MPs and faith leaders have condemned an upcoming anti-Islam march through Birmingham, prompting Pegida UK figurehead Tommy Robinson to brand them "cowards". All 10 of the city's Conservative and Labour MPs joined more than 60 other community leaders in signing a "pledge of hope for Birmingham", which attacked Pegida UK's "silent walk" organised for 6 February.
Championing Birmingham's multiculturalism, the pledge said: "Known historically as the 'city of a thousand trades', people have always come from around the world to work in Birmingham, and to this day, we live and work together. Unfortunately despite our proud history, we have been 'chosen' as the target for the British leg of a European 'day of action' targeting Muslim communities.
"As proud people of Birmingham, we wish to declare that Pegida are not welcome and have nothing to offer our city."
Signatories include Birmingham branch members of the Church of England, the Birmingham Progressive Synagogue and the head of Birmingham Central Mosque, which is due to host a tea-drinking counter-protest the day before the march. The initiative was organised by Hope Not Hate, an anti-extremism charity which aims to improve community relations between different groups and faiths.
The Pegida UK march, to be led in part by former English Defence League (EDL) leader Tommy Robinson, will be a relaunch of the group in Britain with the hope of trying to replicate the success of similar marches in Dresden, which attracted tens of thousands at their peak.
Robinson attacked the "hope pledge" as "pathetic" and described the MPs and community leaders as "cowards". He told IBTimes UK: "What have they ever done to stop the hate being preached in our universities? What have they ever done to stop the sexual exploitation of young girls in Birmingham?
"I invite them to sit down with me and have an adult conversation about the problems we face. It's easy to just condemn. What's not easy is to do what we do every day, receiving death threats and being attacked. These MPs just take the easy way out, they're cowards."
Hope Not Hate says attempts to launch Pegida chapters elsewhere in Europe have so far failed to draw the same numbers, but warned 6 February would see a Europe-wide "Day of Action" in an attempt to spread the movement across the continent.
About a dozen countries will host Pegida-linked marches, including France, Ireland and Germany, seeing supporters take to the streets to halt what it says is the "Islamisation of the West". The UK protest has been organised under the banner, "Preserve our culture, save our country and save our future", with Robinson calling for a Donald Trump-style ban on immigration and an end to mosques being built in the UK for five years.
Robinson said the decision to march in Birmingham, which has one of the largest Muslim communities in the UK, was because the city had become the "terrorist epicentre" of Britain. He insisted the group was not anti-Muslim but instead targeted the "fascist ideology" of Islam.
The 33-year-old's new role as Pegida UK's "manager" comes two years after he appeared to renounce his far-right views, announcing through anti-extremism group the Quilliam Foundation he would be leaving the EDL. At the time, he said he wanted to distance himself from "far-right extremism" and the group's "mixing of alcohol and aggression".
In December, he announced he would relaunch Pegida UK, unveiling its new leader Paul Weston a month later. He said his decision was inspired by "mainstream" Pegida rallies taking place across Europe which, in contrast to his days leading the EDL, he claims avoided the violence often associated with right-wing groups.
But critics, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have described Pegida and its offshoots as having "prejudice, coldness, even hatred in their hearts".
West Midlands Police, which revealed it only expects a few hundred to turn up to the Birmingham march this weekend, said it was also anticipating counter-protests on the day, including from Unite Against Fascism (UAF) – a left-wing protest group which plans to meet in Victoria Square. UAF activists described Pegida UK as an "Islamophobic movement who aim to recreate the hatred of their allies elsewhere in Europe".
The group added: "German anti-fascists have responded brilliantly in taking the potential threat of Pegida seriously and continue to mobilise in their thousands against them. Unite Against Fascism stands in solidarity with German anti-fascists and all those who oppose them across Europe."
On 5 February, Birmingham Central Mosque will host another counter-protest inviting residents of all faiths and none to "defeat hatred by simply drinking tea and connecting with people we wouldn't normally engage with". It has asked residents to sign up to a campaign where residents meet members of other faiths to improve community relations.
The political leaders of all three main parties in Birmingham previously condemned the march in Birmingham, saying in December it was based on "based on prejudice, intolerance and hate".
Robinson had told IBTimes UK the group was "not coming for confrontation" and had "no plans to march through or near a Muslim community". He accused Birmingham councillors of being "hypocrites", adding: "They talk of the history of Birmingham [as one of cohesion and tolerance]. The truth is it was, but not any more.
"Now it's a hotbed for radical Islam. These council leaders never came out to condemn the marches held by Muslim extremists, like the anti-free speech protests condemning the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. They're hypocrites."