Opponents of the ultra-conservative Islamic movement known as Salafism gathered in the northern German city of Bremen on Saturday to protest at a rally held by the Islamist preacher Pierre Vogel.
Police said some 150 people participated in the right-wing protest, while the left-wing rally attracted some 200.
Vogel himself drew a crowd of some 300 listeners, including several women
wearing the burqa.
The protests and the Salafist rally, which went ahead peacefully, took place near the city’s main railway station. Police from Hamburg, the state of Lower Saxony and Bremen itself were in charge of security, with strict bag inspections in front of all the stages that had been set up.
The right-wing Salafism opponents originally wanted to hold a protest within eyeshot of Vogel, in which a woman was to have divested herself of a burqa onstage. The planned event had to be cancelled because of technical problems with the loudspeaker system.
The left-wing protesters, who included students from Bremen’s City University of Applied Sciences, were demonstrating against both the Salafists and the right-wingers. Their bid to interrupt the populist rally with chanting ended when they were escorted away from the stage where the event was taking place.
Vogel, whom Bremen authorities consider to be an “ideological incendiary” and a “gateway to the Salafist scene,” spoke of the relationship between Islam and terrorism under the motto “ISIS is not Islam,” using an alternative acronym for the extremist group “Islamic State” (IS).
Although he has often spoken out against Islamic terrorism, German security authorities fear that he could nonetheless be a radicalizing influence, particularly on young people.
Bremen is seen as a Salafist stronghold, with some 360 members of the movement living in the city. Its proponents advocate a return to what they see as the oldest traditions of Islam, eschewing any form of religious innovation.
German security authorities estimate that some
7,900 members were living in the country as of 2015.
Saturday’s rallies came as fears grow in Germany of homegrown religious extremism that could generate terrorism.
tj/rc (dpa, epd)