Upstart German Party Considers Anti-Islam Stance

Anton Troianovski, Wall Street Journal, January 28, 2015

A leader of Germany’s upstart populist party called on Wednesday for an end to some Muslim immigration, sharpening a conflict over how directly the party takes on Islam on the eve of a major convention this weekend.

Germany has been through debates about the role of Muslims in the country before, but the rise of the euroskeptic, socially conservative Alternative for Germany is offering a new voice for voters angry about immigration–one that could have lasting effects.

Discomfort with immigrants and especially the Muslim minority is an undercurrent in German society, pollsters say, as it is in many other European countries. But because of Germany’s Nazi history, such views have rarely been expressed loudly enough to affect mainstream politics.

Now that is changing. A newspaper interview published Wednesday represented one of the most direct efforts yet by the Alternative for Germany, or AfD, to cater to that discontent.

Party Vice Chairman Alexander Gauland said there that Germany needs to find a way to block the immigration of Middle Eastern Muslims who aren’t willing or able to integrate into German society.

“I want no more immigration from this cultural tradition,” Mr. Gauland told the Berlin daily Tagesspiegel.

In a subsequent interview with The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Gauland said he didn’t want to stop the immigration of all Muslims, but said Germany needed to weed out those who he said won’t assimilate–for example letting in a Syrian doctor who speaks English or German but not a female farmer from Yemen “who is fully veiled and can’t speak German.”

The party is polling at around 6%. If it stays at that level, it would clear the 5% threshold for seats in parliament in several critical state elections next year and in the federal parliament in 2017.

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Mr. Gauland’s rhetoric fits with the anti-Islam sentiment expressed in weekly street protests across Germany in recent months. While the AfD hasn’t officially endorsed the protests, pollsters say that many if not most of the protesters are AfD supporters.

“The AfD supports the German citizens,” Nicole Berisha, a protester in Leipzig, said last week. Ms. Merkel, she added, “would rather support the foreigners than do anything for the Germans.”

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The party’s longer-term impact will hinge on how well it integrates the anti-immigrant sentiment articulated by Mr. Gauland with the more moderate, economically liberal rhetoric of Bernd Lucke, the euroskeptic Hamburg economics professor who is its most prominent co-founder.

An AfD spokesman said Mr. Lucke didn’t believe immigration rights should be determined by nationality or religion but should take into account migrants’ education, job experience, and language knowledge.

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About four million Muslims, mostly of Turkish descent, live in Germany, making up around 5% of the population.

Ms. Berisha, demonstrating with her friend, said she felt unsafe in areas of her city with higher percentages of immigrants. She said she had flirted in the past with supporting the ultranationalist NPD party, but now preferred the AfD.

“The foreigners–the Islamists–I don’t like them,” the 38-year-old said. “I fear them.”

“Really they are both the same–the NPD says what it thinks, the AfD says what it thinks,” Ms. Berisha says. “But the AfD has a better chance than the NPD of changing things because the NPD are known as Nazis.”

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