Origins of the Alternative für Deutschland
Origins of PEGIDA
Origins of Islamophobia in the movements
How PEGIDA appropriates historic events
The Alternative für Deutschland’s positions
Threats to Germany’s culture and possible solutions
“Islam does not belong to Germany.” (AfD 2016) This statement, which is taken out of the Alternative for Germany’s (AfD) party platform, conflicts with 4.89 % of the German population being Muslims as of 2012. (BPB 2012) What makes the AfD as well as the protest movement “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West” (PEGIDA) believe that the religion of about 5 % of the population does not belong to Germany? How do they even get to a statement like that in a country that has religious freedom as part of its Grundgesetz ?
On March 13, 2016 three states elected their state parliaments. The AfD reached between 12.6 % and 24.3 % of the votes. What makes the anti-Islam and anti-refugee rhetoric so appealing? Where is the frustration coming from?
While the AfD celebrates their election victories and PEGIDA still has four-digit turnouts (Durchgezählt 2016), the violence against Muslim individuals and communities increases. In the first half of 2015 alone, 23 Mosques were attacked. The crime rate against Muslim individuals remains unclear since the statistics of the police record anti-Muslim as a distinct category. (ZEIT 2015)
The urgency of the subject is clear. In order to think about ways of dealing with the AfD as well as PEGIDA, the following paper will deal with the origins of the protest movement and the party as well as their positions and opinions regarding Islam and Christian-Muslim relations. I will end discussing the threats that come from these movements and look into possible solutions. My main thesis for the paper is that the threat to German culture is not Islam but anti-diversity movements like PEGIDA and AfD. I base this on the lessons Germany (should have) learned from its Third Reich history and on European values.
The first part of the paper has an historical approach, the second part focuses on political demands and the third part will be an attempt to find ways to better the situation.
Origins of the Alternative für Deutschland
The AfD started out, officially, on April 14, 2013. Nonetheless, there were three years of preparation needed before that. During the early days the main concern of the party and the main reason for its formation was the euro crisis. Mid 2014 the focus shifted and became broader, including issues of families, education, (renewable) energy and immigration. During the first year of existence the AfD experienced a quick success regarding the number of members as well as elections. Following that success, heavy internal conflicts erupted in late 2014 concerning the inner-party power structure as well as political direction, especially the party’s position to PEGIDA. The conflicts were ended with the election of the spokesperson in July 2015. The liberal-conservative Bernd Lucke and the national-conservative Frauke Petry were nominated. After Petry’s election many members, who did not favor the new political orientation, left, leaving the party more nationalistic than before. (Oppelland 2015) Lucke’s party “Allianz für Fortschritt und Aufbruch” never got noteworthy attention or importance in Germany’s politics.
Recently, the AfD made it into the news with demands like shooting refugees as a last resort (Tagesschau, “Grenze” 2016) and statements like: "Die größte Bedrohung für Demokratie und Freiheit geht heute vom politischen Islam aus." (ZEIT, “Von Storch” 2016)
Origins of PEGIDA
In the midst of IS’ military success and its targeted provocations as well as debates about how to deal with the many refugees a protest movement was founded in Dresden, Saxony. The organization of PEGIDA started in a closed group on social media on October 11, 2014. The group started as “Friedliche Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes” but soon changed its name to “patriotic” in order to convey coming from the middle of society. (Vorländer et al 2016, 5-7)
The PEGIDA’s concept is meeting every Monday evening in Dresden and starting the protest with a stationary rally where different speeches are given. A “Abendspaziergang” (evening walk) follows and the protest is ended by some more speeches and a closing ritual. During the first winter that ritual was raising lighters or phones to make politicians “see the light”. As dawn shifted, they switched it to singing Germany’s national anthem. (Vorländer et al 2016, 47) Choosing Monday evenings as well as the light ritual and some of their slogans are highly appropriative, as will be discussed later on. The first protest in Dresden on October 20, 2014 attracted 300 to 350 participants. PEGIDA would have been a side note in history if not for the immense increase in participants in the following weeks. Branches formed in different cities both nationally and internationally, even though none of them were able to reproduce Dresden’s success. In Dresden a maximum of about 25,000 people participated on January 12, 2015, not even three months after the first small protest. (Vorländer et al 2016, 7-8)
While the numbers where on an all-time high, PEGIDA’s organizers found themselves in internal quarrels, leading to the team’s split. An obvious reason for the conflict was the publication of inculpatory material regarding Lutz Bachmann’s attitude towards asylum seekers. An online conversation, in which Bachmann called asylum seekers “Viehzeug” and other derogatory terms, had been published. Nonetheless, it seems as though the political direction of the movement itself was an underlying reason. Half the team’s members left, leaving the movement devastated and founding a new, unsuccessful protest movement. (Vorländer et al 2016, 13-15) Even though the numbers went down to about 1000 to 3000 participants, the protests still take place every Monday evening, as of April 25, 2016. (Durchgezählt 2016)
After the split, the movement shifted more to the right on the political spectrum, which does not seem to be a sign of a radicalization of the movement, but it seems that the moderate former participants avoid the protests now. (Vorländer et al 2016, 69)
Origins of Islamophobia in the movements
Both AfD and PEGIDA could be dismissed as a marginal group in the political setting if not for their immense turnout in the recent elections or, respective, in their number of protesters. Since it is not only a small group of people, who seems to feel this way politically, the underlying reasons have to be examined. Some claim that voters choose the AfD as a form of protest (dpa 2016) and only 15.4 % of PEGIDA protesters claim “Vorbehalte gegen den Islam” as a reason for their attendance. (Vorländer et al 2016, 67) This would still mean 3850 of the 25000 protesters on January 12, 2015 statistically claim it and the rest of the protesters condone anti-Islamic tendencies by protesting with them and under the name of Anti-Islamisation, PEGIDA. Putting up with fellow protesters who carry signs saying “Islam=Karzinom” or “Muslime jetzt taufen lassen” (“Baptize Muslims now”) (Boeselager 2015), is silently condoning their actions and supporting them. How can the vilification of a whole religion be acceptable to so many people in Germany with our anti-Semitic history? In order to figure out where Islamophobia is coming from, we have to dive into taboos, misinformation and fear.
