Over the last couple months, there’s been a worrisome trend happening in the German city of Dresden. Every Monday night for the last nine weeks, a group named PEGIDA, or Patriotic Europeans Against Islamization of the West, has held a rally and a march through Dresden.
The rallies started in October in response to clashes between Kurds and Sunni Muslims over the West’s intervention in Syria. What started as a fairly small protest rally of 200 people the first week has grown over time. On Monday, 15,000 people marched through the streets carrying banners bearing slogans such as “Zero tolerance towards criminal asylum seekers”, “Protect our homeland” and “Stop the Islamization”.
The stated reasons for the protests will sound familiar to anybody who pays attention to right wing politics here in the US, or anywhere in the world for that matter. A minority group (in this case, Muslim refugees; in the US, it’s Hispanics) are made out to be a threat to the economic well being and cultural stability of the country. Through fearmongering and social media, the instigators infect otherwise decent people with their message of hate, extreme nationalism and intolerance. Dresden is the site of Germany’s largest annual neo-Nazi march, which commemorates the bombing of the city during World War II, so such extremism isn’t unknown to its citizens.
Ralf Jäger, the Social Democratic (SPD) interior minister for North Rhine Westphalia state, called PEGIDA’s members “neo-Nazis in pinstripes,” thus leading to them being called “pinstriped Nazis” in the international press.
Chancellor Angela Merkel has publicly condemned the rallies. In a statement last Friday, the chancellor’s spokeswoman, Christiane Wirtz, said that there was “no place in Germany” for hatred of Muslims or any other religious or racial group.
She went on to say; “In the name of the government and the chancellor I can say quite clearly that there is no place in Germany for religious hatred, no matter which religion people belong to. There is no place for Islamophobia, anti-Semitism or any form of xenophobia or racism,”
Not all the people feel this way, of course. Monday’s march drew a counter-protest that an estimated 5,000 people attended. And, in the city of Cologne, about 15,000 people demonstrated to promote tolerance and open-mindedness, under the motto: “You are Cologne – no Nazis here.”
Meanwhile, the world had watched in shock and horror as Man Haron Monis, an Iranian refugee and self-described Muslim cleric who was granted political asylum in Australia thirteen years before, held 17 people hostage in a Sydney cafe for 16 hours before being killed by police. Two hostages died during the siege.
How did Australians react to the news that a Muslim was holding these people hostage? They created a hashtag to show their support and solidarity with local Muslims that might feel threatened; #illridewithyou. The hashtag went viral, as people around the world tweeted in solidarity with taking a stance against Islamophobia and racism.
So, we have two different cities halfway around the world from each other. One city has 15,000 people marching through the streets preaching intolerance and hate towards Muslims who for the most part are escaping war and other horrors in their native countries and just want to have a better life. In the other, a Muslim commits a horrific crime, and the people rally to show their support for the other Muslims in the community, knowing that they aren’t responsible for the other’s actions. One city shows fear; the other shows love. The contrast couldn’t be sharper