Last month (December, 2014), more than 15,000 people amassed in the German city of Dresden to sing Christmas carols. While that description makes it seem rather pedestrian, the event was in fact organised and intended as a cultural protest. The group behind it is called Pegida (Patriotische Europäer Gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes – or in English, ‘Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West’.)
Given the high turn out and evident success of the demonstration, the German press was dutifully quick to label the protestors as little better than … go on, see if you can guess …. Nazis.
Actually the specific phrase they coined was ‘Pinstripe Nazis’, a reference to the allegedly paradoxical gentility and ordinariness of those gathered. You see, these were not the skinheads or ruffians of the English style. They were typically older, more orderly and uniformly sober. If you look up photographs of the event on google, you might think many of them were off-duty bank managers, soldiers, polizei and civil servants.
You might well be right.
That is what is truly new about Dresden. It has demonstrated that a sentiment previously regarded as belonging exclusively to the ‘Lower Classes’, seems to have found agreement in the Middle Class.
The importance of this development really cannot be overstated. Whether we like it or not, class divisions do exist and can greatly retard the construction of a national consensus. To allow Islamophobia to dwell amongst the stupid bigotries of racism and anti-Semitism has rendered it unnecessarily toxic. Though I appreciate (and have often supported) the activities of the EDL, I am keenly aware that the manner of its demonstrations plays into an ingrained snobbery in the public at large. The conduct of the gathering in Dresden, and the wonderful decision to sing Christmas carols, shows us a new and better way forward.
Of course, I must admit it seems regrettable that Dresden was chosen as a venue. As is well known internationally, the city occupies a hallowed place in the imagination of Neo-Nazis. Choosing the site of a (so-called) Anglo-American war-crime made the hatchet jobs of the mainstream media pathetically easy. Let’s hope the next event won’t be held in Wannsee or Nuremburg…
On the whole though, we should take immense encouragement from Pegida. Opposition to Islam is a duty so serious that it must transcend any consideration of category or class. If these demonstrations remind us only of this, they will have been worthwhile.