By Farid Hafez
The writer is a political scientist and Senior Research Scholar at The Bridge Initiative, Georgetown University, and Senior Scholar at the Department of Political Science at Salzburg University.
Last Sunday, a group of 800 people demonstrated in Chemnitz, eastern Germany. The rally was initiated by a right-wing extremist hooligan group called Kaotic. The reason for the mobilization was the killing of a 35-year-old man, who was allegedly German, by two men, a Syrian and an Iraqi, both in their early twenties. Both have been arrested on suspicion of manslaughter. Among the protesters was an estimated group of 50 people who turned violent against people of color. Journalists reported seeing some protesters using bottles to attack people “who did not look German”. On Monday, a core group of around 200 right wing extremists gathered for another demonstration, eventually growing to more than 5,000 protesters, while the demonstration was countered by 1,000 people who protested against Nazism. It was later revealed that the person killed was actually a staunch anti-racist with Cuban roots, who was a supporter of the far-left party in Saxony.
One might say that this is a story of Chemnitz or more broadly of the county of Saxony, where the right-wing party Alternative for Germany (AfD) as well as the street-level group Pegida are particularly strong. Pegida had called for demonstrations on Monday. And the AfD, which entered Parliament for the first time with 12.6 percent of the vote, meaning more than 90 seats, is especially strong in Saxony, where it almost doubled its national average by garnering 25 percent of the vote.
Indeed, the Saxon branch of the AfD called for a “spontaneous demonstration” in memory of Sunday’s victim, posting on its social media accounts a photo of the blood-spattered pavement where the victim, Daniel H., was stabbed to death. While the AfD did not participate in the larger protest held later in the day, it clearly supported the move to politicize the tragic incident along racial lines. And AfD lawmaker Markus Frohnmaier even went further by arguing that it was a “civic duty to stop this deadly ‘knife migration’”. While AfD representatives at the federal level condemned this call for “vigilante justice” by Frohnmaier, the latter had already contributed to the emotionally charged atmosphere in Saxony.
It was a matter of time before racist patterns of thought, which were something confined to the organized extreme right in the underground or were uttered in a subtle or polite manner, would begin to erupt. Today, racist thought is again on the rise and manifests itself in organizations such as Pegida and is represented in a radical form in parties such as the AfD. But it is now becoming mainstream and is being spread by ordinary members of the German society. One leader from the liberal party (FDP), for example, blamed Angela Merkel for the current crisis, arguing that it was her acceptance of refugees that was to blame.
The spokesman of Chancellor Angela Merkel, along with numerous other high-ranking politicians, unequivocally condemned the “hounding of people”, “vigilantism”, “racism” and “spread of hatred”. Even Merkel herself clearly spoke out against the hounding of people in the streets by extremists. This is important. But one must question where this movement comes from. One thing is the mobilization on the streets, which was started in large numbers by Pegida (preceding the often acclaimed source of contention, which is the influx of refugees that began in 2015), the German abbreviation for the Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West. Obviously, the momentum of this movement and the ability of the right-wing extremist groups that mobilize a few thousands of people lies deeper. Additionally, the grossly dehumanizing act of hounding people who look ‘different’ done by these extremist protesters has to be evaluated at the backdrop not only of a growing far right political activism but also a general radical discourse.
In a way, these demonstrations remind us of the white supremacists’ rally in Charlottesville, the USA. Boosted by the electoral support for right-wing politics, the radical right takes to the streets to openly proclaim their slogans. Just as the KKK and other white supremacists felt empowered by the current U.S. president, these Neo-Nazis feel empowered by the growing support behind the right-wing parties in Germany. Some of the protesters were holding placards saying “Stop Asylum Flood” while others were carrying placards that read “Give Islam no Chance”, resembling the traditional “Give Aids no Chance” logo. At the heart of these slogans stands a deep conviction of dehumanization. Essentially, the racialized other is degraded to such an extent that he can finally be eradicated. And these slogans are no strangers in the public debate on immigration and Islam in Germany. The framing of the refugees fleeing war-torn Syria and Iraq as a ‘crisis’ or a ‘flood’ is common not only in Germany but most countries in Europe. This kind of framing already suggests a problem that needs extraordinary measures to combat.
Although statistics clearly reveal that there is no correlation between violence and the immigration of people from war-torn countries, the occurrence of the current excesses basically stems from the imagination of barbarous, violent Muslim men who are invading Germany. Also, this imagination is not confined to a fringe right-wing extremist discourse that attempts to fight the ‘fake news’ of the mainstream media. Rather, overall media coverage in Germany suggests an increase in the number of violent and hypersexualized brown North-African Muslims endangering white German manhood.
Hence, fundamentally countering these right-wing extremist tendencies, as we are seeing these days in Chemnitz, will take more than efforts to fight extremist organizations, be they Hooligans or new parties in Parliament. It involves fighting against the racism found right at the heart of the power structure.* Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.