Robert Hardman, Daily Mail, August 28, 2018
Does the name Tendayi Achiume ring any bells? She was the United Nations’ ‘Special Rapporteur on Racism’, who came to the UK on an official ‘mission’ earlier this year to see if Britain had become more racist since voting to leave the EU.
To the surprise of no one — and the delight of the Left and more zealous Remainers — she concluded that it most certainly had. In particular, her muddle-headed report claimed that Brexit had caused a surge in anti-Semitism and that Britain was now in the grip of ‘national panic’ about Islamic terrorism.
What a pity that Ms Achiume chose to come here instead of, say, Germany. Because if it’s a surge in ugly, extremist anti-immigrant activity you’re looking for — with angry mobs chasing terrified refugees down the street; with shaven-headed thugs hurling abuse at strangers on the basis of their skin colour — then don’t waste your time in Britain.
Go and wander through the friendly, open-hearted European Union and, in particular, the most important nation of the lot. Because when it comes to xenophobia, Germany leaves Brexit Britain for dust — as we are seeing this week.
Here in the UK, the far-Right has all but vanished and even Ukip is a busted flush. The most alarming signs of racism entering the political mainstream are to be found on the Left of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party with its growing vilification of ‘Zionists’.
Disturbing though the language of the Corbynistas may be, it is nothing compared with what we are witnessing on the Continent. Just look at the latest scenes in Saxony, where riot police have been breaking up rampaging gangs of far-Right (and a few far-Left) protesters in recent days.
The federal government has now had to offer support to the authorities in the city of Chemnitz — in what used to be East Germany — following violence in which 18 people were injured. The rioting follows the killing on Sunday of a 35-year-old German man during an altercation with migrants. Police have confirmed that they have arrested a 22-year-old Syrian and a 21-year-old Iraqi on suspicion of manslaughter. Prosecutors said the catalyst for the killing was a verbal confrontation that grew out of control.
The authorities were unprepared for what followed. Within hours, street fighting had erupted, inflamed by wildfire rumours on social media. Since then, there has been film footage of demonstrators performing Nazi salutes and chanting ‘the national resistance is marching here’, and disturbing reports of gangs attacking anyone looking non-German.
The Chancellor, Angela Merkel, has now appealed for calm. ‘What we have seen is something which has no place in a constitutional democracy,’ she said yesterday. ‘We have video recordings of [people] hunting down others and hate in the streets.’
Yet, all over Germany and across the political spectrum, millions are pointing the finger of blame right back at Mrs Merkel. They cite her decision in 2015 to open her nation’s doors to all-comers, regardless of need or motive.
As a result, 1.6 million migrants made their way into the EU courtesy of the people-smuggling gangs on Europe’s eastern borders. Some were genuine refugees; many were from peaceful but poor nations simply seeking a better life.
However, the Chancellor neither asked her nation nor the rest of the EU before making a decision that has caused profound divisions across German society.
For a while, Mrs Merkel was the toast of enlightened opinion-formers everywhere. Come December 2015, Time magazine named her its ‘Person of the Year’ for ‘asking more of her country than most politicians would dare’.
Within days, that award had backfired. Millions of Germans were shocked by alarming stories of young women being molested during New Year’s Eve celebrations in Cologne.
Initially, the authorities had tried to bury the story, talking of a few isolated incidents. Finally, the German media exposed the truth: up to 1,200 women had reported being sexually assaulted by around 2,000 men right across Germany. Half of the suspects turned out to be new arrivals.
As a result, Mrs Merkel’s reputation and that of her party has been taking a pounding ever since, while a new and increasingly respectable extreme Right-wing party — the Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD) — continues to make ground. Once the revered politician of the continent’s pre-eminent economic powerhouse, Mrs Merkel was left clinging on after last autumn’s general election. At the same time, the AfD grabbed 94 seats in parliament and are now the leading opposition party.
Not only did it take Mrs Merkel and her Christian Democrats (CDU) six months to form a coalition government, but it all nearly fell apart just two months ago after deep divisions over immigration.
Her next big test comes in a matter of weeks when the people of Germany’s largest state, Bavaria, hold elections for the regional parliament.
Until now, this has been an impregnable heartland for Mrs Merkel’s Bavarian partners, the CSU — but not any more. Repeated polls show that the CSU is likely to lose its fat majority as the AfD continues to make inroads. They did the same thing in Mrs Merkel’s own state, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, two years ago, pushing her Christian Democrats into third place.
This week’s violence highlights the spread of the far-Right. The leader of the AfD in Saxony, Jorg Urban, has criticised the latest violence as the work of the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (NPD), saying: ‘The AfD expressly distances itself from any form of violence and expressly warns against participation in the demonstrations’.
Other AfD politicians, however, have been less critical. As one AfD MP, Markus Frohnmaier, put it: ‘If the state is no longer to protect citizens, then people take to the streets and protect themselves. It’s as simple as that!’
There is certainly not much of a gap between the AfD and the anti-Islamic Pegida street protest movement that has been organising some of the street protests in Chemnitz.
In other words, mainstream politics draws closer to mainstream disorder.
During last year’s German general election, I interviewed a senior member of the AfD’s hierarchy in Hamburg — an international lawyer who had been an Oxford contemporary of David Cameron. He pointed out that most of his supporters were not headbanging extremists, but disillusioned ex-supporters of Mrs Merkel. It might be tempting to paint them as neo-Nazis but, in German terms, they are more akin to a very Right-wing Ukip. After all, the AfD even wants to remove Germany from the euro.
The party may have a stance which would be off the radar in the UK — forcibly deporting asylum-seekers who have lodged asylum claims elsewhere, banning the burka etc — but these are no longer regarded as taboo aspirations in Germany, or indeed in other parts of the EU. Nice, caring progressive Denmark, for example, has already banned the burka and is also formally registering immigrant hotspots as ‘ghettos’.
Seeing the way in which the popular mood is moving ahead of October’s elections, Bavaria’s state government has just issued an extraordinary edict that all public buildings must display a crucifix at the entrance. This is to emphasise the ‘cultural’ importance of Christianity in public life. Not even Ukip at its fruitiest would have presented a policy like that. And if they did, most of the commentariat would have dismissed it as offensive quasi-racist nonsense. Yet that is now the official policy of Mrs Merkel’s coalition partners.
Remember all this the next time you hear arch-Remainers accuse Britain of being a narrow, nationalistic little country. Right now, it’s in Germany — and EU member states like Hungary and Poland — that we find torch-bearing, nationalist mobs on the march. And you don’t have to be a historian to hear an echo from the past.