Germany’s nascent anti-Islamisation movement has called on sympathisers to wear black arms bands at its next rally to mourn victims of the Paris terror attack in a sign of how Europe’s resurgent rightwing is trying to capitalise on the tragedy.
“The Islamists have . . . shown in Paris that they are not at all ready for democracy but seek answers in violence and death,” the Pegida group said on Thursday, as it prepared for a demonstration in Dresden on Monday and pushed to spread its movement to other German cities and even Scandinavia.
Pegida’s words were echoed by similar far-right and anti-immigrant movements across the continent. In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders, leader of the anti-Islam Freedom Party, criticised Dutch premier Mark Rutte and other western leaders for their allegedly conciliatory approach to radical Islam. “When will Rutte and other western government leaders finally get the message?” Mr Wilders said. “It’s war.”
In France, where the nation was plunged into mourning, Marine Le Pen, leader of the surging National Front, called for an end to “hypocrisy” in addressing Islamism. “We must not be scared of saying the words: this is a terrorist attack carried out in the name of radical Islam,” she said.
In Italy, Matteo Salvini, head of the anti-immigrant Northern League, said that for Europeans “to respond with tolerance and political correctness is suicide”. In an unusual criticism of the Vatican for an Italian politician, Mr Salvini added that the reformist Pope Francis “wasn’t doing a good service” to Catholics by “promoting dialogue with Islam”.
Meanwhile, the head of the Danish People’s party called for the closure of a controversial mosque in the country’s second-largest city. Kristian Thulesen Dahl said Denmark needed to take a “much more aggressive approach” to Muslims expressing sympathy for extremism.
Even before Wednesday’s attack, rightwing and populist political groups were surging in Europe, helped by resentment over globalisation, faltering economies and rising immigration — from within the EU as well as several war-torn Muslim lands, including Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.
The National Front and Danish People’s party came first in their respective countries in May’s EU elections. In Britain, the UK Independence party has become a political force while the Sweden Democrats have overturned that nation’s famously staid political order.
Some analysts warned the Paris attack would provoke a backlash that would help rightwing groups gain more support for an agenda that includes tougher immigration controls and pressure on Europe’s Muslims to distance themselves from radicals.
“There will be a strong anti-Muslim movement,” said Karl-Heinz Kamp, academic director at the German government’s Academy for Security Policy. “We are in a changing situation. There will be a reassessment of Islam and Islamisation.”
Others were less convinced. Manfred Güllner, head of the Forsa polling agency in Berlin, noted there was no such upsurge after the New York terror attack of 2001. “I can speculate that this might boost support for the right, but I cannot be sure,” he said.
Helped by high birth rates, Islam has become Europe’s fastest-growing religion, with 44m adherents (excluding Turkey) in 2010, up from 30m in 1990, according to the Pew Research Centre. Although only 4 per cent of the EU population is Muslim, key cities have much higher concentrations, among them Paris (more than 10 per cent), Stockholm (20 per cent) and Birmingham (22 per cent).
Tensions have worsened with the recent emergence in Syria of the Isis Islamist force and its recruitment of EU citizens. A study this week by the Bertelsmann Foundation, a German think-tank, revealed that 61 per cent of Germans believe Islam does not belong in the west.
EU governments have struggled to develop a coherent approach to immigration. Promises of tough controls have rarely reduced overall flows, notably in the UK, and calls for immigrants to integrate have been softened with demands for respect for their cultures. Meanwhile, local authorities increasingly complain of cash shortages to provide welfare in immigration hotspots.
He warned against rightwing groups capitalising on the tragedy or stereotyping Muslims in general. “We must not allow our society to be divided,” he said. “We must not permit a war between cultures.”
Bernard Kouchner, the former French foreign minister, struck a similar note, saying most Muslims were starting to realise they shared a common enemy with non-Muslims — terrorism.
Additional reporting by Richard Milne in Oslo and Rachel Sanderson in Milan
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