Germans Hold Mass Protests Against 'Islamisation' of Europe; Counter Rallies Accuse Them of 'Nazism'

(Photo: Reuters/Fabrizio Bensch)Participants take part in a demonstration called by anti-immigration group PEGIDA, a German abbreviation for "Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West," in Dresden January 5, 2015. Several thousand opponents of Germany's policy toward asylum seekers and Islam are expected to attend the protest in the eastern German town on Monday.

A number of German cities this week have hosted mass protests against the "Islamisation" of Europe, with over 18,000 people attending an anti-immigration rally in Dresden on Monday. Counter rallies have also sprung up, however, claiming that the protesters are displaying racism and Nazism.

BBC News reported that the protests against the wave of Islamic immigrants coming to Germany and other Western European nations are part of the Pegida media campaign, which was founded in October 2014 and stands for "Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West."

The protests are aimed against the mass numbers of asylum seekers from the Middle East arriving in Germany each year, numbering close to 200,000 for 2014 alone. Attitudes are also set against established Muslim communities in the country, such as the 3 million ethnic Turks, representing Germany's largest immigrant community.

Pegida protesters carried slogans such as "Against religious fanaticism and every kind of radicalism" in a number of the marches, and waved German flags.

A number of politicians and celebrities in Germany have criticized Pegida, and demonstrators at counter rallies have called the movement racist, extremist, and displaying elements of Nazism.

(Photo: REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay)People take part in a march of a grass-roots anti-Muslim movement in Cologne January 5, 2015.

Some Roman Catholic church representatives in Germany, such as Cologne Cathedral provost Norbert Feldhoff, spoke out against the anti-Islamisation movement.

"You're taking part in an action that, from its roots and also from speeches, one can see is Nazi-ist, racist and extremist," he warned people who've chosen to support Pegida. "And you're supporting people you really don't want to support."

Close to 22,000 anti-Pegida demonstrators marched in Stuttgart, Muenster and Hamburg, while Reuters reported that Pegida supporters in Cologne were outnumbered 10 times by counter-demonstrators. Similarly in the multi-ethnic Berlin, 5,000 counter-demonstrators outnumbered the 400 Pegida supporters.

"Germany is a country where refugees are welcome and the silent majority must not remain silent, but rather go out onto the streets and show itself," Justice Minister Heiko Maas said at the Berlin counter-demonstration.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has also called the rallies racist, and on Monday told gatherers at the Eastern town of Neustrelitz: "We need to ... say that right-wing extremism, hostility toward foreigners and anti-Semitism should not be allowed any place in our society."

Pegida organizer Kathrin Oertel has accused politicians of attempting to suppress political expression.

"Or how would you see it when we are insulted or called racists or Nazis openly by all the political mainstream parties and media for our justified criticism of Germany's asylum seeker policies and the non-existent immigration policy," Oertel told the crowd in Dresden on Monday.

According to an opinion poll in Stern magazine, German society is largely split on the Pegida movement.

Thirteen percent of respondents indicated that they would attend a rally near their home, and 29 percent said that they support the anti-Islamisation protests because of the notable degree of influence Islam is having on German life.