PEGIDA Anti-Islamist Movement Gains Momentum in Spain

AP Photo/Jens Meyer
AP Photo/Jens Meyer

PEGIDA, the acronym for the German civil society group Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West, has found fertile ground for growth across Europe, from Norway to Bulgaria. The movement appears to be eyeing its chapter in Spain as the most likely to grow into the tens of thousands in membership as it did in Germany, however, where Germans are expected to join the nation’s inaugural PEGIDA march.

“We are preparing a demonstration by Pegida Spain, where members of Pegida Germany will attend. We will publish the date on Twitter and announce it by email,” the Spanish chapter of the organization told the Agence France-Presse via email. Such an event, with multiple PEGIDA chapters marching together on such a scale, is believed to be the first of its kind– marches in Norway and other European nations have been mostly grassroots efforts not aided by the German leadership of PEGIDA.

PEGIDA España, AFP notes, had initially planned a march for Monday, but authorities refused to give them a permit for the assembly, citing their choice of location– the largest mosque in Madrid– as an unwise choice.

Like its Germany predecessor, the Spanish version of the anti-radical Islam group is going to great lengths on its Facebook and Twitter accounts to define itself as specifically anti-Sharia and anti-radicalism, not anti-Arab or anti-moderate Muslim. “0% racism. 0% fascism. German and European citizen patriotism. An example for the rest of Europe,” its organizers wrote on Facebook, defining its influence. On Twitter, there appear to be multiple accounts claiming to be representing the Spanish wing of the organization, though both stating that PEGIDA officially has no representation in Spain and that none of the comments made on Spanish PEGIDA social media accounts represent PEGIDA in Germany.

One account, @PegidaSpain, has taken to answering individuals asking about their beliefs. In one exchange, in which an individual calls for PEGIDA organizers to be “arrested for racism,” the group responds: “we are opposed to any form of discrimination and extremism.”

The group has also highlighted attacks by radical Islamists on other Muslims, particularly the destruction of mosques by Islamic State terrorists in Syria, as a reason to oppose radical Islam. @Pegida_Spain, a separate account cited by a number of Spanish news outlets as the representative of the group in Spain, boasts more than 1,000 follows– far more than @PegidaSpain. This one confirmed the announcement of a march alongside their German counterparts as reported by AFP, and takes a more aggressive tone to the eradication of Islam from Spain:

The text reads: “We already did it 400 years ago, and we will do it again.” The image is an 1882 painting called “The Capitulation of Granada” by Francisco Pradilla y Ortíz, commemorating the ouster of the Sultan of Granada, Boabdil, from southern Spain, and the unification of Spain under a Christian government.

Despite a multitude of victories against Islamic armies in the Middle Ages, Spain still boasts a healthy Muslim population. According to the AFP, citing the Union of Islamic Communities of Spain, the nation has a population of about two million Muslims and is home to 1,000 mosques and Islamic cultural centers.