Germany’s AfD Party Conference Endorses Islamophobic Manifesto
By Timothy Meyers
Last weekend Germany’s far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party held a conference in Stuttgart to outline the party’s political manifesto ahead of the national elections in 2017. Part of this platform is that all Muslim head scarves, minarets, and muezzins should be banned, since “Islam is not a part of Germany.” This is a frightening intensification of AfD’s xenophobic rhetoric and provides further proof that the previously marginal political far right is gaining ground in Germany.
Thousands of anti-AfD protesters stood outside the conference entrance, holding signs comparing the party to Nazis. One group attempted to block a highway with burning tires. Roughly one thousand riot police responded, firing tear gas and arresting about four hundred people. The tense atmosphere did nothing to impede the conference, but exemplifies the volatile emotions surrounding the rising popularity of AfD, presently Germany’s third-largest party.
German Muslims are shocked and concerned about the AfD’s rhetoric on their faith and how it may influence how many Germans interact with them. The chairman of Germany’s Central Council of Muslims, Aiman Mazyek, condemned the party as Islamophobic and stated that such discourse will only divide Germany.
But it’s not only Muslims who fear what AfD’s platform could mean for religious and ethnic minorities in Germany. Josef Schuster, the president of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, stated, “With this [manifesto], the AfD has departed from the foundations of our constitution.” He concluded that the party’s enmity toward religion was “crystal clear,” adding that this platform would only further “split our society and thwart peaceful coexistence” in Germany.
While AfD’s latest pronouncements against Islam are troubling for Germany, the party could also have a far-reaching impact across the continent. After AfD party head Frauke Petry hypothesized about shooting refugees to protect Germany’s borders, AfD was kicked out of their European Parliamentary Group, the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) party. Now, at least one of AfD’s two MEPs, Marcus Pretzell, said he intends to join the Movement for a Europe of Nations and Freedom (MENF), Marine Le Pen’s far-right focused bloc in the European Parliament.
The AfD conference also highlighted a laudatory letter from the Austrian FPÖ leader Heinz-Christian Strache and FPÖ’s presidential candidate Norbert Hofer, congratulating AfD for its “courage, honesty and conviction.” FPÖ is also a member of Le Pen’s European Parliament group and won an unprecedented 36 percent of the vote in the first round of presidential elections in Austria the previous weekend.
Human Rights First has studied the rise of the far right in Europe for years now, and AfD’s rising power, fueled by the fires of xenophobic hatred, is particularly concerning. Germany is the political and economic lynchpin of Europe. If xenophobic discourse spurs negative treatment of religious minorities in Germany, it could have consequences for the entire region.
These concerns are not merely hypothetical. As noted in Human Rights First’s fact sheet on Germany, far-right supporters committed ninety percent of all antisemitic hate crimes as well as ninety percent of all attacks on migrant shelters in Germany in 2015.
AfD’s new political manifesto is a truly disturbing testament. The United States should do all it can to work with its German counterparts to combat xenophobic rhetoric and effectively prevent, counter, and prosecute hate crimes, emphasizing rights-based values that are shared in Germany and across Europe. Values like freedom of religion and freedom of expression must be for all citizens, regardless of faith or background.