CALLING themselves Pegida, or “patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the Occident”, since October they have marched through Dresden every Monday. Their numbers are growing: on December 15th 15,000 protested. Their slogans of xenophobic paranoia (“No sharia in Europe!”) seem bizarre in Saxony, where only 2% of the population is foreign and fewer than 1% are Muslim.
Germany remains a tolerant place, one reason why some 465,000 migrants arrived last year, making it the world’s second most popular destination after America. But Pegida is a reminder that many, especially in eastern Germany, harbour resentments that can be exploited. “We are the people,” the marchers in Dresden shouted. It was the phrase East Germans used in 1989 in protest against their communist overlords. To outsiders, the cry now sounds chilling.This is not new to Germany, of course. I blogged about German xenophobia (aimed specifically at immigrants from Turkey) more than four years ago. Religion is always an issue. We only have to think back to the backlash against eastern and southern European immigrants to the U.S. in the late 19th and early 20h centuries who were predominantly Catholic--from Ireland and Italy, in particular. This led to the country's very restrictive immigration laws between 1929 and 1965. Indeed, when John F. Kennedy ran for President, there were people who were convinced that a Catholic could not and should not be President, for fear that he would answer to the Pope, not to the American public. You might say to yourself, well, we're beyond that, but on the other hand, JFK is the only Catholic president that the US has ever had.