches Poland

Eastern Europe has had fewer tensions over Muslim immigration than western Europe, but that could change.

A woman holds a sign reading "No to Islamophobia" during a counter-demonstration against those protesting the building of a mosque in Warsaw on March 27, 2010. (Peter Andrews/Reuters)

WARSAW, Poland — European anxiety over the presence of Muslims in traditionally Christian societies has arrived in Poland, where the capital has been blanketed in anti-Islamic posters and several hundred protesters recently showed up to denounce the construction of a mosque.

Demonstrators waved signs proclaiming “Stop Islamization,” galvanized by posters put up around Warsaw showing a woman clad in a black chador, with menacing minarets that looked like missiles peering out behind her. Counter-demonstrators, separated by a line of police, denounced them as “fascists” and “racists.”

What makes the demonstration surprising is that unlike western European countries where there are millions of Muslims, Poland, a country of 38 million, has only about 30,000 Muslims.

But at a time when Switzerland has voted to ban the construction of new mosques, when France and Belgium are considering restrictions on women covering their faces in public, and Italy’s nationalist Northern League wants to keep mosques at least a kilometer away from any churches, Islam as a political issue has arrived in Poland.

“We wanted to start a public debate,” Piotr Slusarczyk, one of the demonstrators' leaders, told the Rzeczpospolita daily. “We are warning against radical Islam in Europe.”

Samir Ismail, a Kuwaiti Palestinian doctor who has lived more than 20 years in Poland and is the leader of the newly formed Muslim League, said that for the capital's 10,000 Muslims, the mosque would simply be a place to pray. He pointed out that the community has been careful not to offend, opting for a 16-yard high minaret instead of the 25-yard one approved by the building permit.

“We don’t want to create misunderstandings,” he told the Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper. “We are aware that we have a problem with being accepted.”

The friction around Poland’s still tiny Muslim minority is a sign of the country’s growing normalization and integration into the European Union. Immigrants were almost unknown in communist times, but as Poland becomes wealthier, it is starting to attract outsiders, from Ukrainians working on construction or as domestic help, to Muslim Chechens escaping Russian repression in their homeland.