German National Day celebrations in Dresden overshadowed by bomb blasts and right-wing agitation

A history of far-right activity

On October 3, Germany celebrated the 26th anniversary of its reunification. This year, the official festivites were hosted by the city of Dresden. For two years now, the capital of the East German state of Saxony has been the site of weekly demonstration by the Pegida movement (Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the Occident), a far-right anti-immigration collective with close yet somewhat oblique links to Germany’s new right-wing party, the Alternative for Germany.

Concomitantly, Saxony has recorded the by far highest rate of anti-refugee violence of all German states in recent years. ((https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/10/03/germany-reunified-26-years-ago-but-some-divisions-are-still-strong/ )) Critical questions have been raised about the State’s security and judicial apparatuses, and their personal links with as well as broad institutional sympathies for far-right movements – a criticism that was recently made even by the Saxon Minister of the Economy, Martin Dulig (SPD). ((http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/sachsen-polizei-sympathisiert-laut-minister-martin-dulig-mit-pegida-a-1080343.html ))

Bomb attacks on a mosque and a conference centre

Consequently, security fears ahead of the National Day celebrations ran high. Whilst the authorities’ main attention was focused on potential Islamist plots on October 3, the city was actually rocked by twin blasts on a mosque and a congress centre less than a week before Unity Day.

The self-made explosive device caused extensive damage to the entrance area of the mosque, although the Imam and his family, who had been inside the building at the time, remained unhurt. ((http://www.mdr.de/sachsen/dresden/sprengstoff-anschlaege-in-dresden-100.html )) Due to security concerns, the Imam now contemplates returning to his native Turkey, after nearly 20 years in Dresden. ((http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/2016-10/einheitsfeier-dresden-sachsen-deutsche-einheit-pegida ))

Investigators have not yet been able to apprehend a suspect in this case. Initially, a claim of responsibility was published on a militant left-wing website. Whilst this claim was widely picked-up upon in conservative publications, it subsequently turned out to be a falsification. ((https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/bekennerschreiben-dresden-105.html ))

“Traitors of the people”

The subsequent celebrations on Unity Day thus occurred under tight security control. However, in a widely-criticised move, police planners allocated a central spot to Pegida demonstrators, allowing them to congregate in the very heart of the historic city outside the Church of Our Lady, destroyed during WWII and reconstructed a few years ago as a memorial to peace and understanding. As leading politicians such as Chancellor Merkel and President Gauck arrived at the scene, they were insulted as “Volksverräter” (“traitors of the people”) by the angry crowd. ((http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2016-10/dresden-tag-der-deutschen-einheit-einheitsfest-farce ))

Demonstrators had already directed the same slogan at Dresden’s mayor the previous day when he received representatives of the city’s three mosques in the city hall on the occasion of the Islamic New Year. As the police sought to calm the situation, scuffles broke out that also targeted the mayor. ((http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2016-10/dresden-oberbuergermeister-dirk-hilbert-pegida-poebeleien ))

Rehabilitating old vocabulary

The Unity Day Pegida rally appeared to be even more heavily frequented by full-fledged neo-Nazis than the movement’s usual congregations. Quotes by Joseph Goebbels adorned some of the protestor’s signs, and a black man walking past was vilified by the crowd as spectators broke out in ape-like sounds and shouted “Deport him!” ((http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/2016-10/einheitsfeier-dresden-sachsen-deutsche-einheit-pegida ))

The term “Volksverräter” – originally used by right-wingers in the Weimar Years to disparage the supporters of peace and of the German democratic constitution – has become the battle cry of the Pegida movement. ((http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/dresden-proteste-volksverraeter-aber-gerne-doch-kommentar-a-1115094.html )) Concomitantly, Frauke Petry, leader of the Alternative for Germany, recently suggested that the term “völkisch” should once more receive a positive connotation – again, a word and concept strongly associated with far-right racial ideas of the inter-war years. ((https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article158049653/Wir-wollen-keinen-Buergerkrieg-in-Deutschland.html ))

In this view, the existence of the German Volk as a blood-based community is most strongly threatened by the arrival of Muslims: at Pegida’s main rally on October 3, speakers accused the German government of seeking to exterminate the German population by using “Islam as a weapon of mass destruction”. ((http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/2016-10/einheitsfeier-dresden-sachsen-deutsche-einheit-pegida ))

Questions about police complicity

In a move that appeared to vindicate their critics, the Saxon police not only did not step in as pro-Pegida protestors disrupted the Unity Day celebrations; police in fact appeared to condone these actions: aside from giving pride of place to Pegida by allocating them a spot outside the Church of Our Lady, a policeman used a loudspeaker to wish the gathering crowd of Pegida supporters “a successful day”.

