The right-wing movement Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the Occident (PEGIDA) has struck a chord with many Germans after gaining a solid social grounding in German society. The rise of far-right extremism has dominated political debate for the last few weeks, and a study issued on Thursday suggested that 57 percent of Germans regarded Islam as a threat, signaling a rising fear and hatred towards Muslim society and immigrants. The number of Germans closely associated with right-wing movements like PEGIDA has increased compared to figures released in 2012, according to the study conducted on Muslims in Germany in November 2014 by the Bertelsmann Foundation, a non-profit foundation in Germany active in political, social, economic, educational, cultural and health-related issues. Some 61 percent of German non-Muslims believe that Islam is not compatible with the German way of life and western values. In 2012, it was only 52 percent who held that opinion, while 85 percent of Germans stated that they are highly tolerant of other religions. However, this does not apply to Islam. Considering the negative perception of Islam, 24 percent of non-Muslim Germans said that Muslims should be barred from migrating to Germany.
The Dresden-based far-right PEGIDA has gained attention recently while drawing support from other far-right groups and ordinary citizens. Far-right anti-Muslim groups have become more prominent in Germany, like the PEGIDA-inspired KOEGIDA in Cologne, and HAGIDA in Hamburg. Since October 2014, Germany has witnessed several anti-Islam demonstrations and racially-motivated attacks organized by far-right extremist groups. Since then, there have been weekly anti-Islam rallies organized by far-right populist groups in Dresden. The weekly marches started with nearly 500 demonstrators protesting the rising number of immigrants. However, the marches have grown much larger, with support growing from disenchanted Germans who oppose the "Islamization" of their country.
Despite the uncompromising stance taken against them, the vast majority of German Muslims consider Germany their homeland, while supporting democracy and social cohesion with non-Muslim Germans, the same study suggested. "Germany has become their home country, yet the apparently negative image generated by a minority of Islamist radicals touches on them all," said Yasemin El-Menour, Bertelsmann's expert on Islam, while stressing the need for "recognition and appreciation of the Muslims and their religion." Germany is home to three million Muslims in a total population of nearly 81 million as Muslims constitute the largest immigrant community in Germany.
The study shows that Muslims are strongly attached to the German state and society. "Some 90 percent of the highly religious Muslims hold the belief that democracy is a good form of government." The majority of German Muslims consider themselves highly religious and liberal at the same time. Nine out of ten are socially connected with non-Muslims Germans, which demonstrates that they are well-adapted to the core values of the German Federal Republic; democracy and pluralism.