French ministers refuse to attend conference with Islamic scholar who teaches at Oxford University


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The Independent Online

He is an Islamic scholar who teaches at Oxford University and a former member of a working group on extremism set up by Tony Blair. Time magazine once described him as the “leading thinker” among Europe’s second and third-generation Muslim immigrants.

Yet two French ministers have suddenly announced that they will not attend a conference in Florence tomorrow on the future of the European Union because of the presence of the scholar, Tariq Ramadan. He is due to be a panellist at the conference, entitled The State of the Union, speaking about “migration, identity and integration”.

The French Interior Minister Manuel Valls and Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, the Women’s Rights Minister who is also a government spokeswoman, informed organisers on Monday evening that they were pulling out, saying they had “not been informed” of Professor Ramadan’s attendance.

The philosopher is a controversial figure who has been accused of advocating violence and for some years was banned from entering France. A French  right-wing MP attending the conference, Bruno Le Maire, told Le Monde: “I’m not in the habit of yielding to people whose views I don’t share – I fight them.”

A spokesperson for the European University Institute, which is organising the forum along with Le Monde and the Financial Times, said the French ministers’ decision was “regrettable”. Others attending the conference include European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, and Labour Party leader Ed Miliband.