Frank Jordans, Associated Press, May 23, 2016
Senior members of Alternative for Germany cut short a meeting Monday with the Central Council of Muslims, accusing the group of failing to renounce religious beliefs that they claim clash with the German constitution.
The confrontation came days after the party–known by its acronym AfD–launched a campaign against the construction of a mosque in the eastern state of Thuringia, joining up for the first time with the group known as the Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West.
AfD had previously kept PEGIDA at arm’s length due to its links with far-right extremists, but the party’s leader in Thuringia, Bjoern Hoecke, said there was “a lot of overlap” between the two on the issue of Islam.
“We see a need to send a signal,” Hoecke told The Associated Press ahead of a rally last week in Erfurt, the state capital. “We have common goals.”
PEGIDA is known for staging protests that draw thousands in neighboring Dresden each week. One of its founders, Lutz Bachmann, was recently convicted of inciting hatred online after referring to migrants as “cattle” and “trash.”
In Erfurt, PEGIDA and AfD have teamed up to oppose an application from the Ahmadiyya Muslim community to build the mosque for its 70 members in Thuringia, claiming the building’s domed roof and minaret would symbolize Islam’s attempt to conquer Europe.
AfD is introducing a bill in the state Parliament to stop new mosques from being built, though it’s unlikely to win the support needed from other parties to pass.
Instead, Hoecke hinted AfD was prepared to take its case to the streets, a point the party underlined by inviting a senior PEGIDA member to last Wednesday’s rally.
“AfD in Thuringia will do everything legally possible to prevent this building,” he said.
The party shocked Germany’s political establishment in March when it swept into three state Parliaments on a wave of anti-immigration sentiment. In Thuringia’s neighboring state of Saxony-Anhalt the party received almost a quarter of the vote to come second behind Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats.
And just as AfD opposed Merkel’s stance that Germany could manage the influx of migrants, so too it is rejecting her position that Islam “belongs to Germany.”
With polls giving the party double-digit ratings nationwide, AfD’s new focus on Islam is likely to influence debate on the issue in Germany.
Following Monday’s meeting with the Central Council of Muslims, AfD’s co-chair Frauke Petry claimed that Islam was “stuck in the 7th century.”
“Islam, the way it is mostly practiced, doesn’t belong to a democratic Germany,” she told reporters in Berlin.