PEGIDA is Not the Disease — It is the Symptom

This excellent and surprising op-ed was published in Die Welt, of all places. Many thanks to JLH for the translation:

PEGIDA is Not the Disease — It is the Symptom

Writer Monika Maron traveled to Dresden before Christmas, to get an impression of the demonstrators. She does not understand the upset and calls for freedom of expression.

by Monika Maron

[48-second video — Under the motto, “Christmas with PEGIDA, more than 15,000 people came to gather for the tenth demonstration. Ca. 4,000 counter-demonstrators collected on the neighboring castle square.]

On the Monday before Christmas, my friend and colleague Peter Schneider and I traveled to Dresden. We wanted to see for ourselves what it was about the phenomenon PEGIDA that has given politicians and the media the foaming fits. It is hard for me to find the right tone for this subject, because the discussion is so poisoned that the fury of each person I address echoes in my ears. And how should a dialogue between PEGIDA and the political world take shape? The PEGIDA demonstrators have shouted their protest to the world. The answer can be read in the newspapers. What else is there to say?

But where does this rage come from? If the PEGIDA people mean what they say, they consider it their duty to accept refugees from war and political persecution, but to deport all rejected asylum seekers, and they are asking for legally regulated immigration. I didn’t hear anything else in the speeches when I was in Dresden Monday.

I cannot and will not judge whether they mean exactly that. But from these demands, it is not possible to conclude racism or xenophobia, and certainly not Nazi thinking. If I nonetheless assess this as mere camouflage and assume these attitudes, then I have precluded any possibility of dialogue. And yet that is what has happened from the beginning.

All Racists?

I have the impression that the unsurpassed hostility and blatant contempt affect PEGIDA is like human growth hormone. The antagonism of others supplies a missing sense of community. Anyone who attracts so much hostility must be big and important. And the polls sponsored by Zeit seem to confirm this. According to them, 30% supported PEGIDA “completely and absolutely,” 19% leaning in favor, 26% partly and 23% not at all.

Are three-quarters of all Germans racist and xenophobic because they fear that Islam is gaining too much influence in Germany and gradually undermining the secular basis of our everyday lives? Xenophobes, racists, enemies and/or haters of Islam — these words apparently belong in the discussion of PEGIDA.

There are no longer critics and opponents of Islam, but haters and enemies of Islam. But what would a friend of Islam be? What reason would I have to be a friend of Islam? I can be a friend to Muslims, but not a friend to this unenlightened religion with political claims, whose potential for hatred is apparently so great that it is shaking the entire world?

From the Burkini to the Mega-Mosque

All parties have their part in the misery of the moment. Some have denied that Germany is an immigration land, as it has long been, and for that reason we still have no immigration law. Others have decried “forced Germanization” when teachers, parents and students in a Berlin school decided that only German would be spoken on the school grounds.

All parties together have decided on double citizenship to the nth generation, which allegedly encourages integration, but is probably only an act of voter recruitment.

I won’t even bother to mention burkinis, class trips, mega-mosques, prayer rooms in schools, or the absurd leniency of German courts toward the cultural peculiarities of Muslim immigrants, which first caused some concern when a [female] Frankfurt judge granted a Muslim man the right to beat his wife.

Islamization does not begin after Islam has become the state religion of Germany, but when our legal and civil principles are undermined by its religious claims. You do not have to be a follower of PEGIDA to ask that the government and society defend our hard-won secularity and establish limits to a religion which has still not undergone its own enlightenment.

Our strongest allies in this would be the secular Muslims — people like Seyran Ates, Necla Kelek, Hamed Abdel Samad, Güner Balci — who no more than Christians and atheists wish for Islam in Germany to claim more rights and space than is due to any religion in a thoroughly secular state.

Instead, the government has chosen to accede to the pressure of the Islamic organizations and shut out the secular powers of the Islam Conference. Why do we talk about 4.5 million Muslims in Germany, and then accept Islam’s claim that everyone born a Muslim must stay a Muslim?

The Secular State Should Be Central

Do we know how many of the Turks, Persians, and Arabs living in Germany are believing Muslims, and which of them even wants the rights demanded by the Islamic organizations? The line is not drawn between Muslims and non-Muslims, but between defenders of the secular state and those who want to undermine it or put it at risk for political gain.

It is quite possible that such thoughts are also running through the minds of the Dresden demonstrators, when they see Mr. Mayzek again on a talk show, claiming as he poses like a sultan, that Salafism has nothing to do with Islam, or that it would just take a little more governmental incentive to inspire ethnic Turkish and Arabic young men to go to school.

The reproach that the Dresdeners, with their dearth of Muslims, have no grounds for fearing Islam, is — at a time when political consciousness is at least 50% shaped by the media, above all television — to say the least, trite. After all, the 12,000 Munich counter-demonstrators are only acquainted with PEGIDA through newspapers and television.

