Turks in Germany warn against 'justifying' far-right
BERLINDec 31, 2014 - 12:00 am GMT+3
Dec 31, 2014 12:00 am
Ethnic Turkish immigrants in Germany are warning against attempts to legitimize a new far-right populist movement that has drawn large crowds onto the streets in recent months. German Turkish groups have also announced that they will join counter-protests against a planned anti-Islam demonstration in Cologne next week. "PEGIDA started its demonstrations with anti-Islam rhetoric and it is fuelling racism and xenophobia. These rallies are against European values," says Süleyman Çelik, leader of the Union of European Turkish Democrats – one of the most influential organizations among Germany's 3 million Turks.
The Dresden-based right-wing "Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West," PEGIDA, gathered more than 17,000 protestors in the city on Dec 22. The rise of the high-profile group has made headlines in Germany and abroad. The far-right populist group started weekly rallies in Dresden in October, starting with nearly 500 demonstrators. The growing support for the group in the last two months has raised concerns among Germany's Turkish immigrants, the country's largest minority. PEGIDA has inspired several copycat groups in other major cities, like KOEGIDA in Cologne and HAGIDA in Hamburg. "Not all of these protestors are racists or fascists. Most of them are citizens with prejudices against Muslims and immigrants and they have been manipulated by the far-right," says Safter Çınar, the chairman of the organization Turkish Community in Germany, TGD. Çınar said that while thousands gathered for anti-Islam rallies in Dresden for what they perceive as the threat of the Islamization of Germany, the Muslim population in the city is less than 1 percent. Çınar criticized calls the made by several mainstream German politicians, who suggested initiating dialogue with PEGIDA or to show understanding to their concerns. He said that such a move would mean justifying and encouraging the far-right group. UETD's Çelik agrees, saying that the recent anti-Islam rallies have encouraged right-wing extremists. "We think that the growing number of attacks against mosques will continue," he said.
In recent months, Germany has witnessed verbal and physical violence against immigrants, Muslims and mosques. Reports of murders and atrocities committed by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) have sparked suspicion and negative feelings towards Muslims across Germany. According to a recent representative public poll by Infratest-dimap, 42 percent of Germans now view Islam as "aggressive" and 38 percent perceive it as a "threat." Çelik stressed that mainstream political parties and media in Germany have a special responsibility to better inform public opinion and differentiate between extremist and pious Muslims. "PEGIDA has used the media and created a support base for itself," Çelik said.
Critics argue that German government and media have blown the threat of terrorism out of proportion, creating a false and negative image of Muslims and immigrants in Germany. German security organizations estimate that about 550 Germans, mostly young immigrants from Salafist groups, have travelled to Syria and joined ISIS since the beginning of the civil war. Around 6,000 Salafists are active in Germany, according to the Interior Ministry – a number which accounts for a very small minority of the Muslim population. Germany's leading Muslim organizations say the source of the radicalization of some young immigrants is not Islam itself, but the sociological problems they face, such as discrimination, unemployment or a lack of future prospects.
Germany has approximately 4 million Muslims; around 3 million of them are of Turkish origin. Around 20 percent of Germany's 80.5 million residents have a migrant background, according to latest figures from the Federal Statistics Office. About 9.7 million of them have become German citizens, while 6.8 million immigrants have kept their former nationalities.