As I scan the crowd at a recent PEGIDA rally against Islamization held in the German city of Dresden, I am struck less by what I see than by what I do not. No shaved heads. No swastikas. No black leather jackets or Third Reich-inspired tattoos. No one shouting “Foreigners Out!”Rather, I see about as conventional a group of Germans as one might find at the local beer garden. Middle-aged couples. Young professionals. Senior citizens. A woman in a wheelchair. It’s a cold night, and people are bundled up. Before the rally starts, people talk, joke, take pictures. A young couple behind me keep warm with hot apple cider they brought in a thermos.The scene in this beautiful baroque city, infamously firebombed by the Allies in World War II, hardly represents what one would expect to see, given the national uproar over PEGIDA supporters.The official line in Germany is that these people are vile, uneducated racists, an embarrassment to the good Germans and a threat to peace and order. German politicians—from Chancellor Angela Merkel, to members of all major parties, to Mayors of cities large and small—and the mainstream media describe PEGIDA organizers, demonstrators, and anyone who criticizes or questions the ongoing mass migration of Muslims into Germany, as “brown” (read: Nazi) and “right-wing” (read: Nazi).The origins of the group go back to 2014, when that July, thousands of Turks and Arabs chanted Nazi and Hamas slogans and chased Jews in broad daylight during anti-Israel demonstrations in cities around Germany. Three months later, Kurds and Salafists battled each other in the streets of Hamburg, making news coverage of the northern German city look like a war report from the Middle East.After that, a handful of Germans decided they had had enough of their country’s increasingly alarming experiences with the growing numbers of Muslims who refuse to integrate, whether citizens, immigrants, or asylum seekers. They created PEGIDA—the German acronym for Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West. The group started weekly Monday-evening demonstrations in various cities, with its official motto printed on banners: “Nonviolent and United Against Religious and Proxy Wars on German Soil.”In the meantime, Germany’s Muslim population has soared from roughly four million to more than five million. In the past year, during the ongoing “refugee crisis,” more than a million migrants—the majority of whom are young Muslim men—have streamed, at a rate of 10,000 a day, into Germany, a densely populated country the size of Montana. German politicians speak of accepting at least a million additional migrants this year alone, with Merkel remaining steadfast on her “no upper limit” position. Most of these migrants are not Syrians fleeing wars or direct persecution; they hail from across Northern Africa and the Middle East, carrying cellphones but no passports. Yet all of them are called “refugees.”So, does a PEGIDA demonstration fit the descriptions offered by German politicians and media: a gathering of neo-Nazis and hate-mongers spreading lies about harmless refugee families? That’s certainly not the impression I got at the demonstration in Dresden, the city considered the movement’s home, and which has by far the largest attendance (several thousand) for its Monday-evening events.Is there the occasional extremist or kook at PEGIDA rallies? Yup. Large political gatherings tend to attract all kinds—have you ever attended CPAC?Among the crowds I witnessed, no resentment was expressed toward any immigrant or genuine refugee willing to abide by the host country’s laws and values. Such resentment was expressed against those who expect to practice sharia law in Germany; for those who reject free speech, freedom of religion, and equality of the sexes before the law; for those who believe that German women are whores and are to be treated as such.
The greatest resentment, however, was directed at Merkel and the German politicians who created this artificial crisis, and have blanketed the country with refugee camps and tent cities, with ever more hotels, school gyms, community centers, and military barracks being appropriated to house and feed the never-ending stream of young Muslim men.And, resentment and scorn were directed at the media—Lügenpresse! (“Lying press”) the crowd chanted—which repeat the same fantasies about Germany needing and benefitting from this migrant invasion, and smear any critic of the regime as right-wing xenophobes.Even in Dresden, the city that is least hostile to the PEGIDA events, the administrators of the famed opera house have marred its historic façade with a video screen that proclaims on Monday nights: “We are not a backdrop for intolerance,” or “We are not a stage set for hatred of foreigners.”The demonstrators ignore it; they are used to far worse (including physical attacks and having their cars set on fire). So they carry on their demonstrations, with banners proclaiming “Merkel’s Got to Go!”; homemade signs blasting German politicians, ISIS, and radical Islam; and pictures of Dresden’s famous Church of our Lady with the caption “This church will NOT become a mosque.”And flags. Everywhere flags. The German flag, yes, and flags of individual German states. But more than any other is the yellow-outlined black cross on red. It is the Flag of Resistance, used by a small group of Germans during World War II as a symbol of resistance—against the Nazis.