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The controversy over Germany's Pegida movement


The controversy over Germany's Pegida movement


As the controversy swirls around the anti-Islam group, Pegida, in Germany, Euronews spoke to Aydan Özoğuz, the German Commissioner for Immigration, Refugees and Integration to find out what the government is doing in response.

Gizem Ada, euronewsl: “Do you worry about the anti-Islamist Pegida movement, their demonstrations and the increasing interest in them?”

Aydan Özoğuz: “We saw a decrease in their number last week. In fact we saw a decrease this week.”

Gizem Adal, euronews: “Was that after Lutz Bachmann’s resignation?”

Aydan Özoğuz: “We don’t know if it is connected to this resignation but marches opposing them have increased, attracting larger crowds than Pegida. Maybe the sight of this affected them. We don’t know but we saw a decrease in their numbers, which is good. People are demonstrating against them in many cities. Increasing numbers of people are saying, “We want pluralism, we want these people, we are standing with our neighbours.” They are saying, “We will not let our society to be destroyed, we want to live together in peace.” These are encouraging signs.”

Gizem Adal, euronews: “Why do you think this anti-Islamist Pegida movement became popular in Germany? Are they only worried about Islam, or about the economy too?”

Aydan Özoğuz: “It’s a combination of things and maybe this is the biggest problem. On one side we see the group’s organization, they might even be Nazis, they are so far to the right. But many other people join them saying, “Yes I’m afraid of the things I saw in France, a woman wearing a headscarf frightens me, or I don’t like them”. All of these exist. And on internet forums people are saying, “My salary is not enough,” or “I am unemployed and my benefits are not enough”. And maybe there’s a third factor: East Germany is still not fully integrated with West Germany. So we can’t talk about the whole of Germany because there are differences within the country. Of course, not everyone in East Germany is xenophobic, but many people don’t think that democracy has given them much, and we see that in Dresden, for example, more than 20,000 people demonstrated in support of Pegida. But this is in a way good news because they couldn’t do it anywhere else in Germany and those demonstrators came from all over Germany. And there were still only 20-25,000 of them. But there are are no Muslims in Dresden, there isn’t any Islamic population there.”

Gizem Adal, euronews: “More than 4 million Muslims are living in Germany. And considering that many of the immigrants who arrived during the 1960s are now employers themselves, these people really have contributed to German prosperity. So what has the German government been doing to counter this movement, and Pegida in particular?”

Aydan Özoğuz: “The German government is following the events very closely. The most important thing for us, and for the whole of society I think, is that everybody should be able to express their ideas on the street. For sure the radicals are different. But everybody has the right to say “Yes, I’m afraid of this”, they can even say “I don’t like Muslims”. But that doesn’t mean they can cause fear or pursue Muslims, or harm them. So we are following this issue. We have to separate mainstream society from people who say that they are afraid. We have to seperate society from far-right, populist organisations. And we can only achieve this by coming together and talking.”

Gizem Adal, euronews: “In Europe the growth of the Salafi movement within Islam is a serious threat. According to official numbers, nearly 7,000 Salafis live in Germany and young people, especially, are brainwashed via social media. What kind of measures is your ministry taking, is the German government taking, about this issue?”

Aydan Özoğuz: ‘‘These people really attract them.”

Gizem Adal, euronews: “Young people go to their meetings and meet them face to face.”

Aydan Özoğuz: “Or they approach young people. The worst thing is they promise these young people a better life. They say; ‘‘If you can’t integrate into this society…” and we mostly come across this situation in Germany. In other countries for example, lecturers go there to speak in public, but it is not like that in Germany. These radicals focus mostly on young people who are not succeeding at school, who cannot find a place in the society. That means two things. Here we have to intensify our integration policy. We have to focus more on helping everyone succeed at school, we must give these young people direction, and we are doing this. In recent years, it’s been very successful. But some think, “Everybody should listen to me, I want to join a big, strong organization”. Listening to some young people who have returned for example. They say they wanted to feel strong just once in their lives. That means there are young people who don’t feel strong enough on their own. I think we have to be more in touch with them and with their parents too.”

Gizem Adal, euronews: “Yes, with their parents and schools. So we’re talking about 500 young people? 2-300 of who have returned? Obviously, these are just estimates.”

Aydan Özoğuz: ‘‘Some of them died there.”

Gizem Adal, euronews: “Some of them died but these are estimates. Most of these Salafis are German citizens. What kind of measures you have taken after they returned?”

Aydan Özoğuz: “Obviously we have interviewed all of them and checked up on what they are doing, who they are meeting, what kind of mentality they have.”

Gizem Adal, euronews: “But their passports have not been confiscated, right?”

Aydan Özoğuz: “We are taking passports away now, so that in the future they will not be able to leave Europe. At least not legally. This is a signal to them. The ones who are determined can find ways to leave, but returning will not be that easy. We have to show that people’s culture is important, their religion is important, but if they kill other people, they are not part of this society. This society has to stand up and say, “We don’t want these kind of people. What right have you to kill other people? Is this the way to be a good Muslim?” We have to say this more clearly, perhaps a little more aggressively.”

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