The crowd responded by chanting: “One, two, three, thank you police” (“Eins, zwei, drei, danke Polizei”). Whilst the individual policeman is now facing disciplinary action, the Dresden police as a whole re-emphasised that it conceives of itself as “a guarantor of neutrality”. ((http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/dresden-einheitsfeiern-polizist-wuenschte-pegida-erfolgreichen-tag-a-1115009.html ))

Day of the Open Mosque

Incidentally, October 3 also serves as the ‘Day of the Open Mosque’ in Germany, and thus as an opportunity for the country’s roughly 1,000 mosques to present themselves to the public. The day had been initiated by the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD), one of a number of rivalling Islamic associations, in 1997.

The government’s Commissioner for Integration, Aydan Özoguz (SPD), called upon Germans to use the day of the open mosque to take a stand against Islamophobia. ((http://www.epochtimes.de/politik/deutschland/bewusst-am-tag-der-deutschen-einheit-rund-1000-moscheen-oeffnen-ihre-tueren-a1360804.html )) After the events in Dresden, this stance is surely needed.

Austria Passes ‘Law on Islam’ Requiring Austrian Muslim Groups To Use German-Language Qurans

Austria’s parliament passed a law on Wednesday that seeks to regulate how Islam is administered, singling out its large Muslim minority for treatment not applied to any other religious group.

The “Law on Islam” bans foreign funding for Islamic organizations and requires any group claiming to represent Austrian Muslims to submit and use a standardized German translation of the Koran.

The law met with little opposition from the overwhelmingly Roman Catholic population, was backed by Austria’s Catholic bishops, and was grudgingly accepted by the main Muslim organization. But it upset Turkey’s state religious establishment.

“We want an Islam of the Austrian kind, and not one that is dominated by other countries,” said Sebastian Kurz, the 28-year-old conservative foreign minister – formally the minister for foreign affairs and integration – who is easily Austria’s most popular politician.

Austria’s half a million Muslims make up about 6 percent of the population and are overwhelmingly the families of Turkish migrant workers. Many of their imams are sent and financed by Turkey’s state religious affairs directorate, the Diyanet.

Mehmet Gormez, head of the Diyanet, said before the law was passed that “with this draft legislation, religious freedoms in Austria will have fallen back a hundred years.”

Austria’s biggest Islamic organization, IGGiO, accepted the law, but its youth arm opposed it, as did the Turkish-financed Turkish-Islamic Union in Austria (ATIB), which runs many mosques and has vowed to challenge the bill in the Constitutional Court.

RELATIONS UNPROBLEMATIC

While the government has said Islamist militancy is on the rise, and around 170 people have left Austria to join jihadists in Syria or Iraq, Austria has experienced no Islamist violence of note, and relations with the Muslim community have been relatively unproblematic. Unlike France, Austria has not banned Muslim women from wearing full-face veils in public.

Nevertheless, the opposition far-right Freedom Party, which opposed the bill as too mild, attracts about 25 percent support with an anti-immigrant stance that is also highly critical of Islam. Meanwhile, the ruling Socialist and conservative parties struggle to muster a majority together.

Austria’s neighbor Germany has also experienced an upsurge of anti-Islam sentiment in the form of the weekly PEGIDA protests in Dresden.

These have, however, been met with much larger anti-racism demonstrations and a robust response from Chancellor Angela Merkel, mindful of Nazi Germany’s persecution of Jews, who asserted that “Islam belongs to Germany.”

The Austrian government says the new law strengthens Muslims’ legal status, for example by guaranteeing Islamic pastoral care in hospitals and the army, and protecting Muslims’ rights to eat and produce food according to Islamic rules.

