Newcastle, England saw the inaugural protest demonstration organised by the right-wing group Pegida.’Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West’, more commonly referred to as Pegida, recently made the headlines after a particular march in Dresden, Germany which reportedly attracted 15,000 participants. Pegida’s spiteful rhetoric towards Islam seemingly has attracted many members on the far-right, and with their first ‘successful’ march taking place on the 28th of February, the group seems to be on the rise. Pegida seeks to prevent what it views as an Islamization of Europe which it claims has already began. Increased immigration has resulted in a greater influence held by Muslims, it would seem Pegida firmly believe that Islam is not compatible because of its principles and values with European civilisation.

As an current resident of Newcastle, I was able to join a reported 3,000 individuals who had congregated in a countermarch against the presence of a fascist group in their beloved city. The presence of 3,000 people greatly outnumbered the few yet prominent 300 people Pegida were able to boost at their demonstration. The countermarch attained its support from a variety of organisations and committees, who had collectively made the decision to choose a politics of solidarity and equality, rather than succumb to the divisive fear tactics used by those on the far-right.

Despite relatively little attention given to the build-up of the event by the mainstream media, a number of people who I personally spoke to both within Newcastle and beyond did not have any knowledge of the event happening, the impressive turnout can be attributed to a fantastic Facebook campaign spearheaded by the impressive Dipu Ahad.

An array of speakers oversaw the march, the headline act being the Respect Party’s MP George Galloway, who typically spoke passionately regarding the danger of groups such as Pegida. A particular theme present throughout the march was the link made to the Nazi Party, due to the shared German roots of both organisations. Constant reminders were made to the participants of the march over the consequences that followed the last time in history a group, which prayed on people’s fear and concerns, successfully marginalised a particular group of people as responsible for the perceived ills of the country.

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The march was conducted in a relativity peaceful manner. From the short distance the countermarch was situated from Pegida, one could hear the echoes of far-right classics such as ‘Rule Britannia’ and ‘Land of Hope and Glory’. It appeared Pegida were nostalgically attempting to evoke some bygone golden age for Britain.

Pegida vehemently attacks Muslims for the ramifications their increasing presence has had on Europe. This links to a wider campaign which seems to be occurring in the mainstream media, where Muslims are subjected to particular scrutiny. The precepts of their faith are often used as an explanation for an individual crime while those crimes committed against Muslims do not gather such media attention. The national media is an institution which ought to be cherished and protected, they have great influence at their disposal and thus great responsibility to portray news honestly.

As the march came to an end, attempts were made by a small fraction of the Pegida marchers to escape police boundaries and pick a fight. Five arrests were subsequently made. This was a reminder to those who needed it, of the inherently violent nature of such groups, and praise must be given to the Newcastle police force who marshalled the day in a very adept manner.

After witnessing the march firsthand, I acknowledged that its value went further then simply opposing one particular fascist group. It reflected a very poignant and demoralising issue present in our society. The allegations and defamations made by Pegida against Muslims are not original, their hateful and ignorant remarks have often been angrily shouted by similar groups who seek to protect their definition of ‘Europe’. As Newcastle stood united against an unwanted visitor, similar acts of defiance will needed to be repeated in other cities, as Pegida reports to hold numerous more protests.

A bleak overlook to have regarding last Saturday’s event would be to feel disheartened over why such a countermarch was needed in the first place. However such negative thinking belongs in the circles of Pegida. An alternatively perspective ought to see this march as a victory, for despite the best attempts made by the far-right to wrongly defame a whole religion for its ideals, the citizens of Britain reaffirmed the values which led them into the Second World War, firmly opposing the fascist ideology.

 

By Surinder Singh