A 21st Century Crusade: The Rise of the Anti-Islam Movement in Europe

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The organisation Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West (Pegida by the German acronym) has announced its first UK rally, due to take place on the 28th of February in Newcastle. 

 

In just four months, the group has racked up nearly 160,000 Facebook likes and have staged a number of protests in Germany, some attended by up to 25,000 people. Offshoots have sprung up in Denmark, Spain, Belgium, Switzerland and – now – the United Kingdom.

According to reports, the UK branch is expecting somewhere between 500 and 3,000 protesters to attend the rally. This is by no means, a major demonstration. Indeed, Pegida itself as a European movement has suffered serious setbacks since the height of their popularity following the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris.

Former Pegida leader Lutz Bachmann

Founder Lutz Bachmann was forced to resign from the organisation after a photograph of him styled as Adolf Hitler went viral on the 21st of January. German politicians, including Angela Merkel, have criticised the organisation over its use of the Charlie Hebdo incident for political purposes, and counter-protests in Germany have reached the stage where they are drawing more participants than the protests themselves.

This might seem to suggest that Pegida, less than four months after its foundation, is already on the way out. But we cannot afford to be so optimistic. Pegida itself is just one part of a wider campaign across Western Europe which is targeting Muslims as a group. The very concept of ‘anti-Islamisation’ is nonsensical – the Muslim population of the UK is just 4.6%; in Germany, it is 5.4%. There is no ‘Islamisation’; the fastest-growing belief group across Western Europe is, in fact, atheists, not Muslims.

But the narrative has been picked up, not only by radical rightist groups like Pegida and Britain First, but by the media – and from there, it has filtered into general society. A report last October showed that anti-Muslim hate crime rose by 65% over the preceding twelve months; in France in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, 24 violent incidents against mosques were logged in just six days. The last ten years have seen a seemingly inexorable upward trend in anti-Islamic sentiment across Europe, fuelling the rise of anti-immigration Parties like the French Front National and UKIP, as well as direct action groups.

There is a real danger that the actions of tiny extremist minorities on both sides willincrease the polarisation of society around the issue of Islam. The stage is fast approaching where it is no longer possible to take a balanced view on the subject: one must either be an apologist for Islam in all its forms, or emphatically opposed to it. This is dangerous. Islam, like any religion, has inspired some people to do terrible things in its name, but the vast majority of its adherents are peaceable, friendly citizens of our countries. We must stand in solidarity with them.

The narrative of mutual warfare – crusaders vs. jihadists – is one which Islamist and far-right groups alike benefit from and seek to encourage. Those of us who are moderates – the vast majority – are easily capable of shrugging off the efforts of these bitter fringe elements. So let us not succumb to their poisonous rhetoric, but expound the virtues of tolerance and liberty and the right and ability of the human species to live in harmony despite our differences.

The ‘crusaders’ of the 21st century are no less brutal and self-serving than those of the 11th. We should treat them and their misguided ‘anti-Islamisation’ campaign with the contempt they deserve.

This article is cross-posted with the author’s blog, Cynical Optimist

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Discussion10 Comments

  1. avatar

    I just disagree on one sentence ” Islam, like any religion, has inspired some people to do terrible things in its name”. I think we need to understand that Islam is an ideology and doesn’t inspire people to do horrible things, just like Christianity, it did not tell the crusades to go to Palestine and start a war, same thing goes for atheist, Hindu, Buddhist…etc. We can’t blame it on Islam if a Muslim does a horrible thing, the same way we can’t blame it on the Norwegian society for the horrible crime of Andres Behring. We cannot say, Christianity or Atheism or whatever he believes in inspired him to do his horrible crime.

    Chris Wright
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    Incorrect, I’m afraid. Islam does inspire some Muslims to do terrible things. It simply does; I wish it were otherwise, but to claim that the Charlie Hebdo attack or 9/11 were not inspired at least in part by Islam is pure nonsense. Just as the actions of Britain First or the Orange Order are motivated in part by Protestant Christianity; just as Anders Breivik’s actions were motivated in part by his fascistic ideology.

    What I do not believe is that all Muslims can be held responsible for the actions of a few. People have done terrible things in the name of socialism (Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot) and they were certainly inspired at least in part by socialism to do those things, but I am a socialist regardless and I do not expect to be held accountable for their actions.

