Anti-Islam protests ‘paint a twisted picture’ of German sentiment

Anti-Islam protests in Düsseldorf, Germany. [Bündnis 90/Die Grünen Nordrhein-Westfalen/Flickr]

The “Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West” (Pegida) is winning over more and more supporters, causing Germany’s Justice Minister Heiko Maas to call on all parties to openly denounce the right-wing, populist alliance. EURACTIV Germany reports.

According to local police forces, 10,000 people participated in a demonstration in Dresden Monday (8 December) evening as a part of the initiative “Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West” (Pegida). At the same time, 9,000 people took to the streets to protest xenophobia and nationalism.

In recent weeks, thousands have turned out to protest asylum abuses, Muslim extremism, the alleged watering-down of German culture, and supposed “Islamisation of the West”.

Federal Justice Minister Heiko Maas called on parties to join in opposing the movements. “Even in political conflicts of opinion, there are boundaries. All political parties should clearly distance themselves from these protests,” Maas told Spiegel Online.

“We must not remain silent when xenophobic sentiments are being directed at people who have lost everything and come to us seeking help,” Maas contended. The protests paint a twisted picture of sentiment in the country, he said. “We must make it clear that these demonstrations are not a majority.”

For starters, Internal Affairs Minister Thomas de Maizière said in an interview on the television channel Phoenix, the description “Patriotic Europeans” is “an impertinence”. “We do not need any extra lessons on that. And the leading representatives are not exactly beacons of patriotism and legal compliance,” said the Internal Affairs Minister in a statement at the Christian Democratic Union’s (CDU) party convention in Cologne.

De Maizière also emphasised, “that we as Christian Democrats also have a responsibility with regard to refugees who come to us”.

“We want to have justice. That means protecting those who deserve protection. And those who do not deserve protection should leave our country again,” de Maizière said.

The minister from the CDU said he recently tabled a law dealing with the issue, which was approved in the cabinet. In that sense, de Maizière said he could understand part of the concern. “But those who are organising demonstrations are the worst possible advisors to people who have these concerns,” the centre-right politician said.

Slogans used by demonstrators show that xenophobia and anti-Semitic racism has become socially acceptable, said Aiman Mazyek, chairman of the Central Council of Muslims.

A lack of clear statements thus far from German politicians is one of the contributing factors – starting with Angela Merkel, said Mayzek in Dresden.

In Germany’s non-Muslim population, many view Muslims as different and not properly German – and believe they have no right to make any demands. This was among the results of a representative study titled “Postmigrant Germany”, which was released last week in Berlin. The research, based on results from over 8,200 respondents, was conducted at the Humboldt University to Berlin in the Berlin Institute for Empirical Integration and Migration Research (BIM).

More than one-fourth (27%) of those surveyed in the study said they see Muslims as being more aggressive than themselves. One-third (30%) said they do not believe that Muslims are as education-oriented as their own group. Asked to define their “own group”, around 40% responded with “we Germans”, “the German population”, “German society” or a similar description.

Likewise, Muslim and German were mainly considered opposing categories, and Muslims were often excluded from the definition of the “German we”.

A considerable majority (67%) of respondents said they believe Muslims in Germany have a right to make demands and the same percentage said muslims should be afforded more recognition. But at the same time, one-fifth (20%) said when Muslims make demands, it is a sign of impertinence, and 17% consider it a sign of ungratefulness.

Ambivalence was particularly noticeable in positions on political issues regarding structural, cultural and socio-spatial as well as symbolic recognition and participation. 69% of the population said they were in favour of Islamic religion lessons. Meanwhile half of Germans (48%) said teachers should not be allowed to wear a headscarf, and 42% support restricting the construction of mosques.

“The sweeping and negative mindsets that the study unearthed regarding Muslims, present a considerable threat to good relations in Germany,” explained Aydan Özo?uz, the German government’s Commissioner for Migration, Refugees and Integration in the Federal Chancellery.

“Right-wing populist parties use precisely such false and simple images to create capital for their misanthropic goals,” said Özo?uz, “For this reason, we must all – particularly those in politics – decisively oppose these false images, prejudices and stereotypes.”

Wednesday (10 December) marks the annual international day of human rights, when members of the Committee for Legal Affairs and Human Rights of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly will attend the year’s final meeting in Paris.

There, 84 parliamentary members will discuss the future of the protection system for the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), something the German Institute for Human Rights hopes will help ensure the provision’s viability.

Germany's Turkish community has around 3 million members. In the sixties, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and France asked Turkey to provide a labour force for their booming employment markets. A flow of hundreds of thousands of Turkish 'guest workers' followed.

However, following the economic stagnation of 1967, Western countries stopped issuing work permits. Following the 1973 oil crisis, they declared that they had abolished immigration for employment purposes.

According to the results of an Interior Ministry study released in 2010, Turks are the minority group in Germany with the most pronounced integration problems. The study said around one in five Turks living in Germany spoke either "bad" or "no German at all" and that language difficulties were the main obstacle to the successful integration of Turkish immigrants.

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