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Sunday 3 December 2023 Dublin: 4°C
Markus Schreiber Anti-Islam protest of the Legida anti Islamization movement, an offshoot of Pegida.

'Anti-Islamic group Pegida are coming to town. We can't afford to laugh and dismiss them'

Two protests are taking place this Saturday – there are bound to be a clash of ideas, writes Julien Mercille.

PEGIDA IS A European anti-Islamic group that originated in Germany in October 2014 and that now has branches in 14 European countries. This Saturday, Ireland will become the 15th such country—an honour we should seek to reverse.

The establishment of the Irish branch will coincide with anti-Islam demonstrations in all of Pegida’s European branches, including at 3pm in front of the GPO on O’Connell Street.

However, there will be a counter-demonstration at 1.30pm at the same place, organised by the Anti-Racism Network Ireland and migrant support groups.

Protests on Saturday 

There will certainly be a clash of ideas there.

Pegida stands for “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident”.

Initially a small amorphous right-wing populist movement, it has grown to 30,000 members. It is on the rise, manipulating fears associated with the daily influx of refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and other Middle Eastern countries.

Last year, it made its first electoral gains by capturing nearly 10% of the vote in mayoral elections in Dresden, Germany.

Pegida’s founder, Lutz Bachmann, provoked a scandal when photos of him allegedly impersonating Hitler were circulated on social media. He has also reportedly described foreign immigrants and asylum seekers as “cattle”, “riff raff” and “a pack of dirt”.

His latest stunt was to pose with a t-shirt saying “Rapefugees Not Welcome”, the slogan of an anti-immigrant march organised in Cologne, Germany in the wake of the sexual assaults against women in the city on New Year’s Eve.

A few days ago, representatives from ten European countries hammered out a manifesto called the “Prague Declaration”.

It states that “the thousand-year history of western civilisation could soon come to an end through the Islamic conquest of Europe”. And it pledges to “not surrender Europe to our enemies. We are prepared to stand and oppose political Islam, extreme Islamic regimes and their European collaborators”.

Germany Anti Islam Protest Markus Schreiber Markus Schreiber

Disconnect from reality 

The group’s strong racist and Islamophobic tendencies are thus easy to see. Its total disconnect from reality is also laughable, given that Muslims remain a clear minority in Europe. Its claims of the impending end of western civilization is so ridiculous that one wonders whether some of its leaders, reportedly linked to neo-Nazi ideology, might not be using such fears to mobilise people for more sinister objectives.

Right-wing group Identity Ireland, which launched last July, is led by Peter O’Loughlin. He spoke at a press conference where he introduced Pegida UK co-ordinator and former English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson.

Identity Ireland favours EU withdrawal, ditching the euro and stopping mass immigration. O’Loughlin will run in Cork North Central in the upcoming general election.

Last year, he won 930 votes for Identity Ireland in the Carlow-Kilkenny by-election.

All this being said, one important point should be noted. For all its erroneous statements and despicable attitude toward ethnic or religious difference, it may not serve progressives well to simply make fun of Pegida or dismiss it as a gathering of idiots.

Germany Anti Islam Protest Markus Schreiber Police officers observe a demonstration of Leipzig's Europeans against the Islamization of the West (LEGIDA), a group linked with the PEGIDA movement, in eastern Germany Markus Schreiber

Rise in far-right movements 

Rather, it would be more productive to understand why such far-right movements have emerged in many locations in the wake of the economic crisis.

Think Donald Trump in the US, the Front National in France, Golden Dawn in Greece, among others.

Their common denominator is the rise in deprivation and unemployment over the last few years caused primarily by austerity and the accompanying cuts in public services. When things go that bad, it’s easy for opportunist political figures and the media to blame foreigners, immigrants and minorities for the country’s every ill.

For example, Pegida’s Prague Declaration mentions that “the regulations of the global elites have brought us poverty, unemployment, corruption, chaos and moral collapse. It is time this came to an end”.

It’s easy to see why this line is appealing to a certain segment of the population.

Therefore, progressives have much educational work to conduct to present the real causes and solutions to the economic and social problems we face. Those who follow Pegida are clearly angry at something, but have got their causes and solutions wrong.

Don’t laugh and dismiss, but reach out and organise.

Julien Mercille is a lecturer at University College Dublin. Twitter: @JulienMercille. 

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