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PEGIDA-Demonstration in Dresden
Image: Reuters/H. Hanschke

Fanning the flames of the Pegida activists

Peter Hille / cc
January 8, 2015

The latest terrorist attack in Paris could well provide more fuel for anti-Islam movements across Europe. So far, though, there does not seem to be an organized European network of anti-Islamists.


Grief, outrage and revulsion have been the responses around the world to the presumed Islamist attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris. It has been condemned in the strongest tones by the German Chancellery, by the Kremlin in Russia, by Brussels and the Vatican. The Arab League in Cairo has condemned it; numerous heads of government have expressed their dismay. The British prime minister, David Cameron, described the attack, in which twelve people died, as an act of barbarism. “We stand squarely for free speech and democracy,” he said. “These people will never be able to take us off those values.”

The overwhelming reaction in anti-Islam circles is that this is something they have always known and warned about. "Does a tragedy like this have to happen in Germany first?" the organizers of the movement "Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West" (Pegida) are asking on the group's Facebook page.

"Those who harbor fears about Muslims now feel validated by the Paris attack," says Nico Lange from the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Berlin. "That will also have repercussions on the Pegida protests, because these are precisely the fears that drive the Pegida movement.”

European patriots?

More than 18,000 people demonstrated in Dresden on Monday against the supposed Islamization of Europe. Since the end of October the protest march has got bigger and bigger every week. After the attack in Paris the Pegida organizers can reckon with more participants this coming Monday. "They work with very simple thought patterns, and convey the message that terrorism, like what has happened in Paris, is typical for all Muslims who immigrate to the European Union,” says Lange.

Will the anti-Islam movement now become a European one in the wake of the Paris attack? Until now Pegida has remained more of a German phenomenon, says Gilbert Casasus, a political scientist at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland. “It's not a phenomenon that emerged from a political party but through citizens who wanted to express their discontent and anger,” he says. "Unlike the French National Front, Austria's Freedom Party, the Swiss People's Party or UKIP in Britain, Pegida is not a party." Casasus says that in many countries in Europe anti-Islam and far-right populist currents are well organized in political parties, but less so in Germany.

Frankreich Terror Presse Anschlag auf Charlie Hebdo in Paris
At least 12 people were killed in a terror attack at in ParisImage: picture-alliance/dpa/AP Photo/T. Camus

French National Front distances itself

The evening before the attack in Paris, the French National Front (FN) declared that the debate being highlighted by Pegida in Germany was a very important one. However, the FN in fact seems to want little to do with Pegida, with its rather chaotic-seeming leadership and diffuse target group.

"Something like Pegida cannot be a substitute for a party," said Ludovic de Danne, foreign policy adviser of National Front chairman Marine Le Pen, in an interview with the French radio station Europe1. Might Marine Le Pen jump on the Pegida bandwagon? Unthinkable, de Danne said. "She is the president of the most important party in France, which has already made this subject its own. I don't think she should connect herself with spontaneous initiatives like these."

In France, too, there are anti-Islam movements that are not organized into parties. These may now experience a surge in popularity. There is the "Riposte Laique" (Secular Riposte), for example. This is known for, among other things, organizing banquets with wine and pork in Muslim areas as a provocation. The movement differs, however, from the German Pegida movement in that it presents itself not as pseudo-Christian but as strictly anti-religious. “The Pegida people singing Christmas carols is an expression of a false understanding of Christianity,” Casasus said. “You don't see that in similar movements in other European countries."

Deutschland PEGIDA Demonstration in Berlin
Pegida supporters fear the spread of IslamImage: O. Andersen/AFP/Getty Images

No Pegida network

There are now Norwegian, Austrian, Swedish, Spanish, Italian and French Pegida pages on Facebook, but there isn't much going on there: Anti-Islamization commentaries alternate with people exchanging insults. A few hours after the attack the majority of the expressions of condolence posted on the French Pegida page came from Germany. The Danish offshoot of Pegida announced that it should now bring a “Spadseretur mod ekstrem islam” to Copenhagen - the Danish organizers want to imitate the mass protest in Dresden with a walk through Copenhagen's Rosenborg Castle Gardens.

"There is an ideological connection: against parliamentarianism, against party democracy, against the media, against Europe, against migration," says Nico Lang from the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. "But I don't think a network of these ‘anti'-movements exists in Europe."

PEGIDA-Demonstration in Dresden
Around 18,000 people marched Monday in Dresden against the 'Islamization of the West.'Image: Reuters/H. Hanschke

Danger in Germany?

Rather, Europe is distinguished by its status as "a common region of democratic values," said the German Minister of the Interior, Thomas de Maiziere in Berlin on Wednesday in response to the attacks in Paris. That, he said, was why the threat was also a common one. However, he went on to say that at present there was no concrete indication that similar attacks were being planned in Germany.

The chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, Aiman Mazyek, speaking to the Rheinische Post newspaper, described the Paris attack as a "betrayal of the Islamic faith." However, he said that he feared the terrorist attack in Paris would provide fuel for anti-Islamic movements in Germany nonetheless.

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