01:27 - Source: CNN
German church protests anti-Muslim movement

Story highlights

Cologne Cathedral turns off its lights to protest against anti-Islamization rally on Monday

"Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West" is rallying near the church

The group is also holding demonstrations in the German capital Berlin and the city of Kassel

London CNN —  

Germany’s Cologne Cathedral turned off its lights Monday in a symbolic rejection of an anti-Islamification rally taking place in its shadow.

The protest group “Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West,” or PEGIDA, called for people to take to the streets at 5:30 p.m. (6:30 p.m. GMT) Monday in the cities of Cologne, Kassel and the German capital Berlin.

It follows a December 22 protest in Dresden during which the city’s opera house – Semperoper – turned its lights on and off to signify its rejection of PEGIDA. Semperoper has a banner reading “Refugees are welcome here” as its main profile image on Facebook.

In a Facebook post December 30, Cologne Cathedral Provost Norbert Feldhoff said Monday’s protest would “certainly not take place in the light of the cathedral.”

Following the example of the Semperoper, Feldhoff said, “the Cologne Cathedral will be shrouded in darkness.”

“The High Cathedral will not be a backdrop for this demonstration,” he said. “As a highly visible protest against xenophobia, racism and exclusion, the outdoor lighting of Cologne Cathedral will therefore be turned off on January 5 for the period of the demonstration.”

On its Facebook page, PEGIDA says citizens should “wake from their slumber” and recognize the “danger in the Islamic ideology.” “Stop the radical Salfists’ Islamization” it urges. “As a society, we should give people the chance to integrate, but we should not allow ourselves to be Islamized thereby losing our freedom and democracy!”

German state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reported that more than 17,000 people participated in the Dresden rally last month, where they were met by some 4,000 counterprotesters.

Police in Cologne said they would have an increased presence in light of Monday’s planned protests, with several hundred officers set to be on the city’s streets.

Meanwhile, CNN’s Frederik Pleitgen in Berlin said that PEGIDA protesters in the capital were likely to number in the hundreds and be met by thousands of counterprotesters.

A poll by German newspaper Der Speigel in December found that 34% of respondents believed their country was becoming “increasingly Islamicized.”

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour Monday that he was “worried by this tendency” but the significance of the protests should not be overestimated.

“It’s new, it’s concerning, but we should not be dominated by PEGIDA when we discuss our political agenda,” he said.

On the other hand, he said protesters posed some questions that needed to be answered. “They ask: ‘Is there an end of asylum seekers, how dangerous is Islam for our society, what about the fight against IS (ISIS) – can this be successful?’ These critical questions have to be faced, have to be answered,” de Maziere said.

But he said he did not fear a rise of ugly nationalism in Germany again.

“I’m confident we are strong,” he said. “We learned our lessons from the Nazi years and you can see it’s very interesting that the organizations of PEGIDA, they know exactly where the red line is which they should not cross – this makes me more skeptical but they know where the taboos are in Germany so I don’t see a renewal of the NPD (the far-right National Democratic Party) – it’s less than in other European countries. And we are very well aware of it and we will fight against every tendency.”

De Maziere said Germany was in the process of changing its asylum laws: “We say yes to immigration in our interests, we say yes to our humanitarian responsibility towards asylum seekers and we say no to those who only come because of economic reasons,” he said. De Maiziere said the criminal organizations trafficking people into Europe needed to be stopped. “We have to get the people ready to welcome real refugees and we have to fight against these criminal organizations.”

In her New Year’s speech, German Chancellor Angela Merkel addressed the issue of xenophobia, urging citizens not to attend such rallies. Such demonstrations encourage the exclusion of people because of their skin color or religion, she said.

Merkel urged people not to attend such demonstrations, where people have “hatred in their hearts,” she said.

“We know the value of unity in our country,” she said. “It is the foundation of our success.”