On Saturday 6th of February, Pegida Ireland – the Irish wing of the ultra-right “anti-islamisation” group – attempted to found their Irish branch on the steps of the GPO. This is of course right where the 1916 revolutionaries pledged to grant “religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities” for all a century ago. I say “attempted”, because they were promptly run the hell out. The majority of this counter-demonstration was wholly peaceful, however. There were speakers from migrant groups, representatives of the Irish Muslim community and members of various Left-Wing and anti-racist organisations.
“We shall overcome”, the anthem of the American (and Northern Irish) Civil Rights movement rang out over O’Connell street. Yes, there were clashes. This was with Pegida supporters,which I was surprised to see were almost exclusively ridiculous caricatures of sexually repressed, shorn-headed neo-Nazis. It was more of a fun jaunt if anything as the proud defenders of some flimsy idea of shared white “Euro-ness” pelted it into Brannigan’s pub visibly soiling themselves, and were thereafter protected by lines of riot police. We let them know that while all colours, creeds and beliefs are welcome here, poisonous hate-speech and Fascism definitely are not. Done and dusted.
This, however, is part of a worldwide rise in Fascism. The formula has been seen before with stark comparisons with the rise of Fascist groups and states in the 30s and 40s. A worldwide economic collapse, complete loss of trust in the existing political order and people get angry and desperate. Searching for any kind of meaning or anyone to blame some turn to the extreme right. The rise of the Golden Dawn, the EDL, UKIP, PEGIDA, Donald Trump’s worryingly large support base in the US and the current rise of Fascist political blocs in eastern Europe are more of the same reactionary-reactions. As Herman Göring himself said: “the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger.”
That is, more or less, what is happening here. The catchy acronym of PEGIDA – itself sounding oddly like a Mediterranean beach resort – stands for “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West.” It was begun in Germany in 2014 and saw a surge following the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January 2015. The current massive influx of refugees escaping incredible hardships, including the war in Syria has added fuel to the far-right fire. The leader Lutz Bachman was known for posting such social media Gems as – complete with a picture of a KKK member – the phrase “3 K’s a day keeps the minorities away” and posts calling refugees “animals”, “scumbags” and “trash.”
The apple doesn’t fall from the goose-stepping tree with Ireland’s very own boy wonder Peter O’Loughlin, leader of Identity Ireland and Pegida Ireland. They, much like their German counterparts claim innocence of the crime of racism and simply that they are fighting for Irish “sovereignty” from migrants. Somehow they manage to every now and then dredge up laughable parallels between the Irish fight for Independence from a colonial power and… Immigrants? Multiculturalism? Yeah, go figure. Peter O’Loughlin and co. have stated they want an Ireland where “the overwhelming population is of ethnic Irish origin.” Just what handful of us “100% Irish” will be left around in Peter’s batshit fantasy Island if he got his way, is anybody’s guess.
Let’s not forget that the anti-immigration Identity Ireland was launched on 22 July 2015. This was exactly four years from when Anders Behring Breivik killed over 70 innocent people in Norway. Coincidence that an anti-immigration, islamophobic, right-wing nationalist group founded on the exact date that an anti-immagration, Islamophobic, right-wing nationalist nutcase committed that atrocity. But I digress. On that hastily aborted founding day on Saturday the 6th, Pegida Ireland also had in tow a man named Tommy Robinson, the founder of the EDL. If Identity Ireland/Pegida Ireland had any weight to their claims to NOT being a fascist, racist organisation, they wouldn’t be so very cosy with a man who had once been a prominent member of English neo-nazi boy scouts the National Front.
The glaringly obvious hypocrisy here is the Irish people’s long, rich and current saga of emigration and our experience of discrimination and anti-Irish sentiment. I personally come from a rural town in county Cork which has had one of the highest concentrations of Refugees/Asylum seekers per head of population for many years now. Despite it being a stronghold of highly Conservative politics, a certain Principal and teacher of our primary school once told us cautionary tales of the anti-Irish abuse he had suffered as a young man working in England. The message was clear, to accept them as our own without reservation and not to forget history, lest we repeat it. But never once were any of the (unfortunately) strongly-held rigid conservative ideals of my hometown threatened by North Africans, Kosovans, Nigerians, Persians, Congolese, Eastern Europeans. In fact, far from “assimilating” as the Borg-esque right-wing love to drone on about, they did better. They took to our sports, languages, customs with enthusiasm and excelled at everything they did. They also kept their own rich and unique heritage, and customs. We were far better off for having them and they went onto better things, despite having to endure horrible conditions in detention centres for so many years.
Despite Pegida, UKIP and Hungary’s Viktor Orban making the completely bogus claim that over 90% of those fleeing to Europe are “Economic Migrants” , the truth is far more startling. Over 50% of refugees in the last year have been fleeing from the Syrian conflict alone. A conflict for which the disasterous paper trail leads right back to the Western powers and Russia, both funding every side of the conflict or directly inflicting mass slaughter. This is at the expense of innocent people, and for their own profit.
The old refrain of “we should look after our own first” doesn’t fly either. The fact is we CAN look after our own, we simply choose or allow the richest in our society to grow richer, and the rest of us more destitute. The Lebanon has taken In 1.1 million Syrian refugees, more than one fifth of the whole population. Jordan has taken in 600,000, Turkey – 1.6 million. Ireland? We have offered to take in just 4,000 without any commitment to a timeline or schedule. We have all now seen photographs of little children washed up dead on beaches. We have seen crowds of desperate people making incredibly dangerous journeys across hostile borders and deadly seas. No human being takes these risks without very very good reason, and to deny anyone in this situation is not only shameful for us as a people, it is criminal.
During the horrors of the Holocaust in World War 2, the countries of the world opened their doors to Jews fleeing certain death and horrendous persecution. Ireland, on the other hand, took a different approach. The “Land of a Thousand Welcomes” allowed in as few as 30 Jewish refugees, both before and during the war. Our status as a welcoming nation of do-gooders is a sinister lie, until we not only completely break the back of Fascism in our country – but until we throw open the doors to those who need it, as the world has done for us, as “economic migrants”.
The bottom line here is this – who lives here, belongs here.