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French ministers boycott talks with Muslim scholar

AFP

Two French ministers boycotted a conference on the future of the European Union on Wednesday, saying they had not known controversial Muslim scholar and Oxford University professor Tariq Ramadan (pictured) would be present.

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French Socialist ministers Manuel Valls and Najat Vallaud-Belkacem refused to attend a conference on the future of the European Union in Florence on Wednesday after they discovered that controversial Swiss philosopher Tariq Ramadan would be attending the talks.

Swiss-educated Ramadan, whose grandfather is the founder of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, Hassan al Banna, has been both praised as a reformist and denounced as a radical. His theories on Western society – which he says is in decline – and how modern Islam will take shape in Europe, have proved controversial.

In 1995, he was temporarily barred from entering France due to alleged links to Algerian terrorists. In 2003, he clashed with France’s then interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, when he refused to condemn stoning, instead speaking of a “moratorium on the death penalty”.

In fact, some of Ramadan’s most notorious encounters have been made in France, making him – along with his candid criticism of Sarkozy during his presidency – a household name in the country and a dangerously controversial figure for politicians.

‘Regrettable decision’

The sudden decision by Valls and Vallaud-Belkacem – interior minister and women’s rights minister respectively – was met with disappointment by organisers of ‘The State of the Union’ conference on Wednesday.

Organised by the European University Institute and in partnership with French daily Le Monde and British daily The Financial Times, the annual event brings together politicians and thinkers to discuss the future of the EU.

Stephan Albrechtskirchinger of the European University Institute described Valls and Vallaud-Belkacem’s decision as “regrettable,” arguing that Ramadan had “irrefutable academic credits” as a professor of contemporary Islam at Oxford University.

Attendee Bruno le Maire of France’s conservative UMP party told Le Monde that Ramadan’s presence at the talks would not affect his own attendance. “I don’t usually give in to people whose views I don’t share – I fight them instead,” he said.

Others attending the talks include European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, Italian economist Mario Monti and Labour Party leader Ed Miliband.

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