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Atheist confab in Ireland comes as Europe confronts religion in public life

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Islam in particular has been singled out as a threat to European life – by left and right alike. Last year, German banker and socialist politician Theo Sarrazin made waves with the publication of his book, “Germany Abolishes Itself," in which he argues the immigrant Muslim population would “overwhelm” the country.

The famously liberal Netherlands has also seen the rise of anti-Muslim political sentiment with Islam perceived as a threat to the Dutch way of life. Most recently, right-wing anti-immigrant sentiment has grown at the polls in Finland and Hungary.

Mr. Hjelm, himself Finnish, sounds a cautionary note, saying growing fears of Islamic influence in Europe are overstated: “The discussion is really around issues of identity rather than what’s really going on. There is definitely a change going on with immigration and so on, but the idea of being ‘swamped’ is not accurate. Also, the attention religion gets is disproportionate.”

The atheists' agenda

It’s not just Islam that worries secularists. For the delegates at the World Atheist Conference the question of separation of church and state has taken on new urgency.

Despite the relatively small numbers, the conference includes high-profile figures such as outspoken US atheist and biology professor PZ Myers, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, who has become a kind of figurehead for nonbelievers worldwide, and Iranian human rights activist Maryam Namazie, a member of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain.

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