Pegida and Christmas

This Monday before Christmas, the PEGIDA program was carol singing. Even though cards with the words were handed out, the attempt was pretty feeble. But for Mr. Abroga of DITIB [Turkish-Islamic Union for the Establishment of Religion] and Christian churches and SPD functionaries to accuse the demonstrators of abusing Christian songs just seems to me inconceivably pretentious.

Christmas carols are by nature Christian, but they belong to every German childhood, whether Christian or not. Even in the atheist GDR, Christmas carols were sung.

However incomplete the singing was on this evening, it sounded quite fervent from some groups assembled on Theater Square. If the counter-demonstrators had not limited themselves to annoying PEGIDA with whistling, but had shown with a knowledge of the lyrics and a strength of voice that they are the real preservers of culture and Christian values, that could have been their moment of triumph.

Tradition and Christian Heritage

But perhaps so much traditionalism and Christian heritage is the last thing on their minds. It occurs to me that tradition and homeland are mentioned with affection and understanding when they are the traditions and homelands of others, while the same concepts applied to Germany are either used ironically or open to the suspicion of overweening nationalist thinking or worse. Why?

The Chancellor warns citizens about PEGIDA in her New Year’s speech. And even as I write “Why?”, I know the answer. German history. Oh yes. And yet Germany is a homeland and German traditions, too, are allowed to have meaning.

Since all the parties have been fighting for a position in the middle; since the CDU has left the conservative portion of the public to its own devices; since the liberal party has been destroying itself; since the word “normality” can be used only in quotation marks, while every minority claims not only acceptance but primacy of interpretation — well, since then, it was only a question of time before a new political force would attach itself to the abandoned conservative wing of society.

The Attacks Are Driving Supporters to Pegida

But instead of attributing the explosive arrival of the AfD to their own policies, the other parties are treating their new competitor like a leper you don’t want to sit down at the same table with, or, if that can’t be avoided — say, in a talk show — then you attack, as if these were not representatives of your own defecting voters.

And it is scenes like this that drive supporters to PEGIDA. They can witness, in the Plasberg and Co. talk show, what it costs in inner strength and strong nerves to practice freedom of expression.

And anyone who does not trust either his strength and nerve or his rhetorical ability, does not believe in the freedom of expression. But Mondays on Theater Square, as one of ten or fifteen or seventeen thousand, if he does not have to speak himself but only shout “We are the people!” and “lying press!” and even a weak speaker like Lutz Bachmann speaks for him, he can finally shout his discontent at the top of his lungs.

This Monday before Christmas, when I was in Dresden, I noticed that — unlike television pictures and newspaper descriptions of earlier PEGIDA demonstrations — there were a lot of young men in the square. Maybe it was because the mothers and grandmothers were busy with Christmas preparations.

But perhaps the reflexive suspicion that PEGIDA is just a collection of racists and xenophobes, Nazis even — which, granted, are there among the demonstrators, but not a majority — perhaps these defensive salvos will lead to people who are not racists — not even Nazis — not being willing to expose themselves to this suspicion any longer and so others, real racists and xenophobes, will demonstrate on the square.

On the trip home, on the highway to Berlin, we noticed many cars with Berlin and Brandenburg licenses, and at the gas station we saw them — shaved heads, Thor-Steinar jackets.[1] So they were there too. Allowing them and their less visible brothers in spirit no place and no voice is the only correct answer.

With all others, we must talk. We must learn again to put up with other opinions without seeing their supporters only as enemies or scum. We praise the open society and refuse open discussion. PEGIDA is not the disease; PEGIDA is only a symptom.

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[1]   Thor-Steinar — Scandinavian outdoor and athletic clothes brand, cf. North Face, L.L. Bean, etc, but recognized as popular in Nazi and skinhead circles. Wearing their products is forbidden in the Bundestag, in the Mecklenburg-Pomerania and Saxony legislatures and a number of soccer stadiums.

Monika Maron (born on 3 June 1941 in Berlin) is a German author, formerly of the GDR. She moved in 1951 from West to East Berlin with her stepfather, Karl Maron, the GDR Minister of the Interior. In 1992 she returned to a united Berlin.

For links to previous articles about PEGIDA (Patriotische Europäer Gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes, Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West) and related movements, see the PEGIDA Archives.

3 thoughts on “PEGIDA is Not the Disease — It is the Symptom

  1. They’ll be wiped out by the authorities just like the EDL. The 68’ers will never relinquish power- that is why they import Moslems. The test comes when the armed Police and military are called in and ordered to fire on these men, women and children.

    • Maybe long before oders to use the ultimate state violence the police and army will lock arms with the demonstrators. Then what? The Genie is out of the bottle.

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