MOSCOW, December 19 (Sputnik) – In recent months, thousands of Germans took to the streets of several cities across the country in protest against Islamic extremism and alleged Islamification, sparking an intense debate in German society.
The movement’s next meeting is scheduled for December 22. Everyone interested is allegedly invited to celebrate Christmas together, according to a statement on PEGIDA’s official Facebook page, which has already garnered over 72,000 likes. The movement has a strong presence on social media, using hashtags like #pegida to rally support for its cause.
The anti-Islamic/anti-immigration movement is gaining momentum, with other far-right groups, including the Hooligans Against Salafists (HoGeSa), also organizing marches in several cities across Germany. However, many of those participating are far from being extremists. "I'm a pensioner. I only get a small pension but I have to pay for all these people (asylum seekers). No-one asked me!" a concerned elderly German said, as quoted by BBC. "I am not right wing, I'm not a Nazi. I am just worried for my country, for my granddaughter," another participant of the Dresden march told the media outlet.
German authorities have strongly criticized the anti-Islamic movement. "There's freedom of assembly in Germany, but there's no place for incitement and lies about people who come to us from other countries,'' Chancellor Angela Merkel warned, as quoted by the Time magazine. "Everyone [who attends] needs to be careful that they are not taken advantage of by the people who organise such events." Ralf Jäger, the interior minister in the state of North Rhine Westphalia, called PEGIDA members "neo-Nazis in pinstripes", according to Deutsche Welle.
The anti-Islamic movement has sparked backlash on social media with hashtags like #nopegida. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany’s foreign minister, took to Twitter to stress that Germany is an open-minded and modern society, which will not be overrun by "a couple of ranters on marketplaces".
#Steinmeier: GER is a rich country precisely because we are open-minded+globally connected. We benefit economically, culturally+socially 2/3— GermanForeignOffice (@GermanyDiplo) 18 декабря 2014
Nopegida hashtag has also been used to organize anti-Nazi rallies in places, where anti-Islamic protests were supposed to take place. In several instances people managed to thwart anti-Islamic rallies.
Another user called PEGIDA’s initiative a "total stupidity" and "total racism".
"Good night! Please ensure that your apartment is not overrun by Muslims overnight," another Twitter user, who is against PEGIDA, ironically observed.
Gute Nacht! Und passen Sie auf, dass ihre Wohnung nicht über Nacht von Moslems übernommen wird! #nopegida— wortwicht (@wortwicht) 10 декабря 2014
Social media users in Germany also used #illridewithyou hashtag, which was introduced in Australia after a gunman had taken several people hostage at the Lindt café in Sydney. For a while the hashtag was trending in Germany. One Twitter user observed that anti-immigration marches in the country are a "national tragedy".
Immigration has become a burning issue in Germany, the country with the largest number of asylum seekers in the EU. As many as 200,000 are expected to ask for asylum in 2014, which is a significant increase from the last year. In 2013, Germany received 127,000 asylum claims, according to BBC.
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