German spy agency calls anti-Islam Pegida protest group ‘anti-constitutional’

German intelligence services said Wednesday that they would widen their surveillance of the Islamophobic protest movement Pegida in its home state of Saxony, as the group had become a "extremist" and "anti-constitutional".

German spy agency calls anti-Islam Pegida protest group 'anti-constitutional'
A Pegida protest in Cottbus in October. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Annette Riedl

While Pegida had previously attracted “heterogeneous” support and taken “moderate” positions, it had developed “an increasingly right-wing extremist orientation” Saxony’s domestic intelligence agency LfV said in a statement.

“By regularly offering right-wing extremists a platform to propagate
anti-constitutional ideologies, this movement acts as a hinge between
extremists and non-extremists,” said agency president Dirk-Martin Christian.

He added that “all people and activities” within the group would now be put under surveillance, with the exception of those merely taking part in peaceful demonstrations.

READ ALSO: German city of Dresden declares official ‘Nazi emergency’

Pegida, which campaigns against what it calls the “Islamisation of the
West”, was born in October 2014 with xenophobic marches every Monday evening.

Its protests gained momentum during the refugee crisis of 2015, when
Germany became deeply polarised over Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to keep the country’s doors open to hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers, many from Iraq or Syria.

The movement’s popularity coincided with the rise of the far-right AfD
party, which entered parliament for the first time in 2017 on an anti-refugee and anti-immigration platform.

Pegida has previously been declared as extremist and put under observation by spy agencies in other German states such as Bavaria.

One of its leading members, Lutz Bachmann, has faced multiple convictions for sedition, most recently in December 2020.

Germany’s domestic intelligence agencies monitor a range of individuals and groups from across the political spectrum who are suspected of extremist tendencies.

In a move later blocked by Germany’s Consitutional Court, the national intelligence service BfV said in March that it was placing the entire AfD party under surveillance for posing a threat to democracy.

Two weeks ago, the agency said it would also monitor members of the
so-called “Querdenker” (Lateral Thinkers) movement, which has emerged as the loudest voice against coronavirus curbs and an active promoter of conspiracy theories that deny basic facts about the pandemic.

READ ALSO: Germany’s spy agency to monitor ‘Querdenker’ Covid sceptics

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Mosques in Cologne to start broadcasting the call to prayer every Friday

The mayor of Cologne has announced a two-year pilot project that will allow mosques to broadcast the call to prayer on the Muslim day of rest each week.

Mosques in Cologne to start broadcasting the call to prayer every Friday
The DITIP mosque in Cologne. Photo: dpa | Henning Kaiser

Mosques in the city of the banks of the Rhine will be allowed to call worshippers to prayer on Fridays for five minutes between midday and 3pm.

“Many residents of Cologne are Muslims. In my view it is a mark of respect to allow the muezzin’s call,” city mayor Henriette Reker wrote on Twitter.

In Muslim-majority countries, a muezzin calls worshippers to prayer five times a day to remind people that one of the daily prayers is about to take place.

Traditionally the muezzins would call out from the minaret of the mosque but these days the call is generally broadcast over loudspeakers.

Cologne’s pilot project would permit such broadcasts to coincide with the main weekly prayer, which takes place on a Friday afternoon.

Reker pointed out that Christian calls to prayer were already a central feature of a city famous for its medieval cathedral.

“Whoever arrives at Cologne central station is welcomed by the cathedral and the sound of its church bells,” she said.

Reker said that the call of a muezzin filling the skies alongside church bells “shows that diversity is both appreciated and enacted in Cologne”.

Mosques that are interested in taking part will have to conform to guidelines on sound volume that are set depending on where the building is situated. Local residents will also be informed beforehand.

The pilot project has come in for criticism from some quarters.

Bild journalist Daniel Kremer said that several of the mosques in Cologne were financed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, “a man who opposes the liberal values of our democracy”, he said.

Kremer added that “it’s wrong to equate church bells with the call to prayer. The bells are a signal without words that also helps tell the time. But the muezzin calls out ‘Allah is great!’ and ‘I testify that there is no God but Allah.’ That is a big difference.”

Cologne is not the first city in North Rhine-Westphalia to allow mosques to broadcast the call to prayer.

In a region with a large Turkish immigrant community, mosques in Gelsenkirchen and Düren have been broadcasting the religious call since as long ago as the 1990s.

SEE ALSO: Imams ‘made in Germany’: country’s first Islamic training college opens its doors