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How we’re fighting back against Pegida and Islamophobia in Germany

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Anti-racist activist Jules El-Khatib talks about organising against Germany’s new Islamophobic protest group Pegida
Issue 2436
Counter demonstration against Pegida in Berlin earlier this month
Counter demonstration against Pegida in Berlin earlier this month (Pic: Gilly on Flickr)

Who are Pegida? Who leads them and who is following?

Pegida is led by 12 activists who are close to the hard right Alternative for Germany (AfD) political party. But the followers aren’t all right wing activists. They are overwhelmingly older, middle class people who are worried about their pensions and savings.

Pegida has no impact on the organised working class, but is able to attract individual workers. Those joining Pegida protests have been persuaded that Muslims are to blame. 

At the moment, the group’s successes are confined to the city of Dresden and the town of Rostock in eastern Germany. 

But in other eastern cities, such as Leipzig, Pegida remains small and it could only mobilise around 250 people in Berlin recently. But there is no room for complacency, with a clear potential for growth. 


What sparked the movement?

Pegida was launched with just 1,000 people in Dresden, after hundreds of racist hooligans joined a weekly racist demonstration.

Its leaders said they wanted to build a respectable movement, which was strongly Islamophobic but didn’t focus on physical attacks on “foreigners”. 

They were able to tap into a widespread Islamophobic feeling that the mainstream parties and media have promoted.


Are Nazis involved in Pegida?

Absolutely. The NPD, Germany’s biggest Nazi party, is playing a role in the demonstrations and many other groups are joining the protests too. Pegida’s leaders tolerate this. 

There were 150 Nazis on the recent protest in Dresden, who wanted the marchers to fight with the left wing counter-demonstration. But Pegida’s leaders persuaded them to stay back. 


The establishment now attacks Pegida as “extreme”. Does that help anti-fascists?

When parties like the Tory CDU speak out against Pegida hypocritically it can hinder us. Everyone knows that they have Islamophobes high up in their ranks. 

People rightly ask, “How can the German chancellor Angela Merkel tell people off for Islamophobia when her party promotes it?” 


Who is organising the large protests against Pegida? 

The strongest protests were in the south’s largest city Munich and in Cologne, which has a long anti-fascist tradition. 

In the west, the unions and the left party Die Linke are playing a central role, meaning that organised workers are a big presence. 

More middle class groups and parties, such as the Greens, are also coming along. In the east, left wing youth tend to lead the protests.But there are political weaknesses in the movement.

An anti-fascist group called “The Anti-Germans” is playing an important role, particularly in the east. They are strongly Islamophobic, and equate fascism with radical Islam.

The unions’ strong stand against Islamophobia means that Pegida is unlikely to get a base in the west. But Islamophobia on the left is hampering the struggle in the east. In the wake of the Paris attacks, it’s difficult to see how we can build a strong movement there with politics that accept Islamophobia.

That’s why we need to create an anti-fascist movement, which includes Muslim organisations, across the whole of Germany.

Jules El-Khatib is a Die Linke board member in Nordrhein-Westfalen and Marx21 member in Essen 

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