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'Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions in Germany

  • Henry Ridgwell

To their detractors, they are known as "Nazis in pinstripes." But their numbers are growing.

About 15,000 people joined a march Monday night in Dresden, part of a movement calling itself Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West.

Protesters chanted, "We are the people," copying demonstrators who took to the city streets 25 years ago in the weeks before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

This time, demonstrators claim 21st-century Germany is being taken over by Islam. The protests have spread to other German cities, including Berlin.

"Today we have shown once again that Germans can walk, that we are adults, that we have made the right choice and that we can slowly, very slowly, make things change in our country," said movement founder Lutz Bachmann.

Analysts say far right, anti-immigrant movements have long existed in Germany, but the trigger for the latest protests appears to be Berlin’s decision to offer asylum to tens of thousands of people who have fled from Syria's civil war.

Ahmed Khawan and his family are among them. They fled to Lebanon before being offered resettlement in Germany. Ahmed’s son, who was born deaf, has been given medical treatment to allow him to hear.

“First, thanks to God,” said Khawan. “But second, thanks to Germany. There are so many people who are forced to arrive from Syria illegally by sea or air, but Germany made it so we could arrive in a peaceful manner.”

Germany should be praised for providing nearly half of all the resettlement places offered to Syrian refugees, said Sherif Elsayed-Ali of Amnesty International.

“Germany has given hundreds of millions [of dollars] for the humanitarian assistance," he said. "But at the same time it has pledged to take 30,000 people through resettlement and humanitarian admission. That’s nearly half of the global total. It will make a huge difference to their lives.”

Speaking Monday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Germans not be taken in by far-right rhetoric.

“There's freedom of assembly in Germany, but there's no place for incitement and lies about people who come to us from other countries,” she said, “and therefore everyone needs to be careful that they're not taken advantage of by the people who organize such events.”

Counterdemonstrations have taken place calling for tolerance and denouncing the so-called anti-Islamization marches.

For many Germans, the marches are uncomfortable echoes of the country’s far-right, 20th-century history.

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