    Both the Bible and the Qur’an contain exhortations to kill. Both also contain instructions not to. This is because neither book exists as the coherent, ordered work of a single person – both are compendiums, produced and altered over a period of time by different people. Some would argue with me, stating that one or the other is the directly-dictated word of God, but they are deluding themselves.

    In any case, no-one could possibly follow every precept of either faith – there is too much internal contradiction. It is up to the individual, then, to form their own interpretation of the book, and of their religion. No two people (unless they have been successfully brainwashed) believe precisely the same things, and nor should they.

    But that means no-one can use a religion as a justification for their actions. They may well be inspired to kill or do some other crime because of their faith, but that is no excuse. And equally, this means that reactions against the entire group because of the actions of a minority are both idiotic and wrong.

    This comment has turned into something of an essay – I apologise. But three things should be made clear: 1) You are free to follow any faith you like (or none) and to form your own interpretation of that faith; 2) Your interpretation is your own, and it does not give you the right to harm others, and nor may it stand as a justification for doing so, whether or not it formed part of the motivation for the act; and 3) If someone does something wrong as a result of their specific interpretation of their faith, it does not give you the right to hold that against everyone who considers themselves to be a part of that faith.

    Hope that clarifies my position a tad. It would have made the article rather lengthy, though.

    Steven Carr
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    ‘ It is up to the individual, then, to form their own interpretation of the book, and of their religion.’

    http://www.al-islam.org/philosophy-islamic-laws-ayatullah-al-uzma-shaykh-nasir-makarim-shirazi-ayatullah-jafar-subhani-55 is an excellent article on just what you have written. I can’t recommend reading it though, as it is written by a Muslim, and it will upset you.

  2. avatar

    Let us work to build a world where gay Muslims are not thrown to their deaths from towers.

    A world where a Muslim man and a Muslim woman can bonk each other and nobody is killed for adultery.

    A world where you are not given 1000 lashes for blogging.

    Let’s work together for a world where dark, gay Muslims have the same rights and privileges as white, straight non-Muslims.

    Abdul
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    let us not generalize what ISIS does and consider all muslims do the same…. seeing ISIS throwing a gay man from the roof top doesn’t mean all Muslims do the same. I was wondering if you have ever heard it happen before, but now once ISIS did it, you’re holding it against all Muslims???

    Steven Carr
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    I’m not holding it against all Muslims.

    I want Muslims to stop killing other Muslims. Don’t you want Muslims to stop being killed, stoned or flogged?

    Abdulwahab Tahhan
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    saying Muslims throw gays from the roof top is like saying white people torture everyone who isn’t white ( like in Abu Gharib in Iraq and Guantanamo ) if someone does something and happens to be a follower of a specific faith, it doesn’t make the whole faith accountable for it. If you said ISIS should stop killing gays, I would agree, but Muslims should stop killing other Muslims, then you’re involving all Muslims who have nothing to do with it.

    Chris Wright
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    Sadly, ISIS aren’t much more hardline than Saudi Arabia, a UK and US ally, and the country which is a) funding ISIS and b) almost certainly funded the 9/11 attacks. ISIS is only being targeted because it is new and scary and thus a useful bogeyman for the media. Wahhabism comes from Saudi Arabia, though, and unless the problem is addressed at source, it will not go away. Pursuant to the above, we certainly cannot blame all Muslims for ISIS. But the governments of Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf monarchies? Oh yes, we can blame them very easily indeed.

    Abdul
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    can you blame the American people for the invasion of Iraq and hold the Americans and British accountable for innocent civilians who died and after all they did not find any mass destruction weapons? do you hold the government or the people accountable for their crimes?
    Blame it on the government, yes totally agree with you, blame it on their kings and princess yes, of course, but not on the people.

    Steven Carr
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    I blame it on the religious leaders, and on Westerners who say there is no problem with Islam.

    This is dangerous, as we can see with Pegida.
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    People in the West see Muslims killing a hundred plus Muslim children in a school in Peshawar , or kidnapping hundreds of girls, and then hear their political leaders say there is no problem.

    They then feel disenfranchised and are easy pickings for right-wing movements like Pegida.

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