Rachel Loxton and Imran Azam
The first demonstration by the Scottish branch of Pegida, the far-right anti-Islam movement from Germany, is planned for Edinburgh this month.
Organisers of Pegida Scotland say they are in talks with police about holding an evening rally in the capital’s city centre on March 21.
Pegida – a German acronym which translates as “patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the west” – has held weekly marches in Germany since October last year.
The radical group, which protests against a perceived “Islamisation” of Europe and the West, attracted 25,000 people in one rally in January following the Charlie Hebdo attacks.
Scottish organisers of Pegida told the Sunday Herald they were in regular talks with German members, who offered support and advice.
Pegida UK – another branch of the movement – held its first UK rally in Newcastle yesterday.
Around 400 far right demonstrators turned out for the march, which was backed by the British National Party (BNP), through the north-east English city.
At the same time about 1000 people, including politician George Galloway, counter-demonstrated against their extreme views, under the banner Newcastle Unites.
Russell Brand showed his support for the counter-protestors on Twitter saying: “I won’t be in Newcastle today marching against racism but I’m against racism wherever I am.”
Pegida insists it is not far-right and it is not racist.
A spokesman from Pegida Scotland, who asked not to be identified, said a group of organisers had been working with the German branch, and hoped to visit Berlin soon to attend a rally to “see how it’s done there” and “get some ideas”.
Pegida Scotland is due to hold their event on March 21 – a week after a planned protest by the Scottish Defence League outside Holyrood on March 14.
Opponents will hold counter-demonstrations at each event.
The Pegida Scotland spokesman said their Facebook page, which also claims to represent north east England, was started four weeks ago. It has more than 3300 ‘likes’.
A YouTube video featuring images from 9/11 and 7/7 as well as messages including “This is God’s country, we are the people” was made to introduce the branch.
In a post on February 18 they said: “We have now put together a fantastic team, we hope you will be a little patient…Our mission is simple … rid our island of Islam.”
The spokesman defended their beliefs. He said: “We’re just a bunch of like minded people that’s against the Islamification of Europe.
“We won’t tolerate any neo-Nazi elements creeping in, we’re totally against that. We’re in contact with the German organisers quite a lot. We spoke to them and asked how they would feel about it (setting Pegida Scotland up) .
“There isn’t a group in Scotland like this. There are groups who try to highlight it but they go about it the wrong way. They have neo-Nazi elements creeping into the organisation.”
The spokesman said the group would not gather in communities where they could be accused of causing tensions.
He said: “We won’t be going into any areas – for talking sake – Govanhill, Pollokshields – to cause racial tensions.
“I think that was the thing with other groups – they wanted to have a demo in Govanhill. That is never going to happen (with Pegida).”
When asked to respond to accusations that Pegida is racist, the spokesman said: “I think it’s very difficult when you’re dealing with the left wing because no matter what you say you’re just a racist, fascist, neo-Nazi knuckle dragger in their eyes…I always say it’s a non-racist, non-violent organisation and that is the way it will stay.”
Luke Henderson, 46, coordinator of the Edinburgh branch of Unite Against Fascism (UAF), said: “The concern around Europe is that there’s been a rise of far right and racist parties and they’ve used Islamophobia as a means of organising and recruiting and gaining political advantage.
“We stand opposed to the racist message of far right groups and indeed groups like UKIP as well.”
Henderson claimed there was an overlap between Pegida, SDL and the BNP.
He said: “They’re the extremists – their Facebook pages and their members and their organisers claim to be against extremist Muslims but time and time again they make nasty and vicious statements towards all Muslims.
“No one wants to admit to being racist these days – even the racists know it’s bad press.”
The UAF are worried about an increase in small far-right groups.
Henderson said: “There is a toxic mix created by political parties like UKIP and mainstream parties relentlessly blaming or suggesting that immigrants are to blame for problems in this society – low wages, insecurity at work, shortage of housing, when the reality is it was the economic crash caused by the richest bankers and financiers in this country.
“It will get worse unless people stand up. That’s why we organise these protests. Don’t be fooled by these hardcore racists, these hardcore Nazis.”
Zareen Taj, of the Muslim Women Association Edinburgh, compared the Pegida movement to Greek political party Golden Dawn, which was widely accused of being fascist.
She said: “It is very sad the SDL and Pegida are dividing communities. They claim to be against extreme Muslims but they are against any Muslim activity.
“Right wing people want to grow their members. With Golden Dawn we saw the same thing and now Pegida – they are jumping on the bandwagon.”
A spokeswoman from Edinburgh City Council said they had not received notifications for SDL or Pegida marches, but some static demonstrations do not require a licence.
A Police Scotland spokeswoman said: “There are numerous demonstrations in Edinburgh each year and events are policed appropriately and proportionately to allow for lawful protest and to minimise the impact on the public.”