Pegida anti-Islam protesters gaining in numbers - as are the counter-demonstrators

Though Pegida is most densely located in the East of Germany in cities like Dresden, it has grown to other cities in the country and even some outside the country. Dresden is the capital city of the state of Saxony and politicians there are now trying to find a way to start a dialog with the protesters.

The Pegida movement is an "anti-Islamization" group that that stands for 'Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West'. They say they are fighting to resist misogyny and violent political ideology that radical Islam brings with it. They also claim that they are not anti-Muslim and welcome all to live in Germany who wish to integrate into the country's society.

The sentiment in the press and from all the leaders of the political parties in the Bundestag tends heavily to calling them racists and xenophobes, or at least explaining the phenomenon as a gathering of some well-meaning (though misinformed) people buying into ideas espoused by neo-Nazis and other right wing groups.

Just as the "anti-Islamization" protests have grown, so have the counter-demonstrations. In fact, in some cities, those standing up for the rights of refugees outnumbered those from the Pegida copycat movements.

As this movement grows, so does the government’s concern. Many politicians are now saying that this issue must be a trigger for real discussions to find a resolution. One of the problems that both politicians and news agencies are finding is that few from the movement are willing to talk. Organizers of Pegida have told participants to stay away from journalists and politicians who they fear might take discussions out of context.

So how can the government talk to to a major group of demonstrators who are unwilling for open dialog? Saxony's Interior Ministry spokesman Martin Strunden said that, for the past two weeks, the ministry has been using Twitter to try and communicate with a larger audience of citizens concerned with increasing immigration. They said that by using hashtags on Twitter, people interested in the issue can find the government's official statements. This way they hope to inform more people who are concerned by the issues raised by Pegida.

This week the Ministry said they are happy with the initial results, with one tweet in particular receiving 10,000 views instead of the usual 400.

The main message they are trying to convey through Twitter is to curb the internet-driven rumors and false allegations about asylum seekers, refugees and immigrants in general. One post stated as fact that around that over 500,000 rejected asylum seekers were still living in Germany, with the real number lying between 50,000 to 100,000.

Using Facebook posts in relevant groups to counter misinformation has not been successful for the Ministry, however, with group administrators deleting posts that do not fit their anti-Islam narrative.

Dieter Rucht is a expert on social movements in Germany. He said it was important that even if one doesn’t agree with the movement, that one shouldn't group them as all right wing extremists, as well as not to downplay the large size of Pegida's following. He said a dialog needs to be opened.

Others suggest that taking the opinions of the protesters into account could be seen as justifying their concerns and that the protests should be roundly condemned in the media and by prominent figures in German politics.