On February 6, a broad coalition of Irish anti-racist, migrant-support and political groupings, now calling ourselves Solidarity Alliance against Racism and Fascism (SARF), staged a peaceful anti-racism rally aiming to secure a safe space for anti-racism on the streets of Dublin against the rise of anti-Islam and anti-immigrant groupings. We managed to succeed in preventing the extreme right group Identity Ireland from launching the Irish branch of Pegida. Apparently undeterred, and having failed to launch Pegida Ireland, Identity Ireland is now planning to organise a conference of ‘Fortress Europe’, a coalition of anti-immigrant parties across Europe, whose main aim is to stop the so-called ‘Islamisation’ of Europe.
The intentions of Pegida, a German group, whose name stands for ‘Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West’, are totally explicit: ‘We must succeed in guarding and controlling Europe’s external borders as well as its internal borders once again,’ PEGIDA member Siegfried Daebritz has recently told a crowd in one of the group’s many German rallies, to the chants of ‘Merkel must go!’
Media and many mainstream politicians across Europe have recognised Pegida as an extremist right wing group that uses rhetoric reminiscent of National Socialism. Pegida has been demonstrating against what it calls ‘criminal asylum seekers’, and its leader Lutz Bachmann has had to resign after calling immigrants ‘vermin’ and ‘trash’. Together with other extreme right groupings across Europe, Pegida and its Irish allies – Identity Ireland, which had a very poor showing in the last general elections, receiving just 183 votes and clearly representing an insignificant minority – is using Europe’s current refugee crisis as an opportunity to broadcast their anti-immigrant and anti-Islam message.
Despite all the evidence of the toxic rise of extreme right anti-migrant parties across Europe, a recent report by the Irish Times gave uncritical and context-free voice to Identity Ireland’s Peter O’Loughlin who, the paper said, was attacked by ‘extreme thugs who went to great lengths to ensure that we and Pegida Ireland were not allowed our constitutional right to peaceful demonstration’. According to Identity Ireland, the paper reported, ‘what was new in this context was the savage levels of thuggery and violence which swept our capital city’. Instead of condemning the anti-immigrant demonstration, the then Minister for Health Leo Varadkar, chose to condemn the attack on Pegida Ireland though he also expressed concern at the establishment of an Irish branch of the extreme right group.
However, as someone who attended the SARF rally against Pegida Ireland, I can attest that ours was a peaceful demonstration in the spirit of the 1916 leaders whose Proclamation ‘guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts…’ Identity Ireland and Pegida Ireland have clearly chosen to ignore the Proclamation’s commitment to ‘cherish all the children of the nation equally’.
Instead of giving voice to anti-immigrant racist sentiments, the Irish and European media and politicians should rather focus on the worrying rise in right wing extremist parties across Europe before openly racist attacks such as the attack on the three Afghan young men in Rathfarnham so brutally racially attacked last week become an everyday occurrence.