One and a half weeks ago, Eliana Benador published an article about the dangers of Islamization in Europe, while specifically mentioning Germany and lamenting the endorsement of Islam by the German political elite. The article mentioned the new anti-Islam movement PEGIDA, continuing to idealize it as a community of patriotic Germans eager to defend their country from radical Islam, and portraying Merkel and others who reject PEGIDA as “Islamo-fascists” who are “surrendering their country”.
In this article, I aim to shed some light on the sentiments and impulses behind PEGIDA, to make clear that it is not the right answer to radical Islam. Before I start, however, I would like to point out the ludicrous (and completely unnecessary) Hitler comparisons Ms Benador somehow felt compelled to make, without any evidence for them:
“Islamo-fascist is the term that comes to mind for Frau Merkel, who is following in the footsteps of her colleague Adolf Hitler who had close connections with none other than the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem back in the early 1940s. The meetings between the most important Islamic figure of those times and the Führer, were recorded for posterity.”
“The Nazi leader may be turning over in his grave, seeing his contemporary heirs, the liberal fascists from the left, serving Germany on a silver platter to Islam, ready to impose Shariah in Germany as soon as democratic elections will allow.”
Not only is this quite over the top, but also highly ignorant towards historical, political and social processes of Germany. Such comparisons are cringeworthy at best and dangerous at worst. To say that Merkel or the German political left (with whom Merkel doesn’t exactly hold much in common) are somehow an ideological offspring of Hitler is just, forgive me, borderline bananas. Please tell me when an Islamic Shariah party will be participating in German elections, I am very curious.
Having said that, I will now turn towards an explanation of the PEGIDA phenomenon.
Why do people protest? Often it is done because they want change. In Germany, protest more than anything was an expression of wanting to keep the status quo: Your house in the suburbs, your two cars, an ordinary life, paying your taxes, receiving your pension. Whenever this lifestyle was threatened, people flocked onto the streets. Nuclear energy seems dangerous? Protest. Renewable energies require having more high voltage lines running through your backyard? Protest. Immigrants scare you? Protest. It never mattered if the immigrants were Muslims – the infamous riots of Hoyerswerda in 1991 and Rostock in 1992 targeted primarily refugees and asylum seekers from Asia and Africa, with drunken mobs attacking the refugees’ buildings, the police force, and more than once shouting Nazi slogans or raising their hands for the infamous salute.
The PEGIDA protests are different. They, and their various offshoot groups, are an impervious amalgam of mostly ordinary, law-abiding citizens and conservatives, but also right-wing hooligans and occasionally flat-out neo-Nazis. It is not easy to keep an overview, but one thing is clear: PEGIDA is driven by a diffuse fear, a new German Angst of anything that is foreign or only perceived as such, the fear of being overwhelmed by the craziness of the world, by anything that may threaten the small, cozy, manageable world of the ordinary taxpayer.
The substantial number of counter-protests, the continuing influence of the established political parties and the democratic state structure as such keep the movement in check and prevent it from being more united and having a unified leadership. But, as a thought experiment, imagine how in the absence of such checks and balances, it would be all too easy to manipulate the concerned and angry masses, giving them a leader, someone they could look up to to solve their problems. Sounds familiar? This is what happened in the last years of the Weimar Republic and led to the election of Adolf Hitler as Chancellor.
No, I am not saying that today’s situation is comparable to the Weimar Republic, but the threats to democracy are coming from radical Islam as well as from the authoritarian mindset evoked by PEGIDA. Unlike in France or the United States, for example, German patriotism and nationalism has never been in the spirit of republicanism or liberalism; it was ethnic, evoking the myth of a German Volk bound together by a common ancestry. In its most perverted, racial form, this was the ideological foundation of the Third Reich; and while this is obviously an episode of a dark past and now officially frowned upon in Germany, the old spirit that despises anything that isn’t German (or Western European, in that regard) is still alive. You just have to look closely. Hitler did not ally with the Mufti of Jerusalem because he loved Muslims so much, but out of a pragmatic need to ally with a force that hated and despised Jews just as much as he did.
I am well aware of how exaggerated this might sound; after all, from an outsider’s perspective, PEGIDA is indeed just a movement of worried patriots concerned about Islamization. But under the surface lurks darkness. A person equipped with an Israeli flag curiously joined the demonstration – preservation of “Judeo-Christian” culture is one of PEGIDA’s officially stated goals. The flag provoked a storm of insults and hostility, which is no wonder if you bear in mind that, if statistics are to be believed, one in four or five Germans harbors antisemitic thoughts or hostility towards Israel. It is no coincidence that this often occurs in regions where people have little knowledge about or contact to Jews, Muslims, or any kind of foreigners, for that matter: Dresden, the hub of PEGIDA, has about 2% foreigners in total, much less Muslim ones. In the entire country, Muslims make about 5 % of the population. Is this what Islamization looks like? Call me naïve, but I think it takes much more than that. A loud, but small minority of radicals cursing the very societies they live in, preaching violence (and sometimes acting on it) are not Islamization. They are a significant danger which has to be dealt with, but without being blown out of proportion and used for scaremongering.
Keep in mind: I am not an “ignorant leftist” who pretends it is all sunshine and happiness with Muslims in Europe. The dangers coming from Islamist radicalization are grave and we all recently witnessed a horrifying example of such. In Germany especially, severe problems with “parallel societies” of immigrants do exist, even though to a much lesser degree than in France or the UK. But fighting radical Islam by siding with a movement endorsing, or at the very least silently complying with xenophobic and antisemitic views is the wrong move. These people are not just against Muslims – they are against anyone who is not like them. They march in the spirit of authoritarianism and ethnic isolation.
The enemy of your enemy is not necessarily your friend. He can be your enemy, too.