Rick Noack, CNN, January 12, 2015
Anti-Islam protesters gathered Monday in the German city of Dresden, with some carrying banners with the names of those killed in the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris.
It is the 12th march in Dresden called by the protest group Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West, or PEGIDA, since October. Dresden police say the number of people attending these rallies has increased from an estimated 350 protesters on October 20 to 18,000 on January 5 and 25,000 people on Monday.
The PEGIDA movement emerged last year in the eastern German city. About 2% of Dresden’s inhabitants are foreigners.
On its Facebook page, PEGIDA says citizens should “wake from their slumber” and recognize the “danger in the Islamic ideology.” “Stop the radical Salfists’ Islamization,” it urges. “As a society, we should give people the chance to integrate, but we should not allow ourselves to be Islamized thereby losing our freedom and democracy!”
The group claims to have supporters in more than 30 German cities and 18 countries in Europe. A PEGIDA group in Norway has also called for demonstrators to gather outside the Town Hall in the capital, Oslo, to show support for the French and demonstrate opposition to what it calls the “Islamification of Norway.”
In Dresden, organizers earlier announced that Monday’s rally would commemorate the victims of last week’s attacks in Paris.
German Justice Minister Heiko Maas called upon the organizers to cancel the protests. In an interview with German newspaper Bild, he said, “The victims do not deserve to be abused by such agitators.”
The head of Germany’s CSU party, Horst Seehofer, told ARD Television: “I want to request those responsible . . . that they cancel their demonstrations for the foreseeable future, especially at a time when the whole world is shocked about the events in Paris.”
A representative for PEGIDA in Dresden told CNN that the march would not be canceled.
“They are putting us on the same level as radical extremists,” said Kathrin Oertel, one of PEGIDA’s leaders. “We have the right to express our condolences to the victims of Friday’s terror attack.”
“Muslims are only a tiny fraction of the population, but they’re so dominant in pushing for their demands that German culture is being pushed back,” said Oertel. “We want to live peacefully with all immigrants here in Germany, but we as Germans demand that they assimilate themselves into our culture and that they live in accordance with our laws and don’t build up parallel societies.”
At a planned protest in nearby Leipzig–organized by a group similar to PEGIDA–protest organizers had agreed to a city ban on showing anti-Mohammed cartoons, but city authorities revoked their ban Monday following criticism that it limited free speech.
On Saturday, 35,000 people assembled in front of Dresden’s landmark site, the Frauenkirche, to advocate for tolerance. Local politicians emphasized that they were open for a dialogue with PEGIDA protesters.
A poll by German newspaper Der Spiegel in December found that 34% of respondents believed their country was becoming “increasingly Islamicized.”