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Twenty-First Century Crusades?
tension and backlash against Muslims in Europe
Right-Wing Extremism: Germany's New
by SPIEGEL Staff
Across Germany, right-wing organizations are using anti-Islam rhetoric
to further their ideas -- and finding a receptive audience. Now legal
experts are debating whether it's time for a new kind of hate-crime
Stachus is one of Munich's nicest squares. It is rich in tradition and
filled with pedestrians -- and perfect for Michael Stürzenberger's
purposes. Hand balled into a fist, he paces back and forth and screams,
"The Koran is the most dangerous book in the world." Because a couple
dozen people have come to demonstrate against Stürzenberger, police
officers in bullet-proof vests are watching over the area.
A decade ago, Stürzenberger, 49, was the spokesperson for the Munich
office of the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party of
Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union. But since 2012 he
has been active in a splinter party called Die Freiheit ("The Freedom"),
of which he was elected federal chairman three months ago. He preaches
hate against Islam and compares the Koran to Hitler's "Mein Kampf." For
two years now, he's been collecting signatures opposing the planned
construction of an Islamic center in Munich. He has already held over
one hundred anti-Islam rallies.
The Freiheit leader isn't alone. Several supporters, have joined him on
Stachus, some carrying signs such as "No mosque on Stachus," or "Stop
the enemies of democracy." Stürzenberger screams that Sharia instructs
men to hit women. His voice cracks. "We don't want that in Bavaria!" A
retiree asks where he can sign "against Islam."
For most Munich residents, Stürzenberger's verbal assaults are an
embarrassment. CSU city councilwoman Marian Hoffman compares his
incitements to the "droning speeches of the Nazis." The city government
of Mayor Christian Ude, a member of the center-left Social Democrats, is
worried about possible conflict during the upcoming local elections.
Munich, he says, has become the focus of "experimentation" by radical
anti-Islamists with the right-wing populists from Die Freiheit testing
whether or not their attacks on the Muslim minority have majority
appeal. If Stürzenberger gathers enough signatures for a citizens'
initiative against the mosque, it would send a signal across Bavaria and
beyond that Muslims are not welcome.
Growing Anti-Islam Movement
There have been plenty of movements such as Stürzenberger's in Germany
in recent years. They generally begin in response to the construction of
a mosque: Reluctance turns into resistance, then hate and violence. Over
the last two years, there have been arson attacks against Muslim prayer
houses in Berlin, Hanau and Hannover. Politically Incorrect, the most
prominent German-speaking anti-Islam website, has up to 120,000 visitors
In addition to Die Freiheit, radical anti-Islamists have founded the
political party Pro Deutschland ("Pro Germany") and the citizens'
movement Pax Europa. They are currently attempting to gain influence
over the euro-skeptic Alternative for Germany Party (AfD) -- the former
federal chairman of Die Freiheit has called for his followers to support
the AfD in this May's European elections.
According to a study by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, 56 percent of
Germans consider Islam to be an "archaic religion, incapable of fitting
into modern life" and many believe religious freedom for Muslims should
be "substantially restricted."
There are several potential explanations for the rising skepticism of
Islam in Germany. For one, many third-generation Muslim immigrants are
living more strictly than their parents did, making them more
conspicuous. Also, in some neighborhoods in large German cities, Muslim
girls are afraid of going outside without wearing a headscarf. There
have also been several reports in the German media recently of
ethnic-German men converting to Islam, radicalizing and going to
Pakistan for terror training. Just this past week, the Minister of the
Interior warned that a total of 300 German Jihadists have left Germany
to fight in Syria.
Hans-Georg Maassen, president of the Federal Office for the Protection
of the Constitution (BfV), Germany's domestic intelligence agency, sees
a "correlation" between the activities of the radical Salafists and
There are about four million Muslims in Germany, almost half of which
have a German passport. The BfV estimates that about 42,000 (or 1
percent) of them are fundamentalists and 1,000 are potentially violent.
Anti-Islamists generally don't differentiate between Sunnis, Shiites and
Alevi, or between militant Islamists and peaceful believers. In their
imagination, Islam isn't a religion but a political ideology that must
be fought. Muslims are accused of trying to take over the world,
undermining the sovereignty of democratic states, infiltrating their
legal systems. The Politically Incorrect internet platform reads: "The
spread of Islam means that our descendants -- and probably us too --
will live in an Islam-dominated social order oriented towards the Sharia
and the Koran and no longer towards the constitution and human rights."
The website of the "Nürnberg 2.0" project shows wanted posters of
supposed Muslim supporters -- judges, journalists, politicians -- who
are to be brought to justice for the "Islamification of Germany" in the
vein of "the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials of 1945."
In the summer of 2013, a video by a self-described "Anti Islam Faction"
made the rounds via Politically Incorrect. It showed a Koran being
burned on a tree stump followed by the appearance of three men in
aluminum foil masks who then burn another Koran and address Muslims in a
distorted voice: "You are the most fascist and hate-filled religion in
existence." Then the video shows images of decapitations, blood-smeared
fanatics, mutilated women's bodies and faces that have been eaten away.
It ends with the words: "Don't give Islam a chance!" The Munich State
Prosecutor has begun proceedings against the video's creators.
