Much has been made of the marches carried out by the Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West (PEGIDA) in Germany over the past couple of months. The German political establishment has been quick to label the group as extremists and has distanced itself from the group’s understandable concerns regarding a rise in the security threat posted by Islamic fundamentalism, which predominantly draws its recruits from the immigrant community.
Whilst there are undoubtedly some unsavoury elements within the PEGIDA movement, the demonstrations reflect a growing feeling of unease across Europe, particularly in light of the Paris terrorist attacks this past week. That these rallies are being held in Germany is of no great significance given that similar events have occurred across the continent in the past year or so. However, because of Germany’s recent history when it comes to racism and religious and ethnic persecution, the protests are being labelled by some as alarming. Why else would 30,000 counter-demonstrators quickly take to the street after a PEGIDA march in Dresden on the 5th January?
Ironically, because of the dreadful legacy of Nazism, many Germans feel guilty about voicing any sentiments that may be construed as intolerant or racially offensive. As such, a violent anti-Islamic mass movement is far less likely to occur here than in the Mediterranean, Central Europe or even France.
It is a similar situation to Japan where the attempts by Shinzo Abe’s government to reform the country’s pacifist constitution have set alarm bells ringing across East Asia because of Japan’s brutal WWII militarism. Again, however, the majority of the Japanese population have absolutely no desire to see a return to the ultra-nationalism that led their country along a devastating path of war and destruction. Like the Germans, the new generations of Japanese pride themselves on being a peace-loving and tolerant people.
Using recent history as a prophecy of doom is somewhat misleading in the case of Germany’s nascent anti-Islamic movement, as it is with Japan’s desire to return to being a ‘normal’ country. Demonstrations and marches by a tiny proportion of the population is far less disconcerting than the covert actions of violence and hate perpetrated by the likes of Cherif and Said Kouachi.
Our democratic instincts and insistence on religious/ethnic tolerance in the West seem to prohibit us from confronting the real dangers to our society. Rather, we feel guilty even contemplating the idea that a non-indigenous belief system could undermine our very way of life. It seems that many of us would rather find faults with ourselves, diverting attention away from more pressing matters for the sake of a tenuous historical link which bears no relevance to the geopolitical realities of the day.