Pegida rears its head in UK
London - Pegida, Europe’s anti-Islam protest movement, has found its way onto British shores, as fears of the rise of anti-immigrant hatred while the United Kingdom heads towards a critical referendum on membership of the European Union.
Pegida UK staged its inaugural rally in Birmingham — home to Britain’s largest Muslim community — on February 6th in coordination with Pegida rallies on the continent. The movement’s UK chapter is being championed by infamous right-wing figure Tommy Robinson, although the group’s official leader is former UKIP parliamentary candidate Paul Weston.
Robinson is the founder and former leader of the right-wing English Defence League (EDL) and enjoys broad popularity among right-wing protesters. Robinson led the EDL in 2009-13, leaving after acknowledging that he had lost control of the group.
Talking about the 2005 bomb plot in the run-up to the rally, Robinson said: “Birmingham is where most of the terrorists have been from. It’s where six Muslims who wanted to blow us up were from — the continued epicentre for terrorism is Birmingham.”
“This growing influence Islam has on society is not good for society. The more Islam the less freedom,” Robinson said at the rally.
About 200 Pegida supporters attended the rally, half as many as had been expected by police, with many portraying the anti-Islam movement’s first UK rally as a failure. Opponents of Pegida had a counter-rally, which was attended by about 60 activists.
“Refugees are welcome; fascists are not,” they chanted, heckling the Pegida supporters.
Pegida UK has called for a halt to all Muslim immigration to the United Kingdom and a ban on building mosques, with some supporters at the Birmingham rally reportedly carrying placards in praise of US Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump, who has issued similar statements.
But the anti-Islam movement’s overall message appears confused, with Robinson keen to stress that Muslims are welcome to attend Pegida rallies.
“If people wish to be a religious Muslim inside their home, then fine,” he said. “I’m not saying that I want Muslims to leave the UK. I’m not saying I want to abolish the mosques that are already here.”
Robinson has sought to clarify that he is seeking to lead a “revolution” against Islamist ideology, not Muslims.
A number of Birmingham MPs praised the city for its response to the Pegida march. Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley Jess Philip said: “People in Birmingham chose hope. His [Robinson’s] hate rallies have no place in our city. If anyone should go home from Birmingham it is Tommy Robinson.”
Labour MP for Birmingham Edgbaston Gisela Stuart said Pegida and Robinson did not understand the multicultural nature of the city. “In terms of the dynamics of this city, what [Robinson] will do is unify Brummies [people of Birmingham] from all ethnic groups and all ages and all backgrounds into saying: ‘That’s not what this city is all about. You’re not wanted here’,” she said.
This is the second time Pegida has sought to bring its particular brand of anti-Muslim protest to the United Kingdom. In early 2015, 400 Pegida supporters had a rally in the northern English town of Newcastle. A counter-rally to protest Pegida drew a crowd of 600. A second Pegida rally in London only had 100 people.
Robinson was not involved in the first attempt to promote Pegida in the United Kingdom, with many worried that the fame and support he enjoys among Britain’s right-wing could ensure the movement’s endurance.
Robinson has said Pegida UK intends to have a rally in Birmingham every month starting April 2nd.