The German PEGIDA movement held its largest meeting yet last night to protest what they call the ‘Islamisation of the Western World’, despite stiff opposition from all sections of Germany’s elite including politicians, media, and the arts.
PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against Islamisation of the West) has grown rapidly since its inception in October, a peaceful ‘strolling’ movement opposing the exceptional violence seen in street battles between Salafist Muslims and ethnic Kurds seen in many German cities this year and enormous immigration. Now on it’s tenth ‘evening stroll’, it has grown from a couple of hundred people, to 15,000 last week, to more than 17,500 last night.
In addition to the hundreds of banners with slogans such as ‘Against Hatred, Violence, and the Quran’, ‘Against Religious Fanaticism’, and ‘No Sharia in Europe’, the thousands attending brought song sheets which had been distributed online and sang favourite Christmas carols.
Despite the essentially ordinary character of many of the people taking to the streets for the peaceful strolls, and the admission by senior government and police figures that a great many of those joining in are families bringing their children, the organisation has come in for stiff criticism and rejection by the heights of the German elite.
Chancellor Merkel has suggested the leadership of PEGIDA have an ulterior motive, despite their focus on non-violent protest and apolitical principles. She even went as far to warn people thinking of going on the weekly stroll to “watch out that they are not instrumentalised by the organisers”. The SPD, Germany’s Labour-party equivalent have gone as far as calling PEGIDA “Nazis in pinstripes”.
This is despite a report by the German police that there are significantly more known troublemakers in the counter-protest movements, than in PEGIDA itself.
It is not only German politics which is putting its weight behind the counter-PEGIDA movement. Apparently dismayed that 17,500 people had turned out in bad weather to sing Christian carols, the Protestant Bishop of Dresden said PEGIDA were trying “to exploit a Christian symbol and a Christian tradition” for political ends.
Germany’s art elite also showed their disapproval last night. The directors of Dresden’s Bavarian State Opera house, outside which the protests take place turned off the lights on the building, cloaking it in darkness during the stroll. Colossal 50-foot banners were draped in front of the building reading “humanity, respect, and diversity”.
No plans have yet been announced by PEGIDA for their next march.