Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West (PEGIDA) have ‘strolled’ again, but despite a week of Islamist terror in France and the fire-bombing of a German news paper which printed Mohammed cartoons, the German establishment has continued to condemn the movement.
The group has continued its apparently unstoppable growth, leaping from 20,000 last week to 25,000 on the streets of Dresden yesterday, with 30,000 strolling nationwide. The group, which is dedicated to non-violent resistance in the style of the East German protesters who opposed the former hard-line communist regime with weekly ‘strolls’ in the 1980s, this week called upon its supporters to not bring placards depicting Mohammed cartoons.
Some German politicians accused PEGIDA of taking advantage of the tense situation after the France shootings, but the group insisted the attacks proved the point they had been making all along. PEGIDA said: “The Islamists, which PEGIDA has been warning about for 12 weeks, showed France that they are not capable of democracy but rather look to violence and death as an answer”.
After roundly criticising PEGIDA in her new year’s address, German chancellor Angela Merkel again made clear moves to signal her disdain for the popular movement while hosting the prime minister of predominantly Muslim Turkey.
Sharing a platform with prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who is thought to be instrumental in Turkey’s slide towards institutional Islam after nearly a century of peaceful secularism, and has been criticised worldwide for his policy of inaction towards the jihadist Islamic State, chancellor Merkel said “Islam belongs to Germany”.
Merkel has announced her intention to march with a Muslim, anti-PEGIDA march today.
The concerted campaign against the anti-Islamisation rallies appears to be having some effect, as the counter-protest movement continues to grow in strength. Some reports suggest up to 100,000 gathered across the country to oppose PEGIDA yesterday.
In recent weeks major landmarks and municipal power companies have turned out the lights during PEGIDA marches to signal their opposition, and children’s ‘propaganda’ cartoons have been broadcast by a taxpayer-funded television station criticising the movement.
The German justice minister called on the organisers to abandon the organisation, calling the movement “simply disgusting”. Despite his position within the government, the Social Democrat politician has been repeatedly seen marching with counter-PEGIDA protest movements.
Despite this, the movement continues to grow, going from 200 to 25,000 supporters strolling over the course twelve demonstrations.
The PEGIDA leadership, headed by self declared apolitical, working-class orator Lutz Bachmann are aware the marches tread a fine line with the state police, who allow the strolls to assemble every week and clear the way of counter-protesting groups. TheLocal reports the remarks of one local Christian Democratic Union politician, who said: “As long as there is no outright racism and xenophobia, they have the right to march”.
Despite the events of last week and a global call for freedom of expression and speech in reaction to the slaying of journalists in France, the overt display of Mohammad within the Dresden stroll could give the authorities the pretext needed to shut the movement down.
The City of Leipzig, where PEGIDA marched for the first time yesterday, initially stated they would enforce a ban on showing images of Mohammad, but later backed down and allowed images at the rally. Commenting on the U-turn, mayor Burkhard Jung said: “Freedom of opinion is a very worthy cause, and against the backdrop of the attacks in Paris it cannot be valued highly enough”.
For many Germans, the terrorist assault against journalism and freedom of speech did not end in Paris on Friday. A handful of European newspapers chose to publish cartoons of Mohammed in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo, with some being on the receiving end of retaliatory attacks for their editorial decision.
Three were arrested after a car pursuit on Sunday as they were spotted outside Danish newspaper the Jyllands-Posten carrying assault rifles and pistols in a “suspicious” vehicle.
Although the weapons turned out to be imitation firearms, and the incident was dismissed as a “prank”, members of the staff at the Jyllands-Posten have had multiple attempts made on their lives since they published cartoons of Mohammed wearing a bomb in his turban in 2005. Along with Charlie Hebdo it was the first mainstream publication in Europe to print such images in the modern age, and many staff members still receive round-the-clock police protection.
The Hamburger Morgenpost was less fortunate this weekend, as its offices were fire-bombed in the early hours of Sunday morning in an apparent retaliation for publishing images of Mohammed last week. The images of piles of charred papers and office equipment piled up in the street outside the gutted office were highly redolent of the fire-bombing of the Charlie Hebdo Paris office in 2011.
PEGIDA have pledged to meet again next week.