Germany has become a secularized society, even more than the US. (Christian) Religiosity has shifted from the public space into the private. Brassel-Ochmann even claims: “Christliche Religiosität ist in der Öffentlichkeit kaum sichtbar.” (Brassel-Ochmann 2016, 68) Speaking from my experience, I would rather say Christianity has become less visible, especially compared to the US, but Christianity and its symbols seem so normal to us that we have become blind to them. While the AfD rejects minarets and the muezzin call, we are used to the steeple and the bell ringing twice on Sundays. (AfD 2016, 35) While the debate is heated when it comes to the hijab, most people do not bat an eye when it comes to the crucifix in Bavarian schools or cross necklaces. (Spiegel 2015) Nonetheless, Muslims are more devout compared to the average German Christian. Founding one’s life holistically on religion is seen as fundamentalist. (Brassel-Ochmann 2016, 69) I would argue that compartmentalizing religion as a separate entity from one’s life, has never been intended by any religion. Thus the definition of it as fundamentalist is not helpful.
Besides the differences between the average Muslim life and the average Christian life, an insecurity in German identity and in the Christian faith comes to play, too. Secularization has made the Christian faith more and more obsolete to many people. (Brassel-Ochmann 2016, 72-73) At the same time, the Third Reich history has made a distinct German national identity hard to construct and probably even undesirable. This makes an identity construct based on the othering and separation seem like an easy way out.
Another important point regarding the origins of Islamophobia is also based in Germany’s National Socialist history. The holocaust memory has led to a very special culture of political correctness in Germany. Even more than in the US, people of all colors, cultures, religions, abilities, sexual orientation etc. are to be seen as equal. Statements which contain prejudice against a minority are taboo and socially sanctioned. This leads to a “Schein-Toleranz” (pretended tolerance) and as an effect more radical thoughts which plays into the hands of populists like AfD and PEGIDA. (Brassel-Ochmann 2016, 94-97)
Another factor is the media, especially private media. Media tends to portray Islam as an “integration obstacle” and connects it to forced marriage, racism and murder. On the one hand, Islamist terrorist attacks are overly present on the news and Islamism is not distinguished enough from Islam. On the other hand, terrorist attacks by white men are seen as isolated cases and get less media attention. (Bax 2015, 229-239) Furthermore, Islamist attacks on Paris, Brussels or even Boston are more present than those in Kabul, Beirut or Cairo. Even though Boston is three times as far away from Berlin than Cairo, the fact that Islamist attacks most often kill Muslims is often overlooked. (Buchanan 2015) Through media representation those people who do not have personal relationships with Muslim get the impression that all Muslims are Islamist, unprogressive and misogynistic. Lack of personal relationships is a big factor, especially in the east of Germany. Saxony’s population only consisted of 0.1 % Muslims in 2010, which equals about 4000 people. (Hebel et al. 2014) This shows how the fear of that which seems foreign gets blown out of proportion by the media and populist movements.
 I will refer to Germany’s basic law as Grundgesetz throughout this paper. It functions like a constitution even though it is not for historical reasons.
 “Nowadays, the biggest threat to democracy and freedom comes from the political Islam.”
 “Peaceful Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West”
 I will not go into depth about the branches because they were more radical from the beginning and did not attract people, who were more moderate.
 Christian religiosity is hardly visible in public.
 I will use the term “political correctness” because there is no better one. I am aware that it evokes connotations of opposition to “PC-culture” and of political correctness being an oversensitive reaction to “truth”. This is not what I speak of when speaking of political correctness and I distance myself decidedly from this connotation.
 Public media do not depend as much on advertisement and are therefore more free from the need to find lurid headlines. Public radio stations are never allowed to broadcast advertisements. Public TV stations are only allowed to broadcast 20 minutes per day and only before 8 pm.
- Quote paper
- Anonymous, 2016, AfD and PEGIDA.Origins, threats and solutions, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/335905