Anti-Islam Rally Grows as Immigrant Backlash Hits Europe

Photographer: Jens Meyer/AP Photo

An anti-Islamist group in Germany drew the biggest crowd ever for one of its rallies, even as the country’s leaders urged people not to participate in a movement that has gained in strength since starting two months ago.

“We don’t want radical Islamists here,” Thomas Schmidt, 53, said at the rally, a German flag wrapped around his shoulders. “People keep trying to brand us as Nazis -- but we’re not Nazis. We’re just worried citizens.”

The organizers, who call themselves Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West, or Pegida, demand stricter immigration laws, resistance to “violent, misogynistic political ideology,” and the protection of Christianity’s “Western culture.” There have been similar, smaller protests in cities such as Dusseldorf in past weeks.

Pegida is part of a wave of anti-immigrant groups sweeping Europe that established parties in countries such as the U.K., France and Sweden find difficult to counter. While Pegida isn’t a party, it follows election successes this year of the anti-Euro Alternative for Germany, or AfD, that’s critical of migrants and is taking voters from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and her former Free Democrat allies.

Refugee Influx

“Pegida is a diffuse movement based on fear; I think it will gain more support,” Joachim Scharfe, a 57-year-old church employee, said at yesterday’s counter-demonstration outside the city’s 18th century Hofkirche Cathedral. “Most Pegida backers aren’t neo-Nazis -- they’re people looking for simple answers.”

The number of refugees pouring into Germany has increased almost 60 percent this year, with the government estimating that 200,000 will enter the country in 2014. Last year, Germany surpassed the U.S. as the top destination globally for refugees, when 127,000 people applied for asylum in the country.

“Ali Baba and the 40 Drug Dealers -- deport them immediately,” read one sign held up by two men on the edge of Dresden’s historic center last night. The crowd frequently broke into chants of the slogan used by those who took to the streets to topple the East German government in 1989: “We are the People!” The crowd criticized television and newspaper coverage of the movement with chants of “Media Lies!”

Rejecting Violence

Headed by Lutz Bachmann, 41, an advertising agency and bratwurst factory owner, Pegida relies on social media including Facebook where its page has more than 42,000 “Likes.”

“We are strictly not against Islam but rather against Islamists and Islamization,” Bachmann told the Junge Freiheit newspaper. “Pegida consistently rejects violence.”

The group has drawn scorn from German political leaders. Ralf Jaeger -- the Social Democratic Interior Minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, the country’s most populous state -- said “neo-Nazis” are standing behind Pegida. Merkel warned the protests can’t be used to push an agenda against refugees.

“In Germany, we have a right to demonstrate, but there is no room for incitement and slander against people who have come to us from other countries,” Merkel said yesterday in Berlin. “Therefore we have to ensure that such events aren’t exploited by their initiators.”

READ ENTIRE ARTICLE HERE: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-12-15/anti-islam-rally-grows-as-immigrant-backlash-hits-europe.html

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