The bill updates a “Law on Islam” dating from 1912 that was intended to guarantee the rights of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s Muslims in the Austro-Hungarian empire. Turkey’s Gormez, who had attended centenary commemorations for the 1912 law, said its replacement would disregard the “morals and laws of coexistence” that Austria had established a century ago. (Additional reporting by Tom Heneghan in Paris and Ece Toksabay in Istanbul; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

German anti-Islam group marches in Britain

Pegida, a populist anti-Islam movement – in Germany. It only held its first march against the “Islamisation of the West” in the German city of Dresden last October; now, it seems, it is ready to spread its message internationally. Branches have been set up in several other countries, including France and Spain, and the Newcastle demonstration next Saturday will be its first in Britain. If it is successful, more marches are planned, for Birmingham and London, as well as Bathgate in Scotland.

It is a remarkably ambitious expansion plan for a group that has proved so shambolic at home. Its spokesmen initially insisted that it had no links to the far-Right, a position that was rather undermined when a picture emerged of its leader, Lutz Bachmann, sporting a Hitler moustache. Yet, for all the chaos, Pegida has clearly touched a nerve. Its weekly marches in Dresden have been attended by as many as 25,000 Germans, and were particularly well-attended in the aftermath of last month’s attacks on Charlie Hebdo.

Organisers expect only a tiny fraction of that figure at the march in Newcastle. Matthew Pope, its UK spokesman, said he hoped 1,000 supporters would show up. Even so, it will be a crucial test for Pegida, to see if it can tap into local disenchantment to build a broad-based movement in Britain to mirror the mass marches in Germany.

But why Newcastle? The number of Muslims in the city nearly doubled in the decade after 2001, but they still only account for around six percent of the overall population, a much lower concentration than in other northern cities such as Bolton and Manchester. The official line – put about by Pope, a 29-year-old born-again Christian from Cambridgeshire – is that the city was deliberately chosen because it is not a regular haunt of the far-Right, so that Pegida would not be tarnished by association.

However, Newcastle United fans have urged far-right activists to stay away from their city, amid growing tensions over the anti-Islamic movement Pegida’s first rally in Britain. NUFC Fans United supporters group made it clear that far-right protesters were not welcome in Newcastle, saying the city was “famous for its tolerance, integration and warmth of spirit”. In a statement, they warned: “There is a fear that Newcastle United supporters who are of the Islamic faith or origin may be singled out for abuse by this group and we say that the authorities cannot allow any of our community, whatever their race, creed or religious belief to be treated in such a manner in our city on match day or any other day.

Assault against Islamic Cultural Center in Dresden

Tensions continue to grow between anti-Islam movement PEGIDA and the German government.
Tensions continue to grow between anti-Islam movement PEGIDA and the German government.

The Islamic Cultural Center “Marwa El-Sherbini” in Dresden has been targeted by anti-Muhammad graffitis. According to a chronic, which has been collected by press releases of the police and media reports, Dresden has witnessed a growing numbers of violent xenophobic attacks against refugees, immigrants and Islamic facilities. The right-wing anti-Islam movement, patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of Europe (PEGIDA) has initiated its marches in Dresden. Several branches have adopted the principal of PEGIDA in further German cities but were less successful in mobilizing adherents.

The Islamic Cultural Center Marwa El-Sherbini has been named after the Muslim woman with Egyptian origins. In 2009, the pregnant woman was stabbed to death by the accused at court process. His motive was recorded to be xenophobic.

Anti-Islam protests in Germany after Charlie Hebdo

The German anti-Islam protest movement European Patriots against the Islamization of Europe (PEGIDA) has mobilized less demonstrators within the last week. The thirteenth event of PEGIDA in Dresden mobilized approximately 17.000 adherents, while earlier events were supported by far more than 25.000 demonstrators. Anti-PEGIDA initiatives such as “Dresden nazifrei” gathered 5.000 supporters.

Some organizers of PEGIDA such as Kathrin Oertel have been invited to German talk shows at Prime time. Oertel blamed left-wing parties to ignore the “reasons for violence”, while avoiding any clear distance towards hooligans and Neonazi groups.

While German media and politicians discuss the causes and effects of PEGIDA on Germany, debating how to deal with the protesters, the Technical University of Dresden presented numbers of a study conducted three weeks ago. 400 demonstrators have been asked to participate and respond to questionnaires. Only 35% agreed to participate in the study. The aim was to identify the “typical” PEGIDA demonstrator. According the study, typical demonstrators are well educated, in the mid 40s and mainly male. These demonstrators are not religious and are not affiliated to any party. They are motivated by dissatisfaction with politics, media and public. Also, protesters share fundamental resentments against immigrants and asylum seekers, emphasizing their concerns about Muslims and Islam. However, the protests are interpreted as public articulation against the political elites.

