Europe’s right-wing populists want to build a united front to battle what they call the continent’s creeping Islamization at a conference set to take place in Cologne this weekend. Powerless to stop the event, local officials are anticipating the arrival of thousands of counterprotesters. Cologne’s Heumarkt, a cobblestone square in the city’s Old Town, is best known as the place where thousands and thousands of costumed revellers converge each Nov. 11 at 11 a.m. to ring in the new season of the most famous festival along the Rhine River, Carnival. This Saturday, though, Heumarkt will become the focal point for an altogether different and decidedly less cheerful event. Instead of the sound of relentlessly upbeat Carnival songs, the square will be filled with radical right-wing slogans and anti-Muslim baiting. Pro Cologne (Pro Köln), a group that has risen to political prominence in this city of 1 million with its vociferous campaign to stop the construction of a major mosque — and even landed seats on the City Council along the way — is to hold a conference aimed at halting what it describes as the creeping “Islamization” of Europe. It would be hard to find another German city where the debate over integration and the role of Islam has been as concrete and vocal as it has been here. And nowhere else has it been easier to observe the collateral damage that can occur when politicians attempt to address the fears many locals have about purported Islamization. Lenz Jacobsen reports.
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