Saturday,17 November, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1230, (22 - 28 January 2015)
Saturday,17 November, 2018
Issue 1230, (22 - 28 January 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Dressed down in Dresden

As EU foreign ministers met in Brussels this week to brainstorm responses to Islamist extremism, demonstrations by a far-right group were banned in Dresden and other German cities, writes Gamal Nkrumah

Dressed down in Dresden
Dressed down in Dresden
Al-Ahram Weekly

As the Pegida Movement (Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West), continued to gain momentum in Germany this week, Federica Mogherini, EU representative for foreign affairs, chaired a meeting of European foreign ministers in Brussels. It was the first such meeting since the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris earlier this month.

Mogherini declared that EU security and anti-terror co-operation projects will be carried out in collaboration with Turkey, Egypt, Yemen, Algeria and the Gulf Arab states. “Speak Arabic, write Arabic,” she demanded of her EU colleagues.

For many observers, Mogherini’s directive seemed bizarre, indicating that perhaps she did not understand that most second- and third-generation Arabs in Europe, those to whom the EU ministers say they would most like to reach out, do not necessarily speak Arabic.

European nationals of Arab descent who have claimed to belong to militant Islamist terrorist networks, including the Islamist gunmen who killed 17 people in twin attacks in Paris this month, are also culturally alienated from their Arab backgrounds, often not feeling they belong either in Europe or the Arab and Islamic worlds.

These youngsters are lost in 21st-century Europe, and the identity politics they embrace is aimed not at an Arab cultural renaissance, but at resisting the discrimination and alienation they face in Europe.

“I want immediately to improve our communication with the Arabic-speaking populations both within the EU and in the world,” Mogherini said on Monday. “We need to improve our capacity to speak Arabic, to write in Arabic, and to listen to the messages that are coming from the Arab world.”

Some commentators responded that Europeans might as well learn to read and write Urdu, Bengali, Bahasa Indonesia, Hausa or a host of other languages, since these are the languages spoken by the vast majority of the world’s 1.7 billion Muslims.

The Islamic State (IS) terrorist group, presently spreading havoc across the Middle East, also recruits Chechens, Daghestanis, Afghans, Pakistanis, Somalis and other Africans whose mother tongue is not Arabic.

Meanwhile, Pegida founder Lutz Bachmann has rarely shown much sympathy for the European media, or for politicians such as Mogherini. Yet two contrasting ideologies, Mogherini’s desire to be conciliatory towards the Arabs and Islam and Pegida’s anti-Islam stance, transpired simultaneously this week.

The rules governing Europe’s debates about race and Islam need to be re-examined carefully. Whether Bachmann or Mogherini is the more representative of the European collective psyche is still an open question.

For her part, Mogherini expresses a sober belief in Europe, whereas Pegida, distancing itself from outright racism in the Neo-Nazi sense, insists that it is a strictly cultural phenomenon. It is not against Islam per se, it says, claiming instead to be a movement to defend secularist Europe against Islamisation.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said recently that Islam is an integral part of contemporary Germany and that not all Germans are sympathetic to Pegida’s ideas, with the result that Pegida received a dressing down in Dresden and other cities at the hands of the German police.

Its Dresden rally was banned, ostensibly because of a death threat against the movement’s leader, Bachmann. Police in the capital of the German state of Saxony banned all outdoor public gatherings on Monday, and in the city of Braunschweig the police also banned a Pegida demonstration.

According to many commentators, Europeans should take a more spacious view of the eligibility of other races, religions and cultures for European identity, and this is precisely what Merkel and Mogherini have been preaching.

They are attempting to find acceptable answers to the questions posed by both militant Islamist terrorists and Neo-Nazi groups in Europe. Finding answers to these questions is not easy, and not all solutions will be feasible in the face of widening polarisation.

“As German chancellor, regardless of whether I like the content, I have to ensure that anywhere in Germany people can take to the streets in demonstrations because it is a fundamental right,” Merkel said Monday.

But the Pegida demonstrations were banned, and counter-demonstrations took place across Europe. A Bavarian Pegida offshoot, called Bragida, was confronted by some 5,000 counter-demonstrators at a demonstration in the south German state, for example.

In Magdeburg, around 600 members of Magida, another offshoot, were opposed by 6,000 people. Other, smaller demonstrations took place in Dusseldorf, Kassel, Osnabruck, Wiesbaden, Stralsund and Saarbrucken. Pegida held a rally in Berlin on Monday and another in the Danish capital, Copenhagen.

The group denies that it is racist or Islamophobic, and has tried to distance itself from the far right. But many Muslims in Europe and around the world object to the thrust of its anti-Islam sentiments in Europe.

Despite the banning of its demonstrations last week, and Merkel’s dismissal of its members as Islamophobic, the Pegida Movement continues to make its voice heard across the continent.

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