Tommy Robinson: The man behind the British version of Pegida

English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson is now the UK co-ordinator for the anti-Islamist movement Pegida, which is launching next week in Britain.

It’s the latest twist in Robinson’s controversial life. Robinson’s eventful career has seen him briefly embrace anti-extremist think tank Quilliam and serve jail sentences for mortgage fraud and a passport offence.

In the city of Dresden, where “anti-Islamisation” group Pegida originated, weekly demonstrations attract thousands of middle-class Germans. Now, 33-year-old Robinson is hoping the movement can attract a similar demographic in Britain, in contrast to the EDL, whose events became notorious for loutish behaviour and alcohol-fuelled violence.

“We’re isolated, away from pubs. We are going to walk from here in silence because now we are trying to create a passive resistance to what’s happening.

“We are taking the whole football culture, which was embedded in the EDL, out of it and we are trying to create a safe environment,” he adds. Robinson founded the EDL in 2009, after Islamist extremists shouted abuse at troops during a march in his home town of Luton. Robinson promises that when Pegida march, anyone who shouts or shows any sign of aggression will be removed.

But while the tactics may have changed, Robinson’s fiercely anti-Islamic views show no sign of having mellowed. He’s calling for a halt to all immigration by Muslims, the closure of religious Sharia courts, a ban on the wearing of the burqa in public, and an end to the building of new mosques. Suggest that any of these ideas might be considered extremist, and he bridles. “If people wish to be a religious Muslim inside their home, then fine,” he says.

From Robinson’s perspective, the extremist views represented by groups such as the so-called Islamic State are indistinguishable from devout Islam, even though numerous mainstream Muslim organisations have condemned the jihadists and their interpretation of the Koran.

Pegida in London: British supporters of anti-‘Islamisation’ group rally in Downing Street

The British offshoot of German anti-“Islamisation” group Pegida held its first protest in London this afternoon, marching to Downing Street. Pegida UK said the rally intended to “raise awareness of the detrimental affect radical Islam and slack border controls/mass immigration are having on our country”.

Fewer than 100 supporters waving the Union Flag and St George’s cross were met by anti-fascist counter demonstrators as the two groups were separated by a heavy police presence. They traded songs, chants and insults across a line of officers as ambulances and riot police stood by to intervene. A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police said the force had an “appropriate policing plan in place” and would close roads if necessary.

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.

PEGIDA UK marches to be in Britain

A German group that has made headlines – and drawn criticism – worldwide by organizing mass marches against the supposed “Islamisation of Europe” has now spawned a chapter in the United Kingdom, one that wants to hold demonstrations in two English cities in the coming weeks.

Patriotic Europeans Against Islamisation of the West, better known by its German acronym Pegida, is the mobilizing force behind a series of weekly demonstrations held every Monday in the eastern German city of Dresden. The marches have pulled up to 25,000 people at a time into the streets to protest against what they see as the spread of Muslim culture inside historically Christian parts of Europe.

Led by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, equally large numbers of people have taken to the streets across Germany to protest against what they see as Pegida’s dangerous xenophobia. The group’s image problem worsened on Wednesday, when Pegida co-founder Lutz Bachmann resigned following the publication of a photograph of him posing as Adolf Hitler.

More than 10,000 people have clicked “like” for Pegida UK’s manifesto since the group launched on Facebook on Jan. 4. Two founders of the British chapter – who spoke to The Globe and Mail on the condition their family names not be used – say the movement is now planning to test whether those who support it online are willing to take to the streets.

However, the head of the German anti-Islamisation movement Pegida has stepped down after a picture of him posing as Adolf Hitler went viral. Lutz Bachmann, 41, a butcher’s son from Dresden and co-founder of the organisation, was seen as Pegida’s figurehead and his resignation throws the future of the group into doubt. Pegida’s popularity has led to widespread fears that Germany is in the grip of a new breed of far-right ideologues, and the picture raised questions about the group’s allegiance to the far-right scene.

In Germany, graffiti and arson damage mosques and refugee camps

Unknown perpetrators have smudged the unfinished body shell of a mosque in the city of Dormagen with swastika Nazi symbols. (Photo: DPA)
Unknown perpetrators have smudged the unfinished body shell of a mosque in the city of Dormagen with swastika Nazi symbols. (Photo: DPA)

Unknown perpetrators have smudged the unfinished body shell of a mosque in the city of Dormagen with swastika Nazi symbols. The police refused to draw correlations between the assault and the current PEGIDA protests. Police and security authorities have initiated investigation, expecting that the assaults are politically motivated.

At the same time, a fire assault has taken place against a refugee camp in the small German city of Vorra. The event has been condemned by all major parties. Some went as far as to connect it, at least ideally with the PEGIDA protests. The General Secretary of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), Yasmin Fahimi described PEGIDA as the “spiritual arsonist” of attacks against foreigners. The commissioner for integration, the minister of State Aydan Özoğuz (SPD) condemned the assaults. Referring to the discovery of the right-wing terrorist group National-Social Underground (NSU), these assaults demonstrate the deep hatred against human beings and the potential threat caused by right-wing extremists, he declared.

