IT may not have had the dimensions of Sunday’s Paris march, but Tuesday’s rally in Berlin symbolised the German leadership’s determination to preserve the country’s multicultural character in the face of a rising wave of xenophobia, a large part of it in reaction to acts of terrorism carried out in the name of Islam. While President Joachim Gauck said Germany had become more diverse “religiously, culturally and mentally”, Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged to use “all the means at our disposal” to combat intolerance. The challenge before the Merkel government shouldn’t be underestimated. Home to four million Muslims, mostly Turkish immigrants, Germany has been witnessing a growth in support for extremist groups many of whom have been mobilising people against the government’s immigration policy; some groups display their Islamophobia openly. The most notorious of them is Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West, which on Monday organised a rally in Dresden. Another anti-immigrant group gaining attention is Alternative for Germany. Both are anti-Muslim and demand stricter immigration and asylum policies. The Dresden marchers carried Chancellor Merkel’s doctored pictures showing her wearing a scarf. Fortunately, rallies in other cities have drawn fewer participants.

There can be no doubt that murderous attacks such as the Charlie Hebdo killings only strengthen anti-Muslim lobbies worldwide, creating difficulties for those who believe in tolerance and pluralism. While the far right in the West is in a minority, many among the majority do listen to what it has to say when terrorists spill innocent blood. The killers should know that whether it is 9/11, the London bombings, the Mumbai attack or Paris, the losers are Muslims worldwide, especially those who have made the West their home and want to live in peace. Chancellor Merkel has made no secret of her determination to take on the extremists, and declared at Tuesday’s rally that “xenophobia, racism, extremism, have no place” in Germany. Hopefully Muslim community leaders in the West will support the chancellor’s inclusive stance — whether in the fight against European xenophobia or Islamist militancy.

Published in Dawn, January 15th, 2015

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