Last Friday, over 3,000 people gathered in the center of Essen under the call to stand up for an end to the genocide in the Gaza Strip, which is currently being perpetrated by the Israeli state. In the meantime, this demonstration has made it into the headlines of all major national bourgeois media and numerous state and federal politicians from the bourgeois parties have had to make statements about this demonstration.

The reason for this hullabaloo is that, according to the bourgeois media, this demonstration was a so-called "Islamist" demonstration. And indeed, activists from the Red League, who did not take part in the demonstration but observed it, confirmed to us that this demonstration was a gathering of fundamentalist and arch-reactionary Muslims. In the gathering phase of the demonstration, the composition of the demonstration participants is said to have been quite mixed. Among them were many migrant students from the nearby University of Duisburg-Essen, who had already shown their solidarity with the struggle of the Palestinian people in recent weeks, against the will of the university management. However, when the loudspeaker van was set up and the first flags and announcements were made, it quickly became clear what the demonstration would actually be like.

Formally registered by an individual, it was a demonstration by religious fundamentalist groups, which in no way showed any real solidarity or support for the struggle for national liberation of the Palestinian people. On the contrary, according to the credo of fundamentalist, Salafist Islam, Palestinian flags were even explicitly banned by the organizers under the argument of being against nationalism. Instead, several flags were flown, on which the Islamic creed could be seen on a black or white background and which, just like on signs, were intended to mobilize the "Ummah", i.e. the world community of Muslims, to fight for a worldwide caliphate. This symbolism and rhetoric is indeed reminiscent of the reactionary butchers of the Islamic State or Al-Qaeda. Thus, many progressive people who were sincerely interested in supporting the liberation of Palestine hastily left the demonstration.

And indeed, this demonstration had much more in common ideologically and politically with these gangs of butchers than with movements of national liberation. Despite the lies of some bourgeois media, it was not a demonstration by Hamas or other forces of national resistance in Palestine. On the contrary, some members of Salafist organizations even shouted slogans against the Lebanon-based Hezbollah, which is currently fighting against Israel, because this organization is a Shiite movement and the Salafists are a Sunni movement. Hezbollah is also closely allied with Hamas and other forces of national resistance in Palestine. This religious sectarianism also shows very precisely the ideological and political basis of these Salafist groups. They are not based on the national liberation struggle, which aims to kick the imperialists, occupiers and settlers out of their country and liberate the nation. Rather, they are based solely on the claim to impose their religion and the laws of this religion, which they interpret from it, on the rest of the world with a global war. In doing so, these forces play with anti-imperialist demagogy and condemn in words above all the imperialists in the Western hemisphere and the death of Muslims through imperialist wars. Their answer, which could be seen on numerous signs, is "The caliphate is the solution!". Several Arab slogans also called for the conquest of the world by Islam. What the caliphate then looks like as a feudal solution to the problems of imperialism could also be seen on site in the way stewards, sometimes quite aggressively, used a hollow tube attached with ropes to separate women from the rest of the demonstration and let them run behind the men's part of the demonstration with a gap of several meters.

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Stewards force women to walk in a separate block behind the men.Bild von Essen stellt sich Quer:

The difference with the struggle in Palestine is that there are different organizations involved in the struggle for national liberation, some are very religious and conservative, others are secular, but their common ground is the goal of reclaiming the Palestinian land from Israeli Zionism and not the world caliphate.

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Bild von Essen also takes a stand.

Another interesting aspect of the demonstration was the role of the police. While at the beginning the demonstration site and the side streets were surrounded by police cars and hundreds of police officers, as the nature of the demonstration became clearer and clearer that this was not a demonstration in support of the Palestinian people, there was not even a side escort by the police forces. Only in front of the street leading to the synagogue in downtown Essen were anti-riot police and police cars positioned as a blockade. Demonstrations that really support the liberation of the Palestinian people with mass participation are banned nationwide and subjected to repression. A demonstration consisting mainly of 3000 religious fanatics is allowed to proceed without police escort.

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Picture from the Rheinische Post:

In retrospect, the outrage in the public debate is predictably great. The images produced by the demonstration and approved by the Ministry of the Interior in North Rhine-Westphalia are now being used to once again call for the tightening of the fundamental right to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression.Serap Güler, member of the CDU federal executive, openly demands "After these exclamations, after these posters, we have to think about restricting the freedom of assembly, thus a fundamental right". The WDR then puts Güler in context and explains that she herself is a Muslim and was State Secretary for Integration until 2021. Interior Minister Herbert Reul has a slightly different approach. For the time being, he doesn't want to tighten the law directly, but rather let his police force determine everything. For example, he is thinking out loud about having posters and signs banned more easily by the police on the ground in future. He also wants to examine whether the police in NRW could enforce German as the language of assembly in future. Work is also to continue on banning slogans and further restricting the size of flags and banners. The fact that Reul does not want to go down the path of tightening the law here, but rather via the police themselves, may give demonstrators in NRW even less legal certainty in the future, because the legal basis would then no longer be the first recourse that could be invoked, but the demonstration situations would simply depend on the orders of the police. However, Reul does not want to completely rule out the possibility of stricter laws and announced that the Assembly Act in NRW, which has already been tightened in previous years, could be further modified in the future. In response to criticism as to why the demonstration was not broken up by the police, he said that the motto for the future would also be "make a quick legal assessment, intervene consistently". This means that in future the police in NRW will have to make more political decisions on the ground as to whether and how to allow demonstrations.

As with other bans and threats of bans on reactionary gatherings, it is confirmed time and again that they end up being used primarily against revolutionary and progressive forces, as we have also seen in the example of the restriction of assembly during the corona pandemic, which is now expressed, among other things, in the severe restrictions on freedom of assembly and freedom of expression in support of the national liberation struggle of the Palestinian people. This time the same is being attempted in NRW with the demonstration of religious fundamentalists. It is therefore important not to be blinded by the fact that these bans are aimed at reactionaries. In NRW in particular, the expansion of power in the hands of the executive and above all the police can also be implemented one-to-one against protests against police violence and racism, for example. Freedom of assembly and freedom of opinion are rights of the people and must be defended accordingly.

Cover picture from the Rheinische Post: