Newcastle against Pegida

German group Pegida is set to hold its first UK demonstration on Saturday, but will face concerted opposition. Alex Snowdon explains

Pegida, which opposes what it calls the ‘Islamisation’ of Europe, will hold a rally in Newcastle on Saturday. It seeks to capitalise on the anti-Muslim backlash triggered by the Paris massacres last month.

Pegida has held large demonstrations in Germany, reaching out well beyond the traditional far right, though it isn’t clear whether it can build a sustained popular  movement built around Islamophobia.  It has experienced serious difficulties expanding beyond Germany, with a protest in Malmo, Sweden, attracting tiny numbers but a large counter-demonstration.  The Newcastle rally is conceived as a first step in establishing itself in the UK, with talk of further protests in London, Birmingham and potentially elsewhere.

The aim of anti-racists, organising Saturday’s counter-demonstration, is to stop Pegida gaining a foothold in this country. It is also becoming a major demonstration against growing Islamophobia in British society.  The response to the call by Newcastle Unites – to march and rally against Islamophobia – has been tremendous, with the list of supportive trade unions, campaigns, faith groups, politicians and prominent individuals being updated daily.

Racist shambles

Pegida and its supporters are in disarray. Organisers have sought to distance themselves from the English Defence League, whose foot soldiers see the rally as an opportunity to whip up hatred. But it seems that Pegida is failing to attract the kind of broad and ‘respectable’ support that can marginalise the EDL and other far right groups. 

Many of those who plan to demonstrate are furious about the early start of 11am – as they like to drink in city centre pubs before demonstrating their hatred of Muslims – but they’re even angrier about organisers’ abandonment (under pressure) of plans for a march. Instead they will be limited to a static rally.

The early start and lack of a march make it unlikely that far right groups will mobilise successfully from outside the region. But what’s really crucial for anti racists is that we prevent this gaining broad local support. Above all, this means mobilising the largest possible numbers to join the anti-racist demonstration.

Growing Islamophobia

Islamophobia has become the respectable racism of our age. Our task is to strip it of that respectability, assert anti-racist values and demonstrate solidarity with Muslim communities. 

Islamophobia has accompanied over a decade of wars and occupations under the banner of the ‘War on Terrror’. The demonising of Muslims, abroad and at home, has been a vital component of pro – war ideology, and continues to be.

The wars have fuelled an increase in Islamist terrorism – most importantly the rise of Islamic State and other movements in the predominantly Muslim world, but to a lesser extent the Paris killings indicate threats within the Western imperial heartlands. Terrorist atrocities are in turn cynically used to scapegoat Muslims within countries like Germany, France and the UK.

Demonstrating solidarity and unity

In this context the display of anti-racist solidarity expected in Newcastle this weekend takes on great importance. Support has been declared by trade unions including Unison, Unite and PCS, a range of faith groups, and numerous voluntary or campaign groups. Russell Brand, George Galloway and Yvonne Ridley have agreed to address the rally. Local MP Chi Onwurah will open the rally.

A statement by Newcastle United fans has gained a great deal of media attention. Even the brother of Matt Pope – Pegida UK’s main organiser – has expressed support for Newcastle Unites’ demonstration. Local Muslims have been centrally involved in organising the counter-demonstration and a key challenge now is to win the broader community to participating.  Earlier Newcastle protests, against the EDL, have struggled with active Muslim participation due to fear and insecurity, but there are positive signs that Saturday will make a historic breakthrough on this score. 

Saturday in Newcastle is important. It is also symbolic of a wider struggle to turn the tide against Islamophobia, the cutting edge of contemporary racism. Every anti-racist should support the counter-demonstration.

Alex Snowdon

Alex Snowdon is a Counterfire activist in Newcastle. He is active in the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Stop the War Coalition and the National Education Union.​ He is the author of A Short Guide to Israeli Apartheid (2022).

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