French President Nicolas Sarkozy praised Islam on Wednesday at a ceremony with Saudi Prince Al Walid bin Talal to lay the first stone for a new Islamic art section of the Louvre museum.
"This will be an opportunity for the French and all visitors to the Louvre to see that Islam is progress, science, finesse, modernity, and that fanatism in the name of Islam is a corruption of Islam," Sarkozy said at the ceremony.
"France is a friend of Arab countries," said Sarkozy. "France wants peace, France does not want a clash of civilizations between the West and the East", which he said "would spell catastrophe for the world."
"It is in the Mediterranean that everything will be won or lost," said Sarkozy. "France is committed to ensure that all will be won."
The Arts of Islam gallery is the first major addition to the museum since the glass pyramid was built in the 1980s. It will include a shimmering glass wave suspended over a 19th-century courtyard, resembling a cloud or a flying carpet, the AP news agency reported.
The new exhibition space is due to open in 2010 after the 86-million-euro (136-million-dollar) renovation project is completed at the Louvre, which draws more than seven million visitors per year.
The Saudi prince, one of the world's richest men, is contributing 17 million euros, while oil giant Total and Lafarge will put up 8.5 million euros each, with the remainder to be covered by the government.
The new display will open in the Louvre's Cour Visconti, moving closer to the museum's rooms devoted to art and artefacts from the late Antiquity and the Mediterranean region.
Sarkozy also underscored the importance of the new Mediterranean union launched by more than 40 leaders including Arab heads of state at a Paris summit on Sunday to foster cooperation.