Politically Incorrect (PI for short) was founded by Stefan Herre, a
teacher from Cologne. Herre's influence stretches beyond the Internet:
He's acquainted with right-wing populists like the Geert Wilders in
Holland and Islamophobes such as the American pastor Terry Jones. Local
PI groups have formed in many German cities, as well as in Austria and
Switzerland; the Munich PI branch is being monitored by Bavarian state
When Matthias Rohe, a Bavarian Islam scholar who argues for a more
nuanced understanding of the religion, gives a talk, he is often booed
and insulted by anti-Islamists. One PI comment reads: "In the future,
people attending Mr. Rohe's speeches should make sure to bring the
appropriate equipment: a mop and a bucket, a camera, a nice big cross
and a nice sharp knife."
In mid-November, the Leipzig fire department was called to the property
of the Muslim Ahmadiyya congregation, where a garbage can was on fire.
Next to it, emergency responders found five bloody pig heads impaled on
wooden stakes. The floor had been covered with a blood-red liquid. The
police suspects radical right-wingers were responsible.
The Ahmadiyya congregation is planning a mosque with two decorative
minarets and prayer rooms for about one-hundred worshippers in the
Gohlis quarter of Leipzig. Two weeks before the attack, the right-wing
extremist National Democratic Party (NPD) had held a demonstration. By
the end of last week, over 10,000 citizens had signed a petition called
"Gohlis Says No!". A CDU politician was instrumental in launching the
signature drive; organizers insist that a mosque would "destroy" the
Increased Visibility Spurring Hate
There's no doubt that Islam has become more visible in Germany in recent
years. Muslims now have risen to higher positions in politics and the
economy. Mosques are no longer just being built in industrial areas on
the edges of cities, but, as in Leipzig, downtown. But according to
Yasemin Shooman from the Academy of the Jewish Museum in Berlin, this
continuing Muslim integration is, paradoxically, one of the reasons
anti-Muslim prejudice has become stronger.
The NPD has recognized how to transform skepticism and hatred of Islam
into political capital. In their party newspaper, Deutsche Stimme
("German Voice"), an article describes how anti-Muslim campaigns can be
used to "open doors for much broader anti-immigration sentiments": "The
Muslims -- with their foreign origins, customs and religiosity -- create
unease, fear and resistance among most Germans. The NPD is therefore
well-advised from an electoral tactical perspective to focus the
immigrant question on the Muslim question and to offer up Muslims as a
space on which to project everything the average German doesn't like
Maren Brandenburger, the head of the Lower-Saxony intelligence service,
confirms that neo-Nazis are increasingly stirring up hatred against
Muslims, a phenomenon she sees as a "strategic reorientation of
organized right-wing extremism." Anti-Islamic sentiment now comes in the
guise of the average German man or woman.
'Let That Melt in Your Mouth'
In the civic center of Bonn-Bad Godesberg, about 50 older men and women
are listening to a talk by Marie-Luise Hoffmann-Polzoni, the chairperson
of the Womenforfreedom association. Her subject: "Sharia vs. Human
Rights." On a table there are German books with titles like "The Jihad
System" and "Endangered Freedom." On the wall there's a photo of a man
whose back is covered in cuts, supposedly having been flogged because he
converted from Islam to Christianity.
Hoffmann-Polzoni wears a black frilled dress and speaks with a tempered
voice. The vision of Islam she paints is a grim one: stonings,
crucifixions and decapitations are expected by Muslims as penalties for
purported crimes like adultery. "Just imagine that," she whispers.
Anti-Muslim speech has found its way into the center of society, stoked
by politicians like Hans-Jürgen Irmer, the deputy floor leader for the
CDU in Hesse. He warned state parliament that "Islam is set on global
domination," and that "we don't need more Muslims, we need fewer."
Muslim groups, he said, could not be trusted -- because deceiving
non-Muslims is a central part of Islam.
Merely the expression of an opinion? From a legal standpoint, Islam can
be criticized just as harshly as Christianity in Germany, says Maassen.
In the case of Politically Incorrect, authorities are unsure whether to
consider it a digital platform or an organization with leaders.
Monitoring a blog for its opinions is considered legally questionable.
Intelligence officials speak of a "gray area."
Solution: American-Style Hate-Crimes Laws?
But perhaps gray areas can be eliminated. Last Tuesday, the anti-racism
commission of the Council of Europe rebuked the German government for
not following through on an initiative to include a provision in the
penal code that "makes racist motivations an aggravating factor" in
crimes. Countries like the United Kingdom and the United States are
further along on this path: They have laws against so-called hate crimes
largely to protect immigrants.
Ender Çetin, 37, is a victim of hate and racism. The head of Berlin's
Sehitlik Mosque Association has been attacked several times in the past
three years. In addition, there have been four arson attacks against the
mosque, balloons filled with paint were flung against the walls,
tombstones were covered in swastikas and, one time, there was a pig's
head in front of the door. In April, Cetin received a letter: If he
doesn't immediately leave Germany, he will be shot.
Çetin asked for police protection, but the authorities played down the
issue. Many members of his congregation are afraid, he says,
particularly after murder spree undertaken by the neo-Nazi trio NSU. Now
he has installed security cameras, paid for with private donations, at
the entrance of the mosque.
BY HUBERT GUDE, MAXIMILIAN POPP, JÖRG SCHINDLER and FIDELIUS SCHMID
Translated from the German by Thomas Rogers