For weeks now national and international media have descended upon Dresden to report on the grassroots anti-Islam movement that has emerged out of the eastern German city.
Yet it seems the message of Pegida marches, which protest a supposed Islamization of the West, has not gained much traction in the rest of the country.
A survey carried out by Handelsblatt has found that despite the Paris terror attacks, and efforts of Pegida to capitalize on that violence to rally supporters, the majority of Germans do not see a connection between Islamist violence and Muslims living in Germany.
There had been speculation that the terrorism in Paris could give the movement added impetus. And on Monday, 25,000 people gathered to join the protest, the biggest turn-out so far since the weekly rallies started in October.
Yet, there were also countless counter-demonstrations across the country attended by around 100,000 people, following a march on Saturday in Dresden against racism and xenophobia that attracted 35,000 people.
Many protestors held aloft posters saying: “Je Suis Charlie but not Pegida,” in reference to the Charlie Hebdo magazine targeted by the Paris attackers. Eight members of the editorial team were killed last Tuesday in the attack along with four other people.
Now a poll shows that the majority of Germans do not see a connection between the attacks and the majority of Muslims. Only 3 percent of those polled saw any connection between radical Islamism and the religion of Islam.
Furthermore, 56 percent of those surveyed, in a poll carried out exclusively for Handelsblatt, believe Islam belongs in Germany.
“Every exclusion of Muslims in Germany, every blanket suspicion is forbidden.”
It is something that Chancellor Angela Merkel reiterated in her speech to the Bundestag on Thursday, when she addressed the terror attacks in Paris last week.
“Christianity belongs without doubt to Germany, Judaism belongs without doubt to Germany. But in the meantime Islam also belongs to Germany,” she said.
She pledged to protect the country’s Muslims and Jews from extremism and said “we won’t be divided by those using Islamist terrorism to cast suspicion on all Muslims in Germany.”
Most Germans, it seems, agree with her. According to the survey carried out by the Forsa polling institute for Handelsblatt on January 14, only 34 percent of Germans did not consider Islam as part of the country. People in eastern Germany, those over 60 and those who were supporters of Ms. Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats were slightly less likely to accept Islam, but not significantly.
The only group that was decisively against the statement that Islam belongs to Germany were supporters of the conservative euro-skeptic party, the Alternative for Germany, or AfD. An overwhelming majority, 81 percent did not agree, showing that there are significant overlaps between Pegida and the new party. Indeed the AfD in Saxony has already held talks with Pegida organizers, saying afterwards that there were many “overlaps” between the two groups.
Significantly, the Forsa poll was taken after last week’s terror attacks in Paris, which saw 17 people die at the hands of three radical Islamists. The three terrorists were killed in two police operations after a man hunt.
Since the attacks, Ms. Merkel has been at pains to draw a sharp distinction between Islam and radical Islamists. She had already been sharply critical of the Pegida movement. In her New Year’s address to the nation, she warned Germans against joining the Islamophobic group.
Since then she has lead from the front, saying Germany is an open tolerant country where xenophobia has no place.
It is a risky strategy, giving rise to the possibility that conservative voters who disagree with this viewpoint might turn to the AfD instead.
The party has already succeeded in entering three state parliaments in eastern Germany and had a strong showing in the European Parliament elections last May. The party’s original raison-d’être was to oppose Germany’s membership of the euro zone, but since then it has increasingly attracted support from those suspicious of immigration.
Some in Ms. Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats, alarmed at the prospect of the party loosing votes on the right, have voiced criticism of her uncharacteristically strong stance on the issue.
“Germany has a Judeo-Christian cultural tradition, not one marked by Islam,” Wolfgang Bosbach, chairman of the parliamentary interior affairs committee, told Handelsblatt. He said he did not know which Islam Ms. Merkel referred to when she said it belonged to Germany, asking did that include Salafism, the ultra-conservative form of Islam.
“Sharia certainly does not belong to Germany. It is in stark opposition to the fundamental principles of our legal system.”
“Germany has a Judeo-Christian cultural tradition, not one marked by Islam.”
In her speech to parliament on Thursday Ms. Merkel said that people should avoid viewing all Muslims with suspicion.
“Every exclusion of Muslims in Germany, every blanket suspicion is forbidden,” she said. The majority of Muslims in Germany are “law-abiding citizens.”
She made no specific mention of Pegida but said that some people were unsure how to deal with Islam, “as they did not grow up with the Koran. “Neither did I.”
Most Germans agree with her clear differentiation between Islam and Islamists. Only 3 percent of those polled saw any connection between terrorism and the values and teachings of Islam, while 57 percent did not want to see any limits on immigration from Muslim countries. However, when it came to AfD supporters, a full 77 percent wanted to see some kind of restrictions.
Nevertheless, while most Germans make no connection between terror and Islam, there is still unease with the level of integration of the country’s Muslim minority.
Almost two thirds of those polled said that Muslims did not do enough themselves to integrate.
It is estimated that 4 million of Germany’s population of 81 million are Muslim. While the majority, around 3 million, have a Turkish background, there are increasing numbers of Syrians and Iraqis arriving as refugees.
In 2014 around 200,000 asylum seekers arrived in Germany, up significantly from the 127,000 that arrived in 2013, and the highest number in the European Union.
Many communities complain that they are struggling to accommodate the influx of refugees. It was the opening of 14 refugee shelters in Dresden that first gave rise to the Pegida movement last October.
Meanwhile police in Dresden are investigating the death of a young Muslim man from Eritrea, who was stabbed to death on Monday night, the night of the anti-Islam rally, amid speculation it may have been a hate crime.
Thomas Sigmund is the bureau chief of Handelsblatt’s Berlin office and heads up the politics desk. Siobhán Dowling is a reporter with Handelsblatt Global Edition and has covered German politics from Berlin for a decade. Handelsblatt reporters Dietmar Neuerer and Daniel Delhaes also contributed to this article. To contact the authors: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.