Swiss activists plan PEGIDA anti-Muslim march amid rising tensions across Europe

A man holds a poster reading 'PEGIDA makes you happy' during a rally of LEGIDA, a local copycat of Dresden's  anti-immigration movement PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident), in Leipzig, eastern Germany on January 12, 2015. (AFP Photo)
Swiss activists have founded a local branch of the popular German anti-Muslim PEGIDA movement. The group is boasting a fast growth in supporters and plans to hold a demonstration next month.

The Swiss branch of PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West) was launched two days after the attack on the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine.

The PEGIDA group’s Facebook page calls on potential supporters to come to a demonstration planned for February 16 at an as yet undisclosed location.

The spokesman for Swiss PEGIDA is Ignaz Bearth, current head of the Swiss Direct Democracy Party, a small party with links to France's Front National party, according to AFP. He is also a former member of the far-right Swiss Nationalist Party.

"Many people have been awakened since the Islamist terrorist attack in France and realize how big the risk is and that Islamism is not just limited to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Nigeria, but has arrived to Europe," Bearth said, as cited by 20 minuten news website.

Swiss PEGIDA organizers have been posting smiley faces while tracking the growth in the number of ‘Likes’ their page gets. There were 3,000 of them on Sunday. Within 24 hours that number grew by 600.

Screenshot from facebook page

The group’s opponents - NO PEGIDA Schweiz – are still more popular, however, with roughly twice as many supporters. They are planning their own demonstration on February 16, to counter the anti-Islamic rally.

That’s similar to what’s happening in Germany, the birthplace of PEGIDA. Massive anti-terrorism rallies were held there Monday. In most German cities, anti-PEGIDA demonstrators reportedly outnumbered PEGIDA supporters.

However Dresden showed an opposite trend – 25,000 people joined the anti-Islamic march there, while a counter-rally only had 8,000 participants.

READ MORE: Anti-Islam & pro-tolerance demonstrators take to German streets (PHOTOS, VIDEOS)

Among things the Swiss PEGIDA is calling for in its 14-point program is a ban on wearing burqas in Switzerland, something that is also on the agenda of the right-wing Swiss People’s Party.

Demonstrators wave with German national flags during a rally by a mounting anti-immigration movement called Pegida on January 5, 2015 in Dresden, eastern Germany. (AFP Photo)

The burqa is a symbol of radical Islam and is also used to oppress women,” said Walter Wobmann, one of the party’s members, told The Wall Street Jourmal. “The Swiss traditions of tolerance, and our culture, democratic and economic system, must not be damaged.”

Wobmann also wants a ban on entry of Muslim asylum seekers from Iraq and Syria into Switzerland.

The problem with Muslim immigrants is becoming bigger and bigger,” he said. “Radical Muslims have more and more rights and we must limit this.”

The issue of immigration, from Muslim countries in particular, has long been a hot one in Switzerland, and it is reflected in the country’s legislation.

In 2009, Swiss citizens in a referendum backed a ban on the construction of Muslim minarets. A year later, in 2010, they voted for the automatic deportation of foreigners found guilty of serious crimes.

Anti-Islamic feeling has surged in France, where Muslims have had to deal with threats and insults and mosques have been attacked.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls reacted by saying that mosques needed the same kind of protection that synagogues and Jewish schools already have.

Asghar Bukhari, a founding member of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK, believes Muslims are now largely at a loss for what to do, now that there is so much anger turned on them. He warned against demonizing all Muslims because of terror attacks by small groups of extremists.

You have this belief that Muslims are in the know, they must have known about the attack, these 6 million people secretly knew about it,” he told RT. “They don’t know about it. Often even the parents of people who are going to undertake some sort of terrorist attack have no knowledge of what’s going to go wrong.”

Meanwhile, PEGIDA’s ideas seem to resonate with more and more people across Europe. The group’s French wing enjoys more than 8,000 supporters on Facebook. Local branches have also been launched in Austria and the Netherlands.