The mobilization of PEGIDA and the German debate on Islam and immigration

Pegida supporters march against perceived Islamization in Dresden, German. (Robert Michael/AFP/Getty Images)
Pegida supporters march against perceived Islamization in Dresden, German. (Robert Michael/AFP/Getty Images)

The right-wing protest movement Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the occident (PEGIDA) has provoked a broad discussion within German public on issues such as racism, refugees, Muslim immigrants and fatigue. Approximately 15.000 people have been joining the Monday marches, which take place every Monday in the city of Dresden, in East Germany. Other PEGIDA branches have initiated marches in cities in North-Rhine Westphalia, such as Bonn and Düsseldorf, in order to broaden the range of the movement.

The movement claims to march across Germany against the “Islamization” and “illegal” immigrants, who are said to exploit the German economy and to free ride the social welfare system of the Federal Republic.

A significant number of PEGIDA´s protestors are mainstream Germans coming from each socio-economic and political scale of society. However, some of the leading members and organizers of PEGIDA belong to the extreme right-wing movement, are active Neo-Nazis and possess criminal records.

According to a YouGov public opinion poll conducted between December 16 and December 18 2014, 49% of all Germans show understanding for the demonstrations of PEGIDA. While 30% of Germans show full understanding for the protests, 19% do partly agree with the claims of PEGIDA and 23% reject the protests. PEGIDA´s protest issues are accepted by 73% of Germans, which raise their concerns about the spread of Islam in Germany. The feeling of phobia (Angst, in German) towards refugee flows is highly recognizable when asking about the number of asylum seekers. Approximately 59% of Germans agree with the statement that Germany accepts “too many” refugees, while 30% disagree with the refugee policy of the German State accepting “clearly too many” refugees.

Representatives of the government, while condemning the protests, showed some propensity for dialogue and understanding. The former president of the German Federal parliament Wolfgang Thierse spoke in favor of dialogue with PEGIDA. “Politics needs better explanation”, he added. He continued by stating the need for politicians to explain the necessity of immigration. While one should confront Neo-Nazis, he said, he should also avoid to criminalize tens of thousands of citizens. According to Mt. Thierse, this answer is too simple as displacement, denationalization and fears (Angst) of people caused by Islamist terror require attention by politicians.
In the same line, the Christian Democratic Federal Minister of Interior, Thomas de Maizière (CDU), showed concern but also understanding for the issues of the demonstrators of PEGIDA. The speaker of the Federal government Steffen Seibert also condemned any kind of racism and hatred against religious or ethnic minorities. However, he said, one needs to consider all aspects of immigration, informing “concerned citizens”, whether Germany is able to handle everything.

A very different position is that of the chief of the left socialist party (Die Linke), Bernd Riexinger. He declared that such comments by the government lead to the 1990s, a period which marked the climax of xenophobic attacks and fire assaults against immigrants and refugees. According to Riexinger, established parties allow racism to become socially acceptable and thus help creating a political climate that encourages violent right-wing gangs.
Critical comments came also from the chief of the Green party (Grüne), Cem Özdemir, who asked all democratic parties to draw clear lines between themselves and PEGIDA. The secretary of the refugee organization Pro Asyl, Günter Burkhardt, warned not to underestimate the right-wing movement, as PEGIDA questions basic rights such as religious freedom and asylum. According to Burkhardt, the goal of the movement is to establish racism within the political discourse and diffusing resentment, by presenting them as “democratic expression of freedom”. If politicians and the public showed understanding and trivialize these protests as expressions of diffuse “Angst”, the strategy of PEGIDA would succeed. Even more strongly, the Social Democratic Federal Minister of Judiciary, Heiko Maas (SPD) described the Monday marches as a “shame for Germany”. The chair of the central council of Jews, Josef Schuster defined PEGIDA as dangerous.

In an interview, Cem Özdemir complained about the reactions of mainstream parties to the success of the right-wing in Germany. The main parties, he says, adapt to the issues that caused the relative success of the new right-wing party “Alternative for Germany” (AFD) and PEGIDA and therefore drift to the political right. Proposals initiated by the “Christian Social Party” (CSU) demanding immigrants to speak German at home would strengthen, in his opinion, the perception of PEGIDA and AFD adherents to be representatives of a “silent majority”. Parties were blamed also by the chair of the council of Muslims, Aiman Mazyek. He declared that parties as partly responsible for the Anti-Islam demonstrations. In this opinion, there is a lack of communication and dialogue between politicians and people. PEGIDA, according to Mazyek, symptomizes the fear of people towards the future: people fearing of losing their jobs are searching for scapegoats. PEGIDA leaders, he concludes, are doing nothing but exploiting the fear of people.

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.