Wednesday, 24 July 2024 21:56

Is Germany on a collision course over 'Islamisation' and immigration?

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Big Question: Anders Behring Breivik was motivated by a similar far-Right ideology and perceived threats, such as Islamification and multiculturalism, as held by the Pegida protesters

What are the Pegida protests?

Established in October 2014, Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West (Pegida) have quickly evolved from a small, right-wing group, to include over 25,000 supporters this Monday in Dresden. Pegida's weekly protests have been driven by perceived threats from immigration and the 'Islamification' of Germany, some are also challenging liberal political correctness and multiculturalism.

How dangerous are the Pegida marches?

The risk from Pegida itself leading Germany on a collision course may not be as it appears. The group itself has no real, clear political plan or agenda, aside from a muddled 19-point manifesto. The founders Lutz Bachmann (who has a criminal record) and Siegfried Däbritz (who is linked to motorcycle gangs and hooligan groups) should discredit the group. Pegida's online presence is limited largely to Facebook and those joining these marches are not doing so after long-term (potentially radicalising) online engagement with a more organised body, as has been seen with other European far-Right groups.

Certain points raised by Pegida have a wider (and legitimate) appeal, such as the issue of banning weapons exports to radical groups, or concerns of changing immigration policies.

However, other points they attach to these, such as the opposition to misogynic and violent political ideology – which they specifically link to Muslims – create real problems. Incorrectly directing blame on a singular minority group for issues present in every society risks perpetuating damaging stereotypes and diverts attention from the fact that these are challenges faced by all faiths and societies. It also, conveniently, overlooks Pegida's opposition to 'gender mainstreaming', offering their own anti-equality dimension.

If Pegida increasingly organises with partners in far-Right political parties, such as the Alternative for Germany party (AfG), or extreme far-Right, pan-European groups, this will should cause alarm.

Further risk lies with those using the protests as a 'Trojan Horse' to foster and spread even more xenophobic and extremist views, elevating what have been largely peaceful protests to greater threats to public safety.

As well, 'lone-wolf' individuals may be driven by such views to launch attacks.

It should not be forgotten that the largest recent attack in Europe by Anders Behring Breivik (who killed 77 in Norway in 2011), was motivated by similar far-Right ideology and perceived threats, such as Islamification and multiculturalism. Recent attacks in Europe, including on Charlie Hebdo in Paris, will certainly exasperate these fears.

How can Pegida be countered?

The scale, diversity and political weight of counter-demonstrations against Pegida, and symbolic gestures such as turning off the lights at national landmarks, are encouraging.

These protests have created a certain public space to discuss, debate and address (some) legitimate concerns – all signs of a functioning democracy.

Cologne Cathedral switched its lights out earlier this month

However, important questions may help avoid a collision in the future. Is there enough perceived space and opportunity for public debate regarding legitimate issues of concern to citizens? If not, how can space be created to separate and address legitimate concerns of citizens from those of a more dangerous, extremist nature, avoiding conflation of the two we see today?

The Telegraph

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