Three months after landing in Quebec, controversial European movement PEGIDA is set to host its first rally this weekend in Montreal.
PEGIDA — a German acronym for Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West — has brought thousands into the streets of various European cities with its anti-Islamization message. The group, formed last year, opposes what it perceives as the Islamization of western countries and a subsequent erosion of western values. PEGIDA rallies have frequently been countered by opposing demonstrations in England, Germany and France, and a counter-rally is taking shape for Saturday in Montreal.
The event, announced on the group’s Facebook page, is expected to begin Saturday at 4 p.m. on the outer edge of Little Maghreb, a section of Villeray–St-Michel–Parc-Extension that is home to a large number of the city’s Muslim businesses and residents. From there, the marchers will reportedly head south and stop outside the Islamic centre run by Adil Charkaoui, a local educator who fights against Islamophobia and was once accused by the federal government of being a terrorist.
The Star REFORM OR LEAVE: That’s the message from one of the leaders who has brought to Canada a controversial European movement that unites political conservatives, anti-Muslim immigration activists and patriots with the goal of beating back the rising tide of Islamic fundamentalism.
— Mr Normal ن (@PaulWilko657) October 23, 2014
Jean-François Asgard is one of five people to have launched PEGIDA Québec earlier this year, the latest branch of a global anti-Islam movement that was created last fall in the German town of Dresden.
PEGIDA (the name is a German acronym for Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West) was founded by a graphic designer who planned a protest against the opening of 14 Muslim refugee centres in his city. It has risen rapidly, gathering more than 40,000 people at its peak and provoking warnings and denunciations from German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
That has done little to stop its global growth and there are now branches across Europe, in Australia, Britain and the United States. There is also a national PEGIDA Canada group as well as a branch in British Columbia.
“The incompatibility of Islam with the west is flagrant and that’s the reason that PEGIDA and the Western patriots are rising up. It’s not just to counter Islam but to say that if Islam doesn’t reform itself, Islam needs to get out of the west,” Asgard, 33, told the Star in the group’s first interview ahead of a controversial march planned for this weekend.
Though the group is still in its infancy it has already been denounced on the floor of the House of Commons in Ottawa and condemned by members of Quebec’s national assembly for promoting hatred and fear at an already sensitive time for Quebec’s Muslims.
“Its actions are directly targeting the Muslim community. Among its supporters, we find Christian fundamentalists and adherents of the (National Front of Canada), a movement that is clearly against immigration and ferociously anti-Islam,” wrote Québec Solidaire co-leader Françoise David in an letter published in Montreal’s Le Devoir.
The rally, which PEGIDA is already touting as its North American grand opening, will start on the outer edge of Montreal’s “Petit Maghreb,” home to a number of the city’s North African — largely Muslim — businesses and residents. From there, Asgard said, it will head south with a planned stop outside the Islamic centre run by Adil Charkaoui, a man formerly accused of being an Al Qaeda sleeper agent.
Charkaoui has come under scrutiny after it was revealed that a number of the seven young Quebecers who recently fled the country to join the ranks of the Islamic State had attended his Islamic dogma and Arabic-language courses.
“We intend to make a stop there (at Charkaoui’s mosque) and, with the loudspeaker, it will send a message,” Asgard said, adding that the police have already given the group a permit for the march.
A number of other groups, including one describing itself as anti-fascists, are planning a counter demonstration.
In a Facebook exchange with the Star another of PEGIDA Quebec’s administrators explained that the group is a reaction to last October’s back-to-back terror attacks in Ottawa and in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., as well as a perceived failure of the provincial government’s failure to crack down on Muslim fundamentalists in Quebec.