Anti-immigrant group should be condemned

PEGIDA, a group against the “Islamization of the West,” sets a dangerous precedent for immigration

Gilad Streiner argues “Anti-Islamization” group is xenophobic and promotes harmful rhetoric.
Gilad Streiner argues “Anti-Islamization” group is xenophobic and promotes harmful rhetoric.

Gilad Streiner, ArtSci ’16

Voices of intolerance are growing louder in Germany.

A grassroots, anti-immigration organization founded in the predominantly white province of Saxony and known as Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West (PEGIDA) is quickly gaining momentum.

PEGIDA-organized protests have grown rapidly since the group formed in October. Their most recent rally — held in Dresden five days after the brutal attack on the Charlie Hebdo headquarters in Paris —drew a crowd of 25,000.

An un-dated, anonymous manifesto released by PEGIDA online in December outlines the group’s general demands for stricter controls on asylum rules and tighter immigration policies.

While the group’s founders claim they aren’t racist, the protests they organize are blatantly xenophobic.

Their view of Islam as a misogynistic and violent political ideology that undermines and will ultimately upend their traditional way of life is contributing to a growing culture in Germany that seeks to reject Muslims and conserve a “national identity”.

As a result, PEGIDA tends to attract a specific type of individual — one who would seek to shun a fellow German and human being simply because of their religion or the colour of their skin.

This radical, Islamophobic message is fundamentally flawed.

Condemnation of PEGIDA is required both in Europe and the international community so that discussions on immigration policy can be discussed without xenophobic and racist discourse.

As German chancellor Angela Merkel said in January, people with these views have “prejudice, coldness, even hatred in their hearts”.

This doesn’t mean everyone attending PEGIDA rallies has “hatred in their hearts”. But the hateful and racially driven rhetoric of PEGIDA rallies isn’t conducive to fostering a peaceful, tolerant society.

Productive discourse on relevant issues comes to a halt when messages are conveyed with spite and a line is crossed when people begin to demonize Muslims as a whole, as some demonstrators do when they chant nationalistic slogans denouncing foreigners.

This type of speech can be very damaging to a country’s collective well-being. It also has a profound impact on Muslims living in Germany.

Many of the people targeted by these messages have come from war-torn countries, such as Afghanistan, Syria or Iraq. Some have lost more than just their livelihoods and possessions.

Condemning them because they were brought up with a different religion or set of values cultivates a culture filled with malevolence. Creating an ethnic divide such as this risks igniting a dangerous cycle in which immigrants feel like they must assimilate or risk ostracization, resulting in a schism that’s difficult to overcome.

Having a strong national identity — as the PEGIDA supporters claim to want — isn’t mutually exclusive from a multicultural population.

Unfortunately, Germany’s anti-immigration sentiment is an issue that has been brewing since the start of this millennium.

With 180,000 asylum seekers in 2014, Germany is a world leader in accepting refugees and immigrants. As economic hardship spreads throughout Europe and housing and social services face added strain, it’s understandable that citizens might prefer their government to restrict immigration and put their interests first.

But Europe’s population includes millions of Muslim immigrants that have lived in Germany for a long time and have done much for their adopted country.

Regrettably, PEGIDA’s growth isn’t contained to Germany, and it’s representative of more significant xenophobic undertones that exist throughout Europe. Across the continent, several right-wing political parties are using the recent violence in Paris and the subsequent international attention to push their agendas.

In Italy, politician Matteo Salvini echoed PEGIDA’s anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric. He has claimed that Muslims in Italy try to impose a way of life that’s incompatible with a traditional Italian lifestyle and called for a ban on the building of new mosques and Muslim cultural centres.

Dutch Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders wants tougher border control and to stop the flow of immigrants from Islamic countries. “No one can deny the truth any longer. It is Islam that inspires these murders every time again,” Wilders said earlier this month.

But, there are certain measures that can and should be taken to underscore the importance of an accepting and united country.

A “counter-culture” that opposes PEGIDA needs to develop to change the conversation surrounding immigration in Europe and address the root of the issue.

Such action has already been exemplified in anti-PEGIDA rallies across Germany and the rest of Europe, such as the one in Dresden on Jan. 10, where 35,000 protestors gathered in the birthplace of PEGIDA to send the message that Germany is an open and accepting country.

To solidify the message these movements send, they should be praised and attended by influential social, political and religious figures that disagree with PEGIDA, such as the German chancellor Merkel.

In the face of prejudice, these displays of unity are integral in showing that Islamophobia isn’t Germany’s dominant ideology and that despite the rise of organizations such as PEGIDA, tolerance remains a core European value.

Gilad Streiner is a third-year physics major.

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