Immigration looms over Merkel’s UK visit

Vile views: Thousands of Germans have joined in the ‘anti-Islamisation’ protests © PA

As the German chancellor begins her visit to the UK today, she leaves behind a country torn apart by anti-Islam protests. Merkel has condemned the marches; but will her words backfire?

‘There is only one woman who could make a difference to the outcome of this year’s general election’, declared the Telegraph this week. That woman is Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, and today she arrives in the UK for talks with David Cameron.

The two leaders have a range of pressing issues to discuss, among them Ukraine and the world economy. But at the forefront of their minds will be just one topic: immigration.

In the face of the election, Cameron will be keen to get Merkel on side for his plans to curb migration and renegotiate the terms of the UK’s EU membership, despite Merkel’s open opposition. But Merkel has her own related problems to worry about.

Merkel’s trip to the UK coincides with an alarming rise in anti-immigration protests in several German cities, organised by a group called Pegida. Under its banner, thousands of Germans have taken to the streets to reject what they see as the growing ‘Islamisation’ of Europe.

Dubbed the ‘pin-stripe Nazis‘ by the press, the weekly marches have snowballed from a few hundred supporters in October, to a peak of 18,000 in some cities this week.

The root of the tension can be traced to the 200,000 asylum seekers welcomed by Germany in 2014, most of them fleeing Iraq and Syria. Germany has accepted far more refugees than any other European country, and many are concerned that this influx could lead to a surge in support for right wing groups.

Merkel’s response has been robust. In her new year speech, she accused Pegida's leaders of having ‘prejudice, coldness, even hatred in their hearts’. The rallies have also provoked disgust from thousands of other Germans, who have formed counter-protests.

The lights went out on German landmarks on Monday night in a dramatic display of tolerance and solidarity. Cologne Cathedral and Berlin's iconic Brandenburg Gate blended into the night sky to reflect the message of the counter-protests: 'Darkness wherever there is Pegida’.

Hatred in their hearts?

Merkel’s firm words reflect an uncompromising attitude toward those with xenophobic attitudes. These marches are nothing more than veiled racism, she argues. Humane societies have a duty to condemn movements like Pegida for what they really are: toxic ideologies fuelled by bigotry and hate.

But the chancellor’s opponents warn against such unqualified condemnation of Pegida. Islamophobia has no place in any society, they say, but nobody should be denied a voice, no matter how intolerant their views. Already the protesters accuse Merkel of ‘political repression’; antagonising them further will only make them more alienated and angry. Perhaps Merkel should follow Cameron’s lead and do more to appease those who oppose immigration.

You Decide

  1. Do you agree with Angela Merkel that the German protesters have ‘hatred in their hearts’?
  2. Should far-right political groups be denied a platform to speak?

Activities

  1. Design a placard and slogan that you would use to protest against Islamophobia.
  2. Imagine a public figure who has been accused of spreading intolerance has been invited to deliver a speech at your school. Would you be for or against giving them a platform? Write a short letter arguing your case.

Some People Say...

“What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.’Salman Rushdie”

What do you think?

Q & A

What harm can a march really do?
Protests and rallies can be hugely powerful and influential. Merkel’s strong words show just how seriously German politicians are treating this movement. And just imagine how you would feel as a refugee turning up in a new country having fled war-torn Syria and Iraq, only to see banners telling you to go home.
I bet the media have exaggerated this story.
With talk of ‘pinstripe Nazis’ in the press, you may have a point. Provocative comments could end up doing more harm than good. But nevertheless, the sheer numbers of those taking part in the marches is alarming. Many elections taking place in Europe this year will focus heavily on immigration, and it’s important to understand the facts and figures beneath the media hype before forming an opinion.

Word Watch

Ukraine
It seems likely that Russia will attempt to destabilise Ukraine or another vulnerable former Soviet country this year. President Putin’s annexation of Crimea last year was strongly condemned by world leaders.
Renegotiate the terms
Cameron has promised a vote on whether the UK should remain in the EU by the end of 2017 if his Consevative Party wins the general election in May.
Opposition
Merkel wants to keep Britain in the EU but she has made it clear that she will not support any move by Cameron that challenges one of the founding principles of the EU: the principle of free movement.
Pegida
A poll of just over 1,000 people carried out by Germany’s Stern magazine found one in eight Germans would join an anti-Islam march if Pegida organised one near their home.
Pin-stripe Nazis
So-called because of the various backgrounds of those taking part in the protests, with many professionals and ‘respectable’ middle-class people joining in.

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