WARSAW, Poland – The Muslim community in Warsaw canceled a public event Tuesday aimed at countering stereotypes about Islam after receiving threats from far-right nationalists.
A Muslim community leader, Ahmad Alattal, said hateful comments were made online about an open house planned at the Muslim Cultural Center, including a call to not visit the place but "burn it." Though the community has grown used to such comments, it canceled the event for the safety of the many schoolchildren that had planned to attend, he said.
The development comes amid rising animosity toward Muslims in largely Catholic Poland, an issue adding to tensions between Warsaw and the European Union. On Tuesday the European Commission threatened legal action against Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic for failing to accept refugees as part of a legally binding EU plan.
Poland's government says it would rather face a court and fines than accept Muslim refugees, whom it frequently describes as potential terrorist threats.
Poland's previous, pro-EU government had agreed to take several thousand refugees as part of the plan, but the nationalistic and euroskeptic Law and Justice party canceled those pledges after taking power in 2015, citing the repeated extremist attacks in Western Europe.
Interior Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said taking even a few thousand would endanger Poland in the future.
"After a few years in this community there would be tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands and then a few million. These communities form closed enclaves that give support to terrorists," Blaszczak said in an interview on Radio Zet on Tuesday.
He also derided attempts by Western European leaders to develop ways to integrate Muslim youths to prevent radicalization.
"Such a conception arose 2,000 years ago and it's called Christianity," Blaszczak said.
At the Muslim community center, a few people showed up in the afternoon, unaware the event had been canceled.
"We are not a danger — I promise," one teenage girl joked when told of the threats that prompted the cancellation.
Alattal said Poland's tiny Muslim community, which he put at about 35,000, has felt much more vulnerable under the current government due to its anti-Muslim and anti-refugee rhetoric, saying that has emboldened the extremists who post hateful comments online.
"We have to accept that the ruling party doesn't want refugees — with pain because we are all people of this earth and they deserve help — but they won elections on that promise," he said. "But they should not use the issue as a political tool, waging a witch hunt against Muslims when there aren't even any refugees in the country."