In an interview, Ender Cetin the representative of the Sehitlik mosque, which is part of the Turkish Islamic Union and Institute for Religion (Ditib) in the district of Neukölln Berlin and the preacher Abdul Adhim Kamouss raised their concerns about public opinion towards Islam. Kamouss has been observed by the security authorities and said to be close to Salafist circles in Berlin. According to both, public need to understand that Islam and terror would share nothing in common. Kamouss and Cetin condemned the attacks against Charlie Hebdo as a brutal act and called their community members to participate at the manifestation for freedom of speech and against violence. Kamouss emphasized the importance of freedom of speech but expressed his regret about the offending character of the cartoons. These images would incite people and an illegal act against minorities. Dialogue would be the key to avoid hatred and terror as mosques and Islamic centers have been targets of assaults throughout the last months.

In Germany, a new wave of demonstrations against Muslims and refugees

A new alliance called “Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the occident” (PEGIDA), have initiated demonstrations in the city of Dresden.

PEGIDA on a Monday "evening walk" in Dresden, November 10, 2014. (Image source: Filmproduktionen video screenshot)
PEGIDA on a Monday “evening walk” in Dresden, November 10, 2014. (Image source: Filmproduktionen video screenshot)

According to police authorities, more than 5000 people participated at the demonstrations. These demonstrations mark a further wave of protests against Muslim immigrants and refugees after the right-wing initiative “Hooligans against Salafists” (HoGeSa), which were demonstrating in Hannover and Cologne last month.

Dresden: Commemoration for Young Egyptian Murder Victim

01.07.2011
Several politicians and local residents participated in a commemoration service for Marwa El-Sherbini, a 32-year-old Egyptian woman who was killed in a court in Dresden two years ago. El-Sherbini, who was a witness in a criminal case, was stabbed by the defendant, against whom she had testified, during an appeal hearing. During the commemoration service, the Central Council of Muslims in Germany described the murder as the “tip of the iceberg” and warned not to under-estimate Islamophobic tendencies in Germany.

“Kirchentag”: Federal President Wulff Calls for Integration of Islam

02.06.2011/ 03.06.2011

From June 1st – 5th, Protestant Christians from across Germany came together in Dresden for their biannual convention called “Kirchentag” (“Church Day”). Amongst the topics for discussion at various events throughout the five days were controversial political issues, such as Germany’s abandoning of nuclear power and sexual abuse scandals within the Church. German President Christian Wulff participated in a panel discussion and spoke about the integration of immigrants; he reiterated his view that Islam was now a part of German society, which he had previously stated in his speech on German Reunification Day on October 3rd, 2010.

Dresden Mosque Vandalized by Islamophobes

18.05.2011
On Tuesday night, someone spray-painted inflammatory anti-Muslim graffiti on a mosque in Dresden. While the perpetrators are unknown, the police suspect a politically motivated offense. Due to its construction and the lack of a minaret, the mosque cannot easily be identified as a place of worship. It has been the first attack of this kind.

Family of ‘veil martyr’ files case against Dresden judges

3 December 2010

The family of the pregnant Egyptian woman murdered last year in a Dresden courtroom has filed a case against the two judges on the bench that day for not preventing her death.
Marwa El-Sherbini, dubbed the “veil martyr,” was stabbed to death in a courtroom in July 2009 in a racially motivated crime that outraged the Muslim world.
The 31-year-old was stabbed by Russian-born Alex Wiens at least 16 times with an 18-centimetre kitchen knife. She was three-months pregnant with her second child. Her three-year-old son, Mustafa, watched her bleed to death in the courtroom. Sherbini’s husband, Egyptian geneticist Elwy Okaz, rushed to her aid but was also stabbed and then shot in the leg by a police officer who was unsure who was the attacker. Wiens confessed to the crime during his trial, which resulted in a life sentence.
Sherbini’s family has now filed a case to force the higher regional court to review their accusations against the court officials present the day of the murder, who they say did not properly insure her safety