PRAGUE -- Thousands of Czechs have pledged to eat a kebab on January 9 as part of a mass action launched on Facebook aimed at supporting the country's Muslim residents.
The "A Kebab Against Idiocy" campaign in support of the country's tiny Muslim population -- one of several similar initiatives on social media -- comes in response to controversial remarks by a populist politician attacking Islamic practices.
On January 3, Tomio Okamura, whose populist Dawn of Direct Democracy holds 14 mandates in the 200-seat Czech parliament, posted a 14-point treatise on his Facebook page about how to protect Czechs’ "democratic way of life" from the threat posed by radical Islam.
Okamura's post -- which he said was drafted by a party colleague -- suggested reminding Muslims that the country's "hospitality has its limits." He called on Czechs to walk dogs and pigs -- both of which are regarded as unclean in Islam -- past mosques.
For good measure, he also also suggested pub owners whose premises were near such facilities should give their businesses new names like The Good Dog or The Happy Pig. Okamura even launched a scathing attack on what he called Islam’s "cruel" animal-slaughtering practices and called for a ban on halal meat.
"Every kebab we buy is another step toward burqas," he wrote. "How will they taste to your wife when she has to eat them with a veil on her face?"
Okamura also told RFE/RL he has seen a report by Czech security services that said radical Islamists were active in the country and may be using certain businesses to finance their activities.
An ideological issue?
The organizers of one of the Facebook campaigns, called A Kebab for Tomio, say Okamura's claims are "ridiculous," adding that it was impossible to "respond seriously" to the idea that "the sale of kebabs financed terrorism and eating them thus became an ideological issue."
Although the lighthearted tone of the social media assault on Okamura may now seem insensitive to many in the wake of the deadly January 7 attack on the Paris-based satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, organizers warned against politicians like the Dawn of Direct Democracy leader using the tragedy for political gain.
"Even though both sides of this debate are united in condemning this terrorist act, it will be necessary to constantly remind ourselves of one of the reasons why our [Facebook] page actually came into being," the group said. "The overwhelming majority of Muslims really aren’t terrorists and they also don’t support them. Therefore, there is no reason to accuse them of actions that horrify them as much as us."
INFOGRAPHIC: Muslim Populations In Europe (click here)
The Tokyo-born Okamura is a divisive figure in Czech politics. In the past, he has caused controversy by saying the country’s Roma minority should be repatriated to India.
He dismisses accusations of racism by citing his own mixed heritage and says he only has a beef with extremists and individuals who "cannot adapt" to Czech social norms.
Okamura professed to have no knowledge of the kebab-eating protest but slammed the idea anyway.
"I don’t know who those people are and I don’t know anything about this activity, but I can say that, at a time when people are dead as a result of Islamic terrorism in Paris, trivializing this matter and making jokes about it is highly inappropriate," he said.
Muslims make up less that 1 percent of the Czech Republic's population of 10 million.
Opinions about the controversy were mixed on the streets of Prague.
Jarmila, 77, said Okamura was a "wise and reasonable" politician who "tells the truth."
"There is alarming news about halal food here and what a catastrophe it is. He explained what halal is -- something no one else did," she said.
However, Martin, 30, said he didn't think Okamura's claims would cut much ice with most Czechs.
"It’s just a fringe issue that will get media coverage," he said. "I think we’d all definitely distance ourselves from him. ... I have no problem supporting Muslims and, anyway, kebabs are a great dish."