We all have a duty to confront the far right
With 542 incidents of far-right violence in Germany between January and August 2019, causing at least 240 casualties, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer is clearly correct when he describes right-wing extremism as the biggest danger to public security in his country.
CDU politician Walter Luebcke, who had lobbied for the rights of immigrants, was shot dead in his home last June by a militant neo-Nazi. When an attack on a synagogue in Halle was foiled last October, the perpetrator shot a passer-by and a man in a restaurant. And in the third deadly right-wing terror incident in the space of a year, nine people were killed last week in an attack on two shisha bars in Hanau, a small town near Frankfurt.
However, ministerial awareness of right-wing violence is one thing, but understanding its root causes is quite another.
Germans initially welcomed Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to allow about a million refugees into the country from the Middle East and North Africa, but public sentiment quickly turned — especially in the states of the former East Germany, where economic deprivation is still prevalent after German reunification and there is resentment that they were not afforded the same level of help as the new migrants.
This was the breeding ground for the new far right. The Alternative fuer Deutschland (AfD) party in particular was able to exploit those who felt insufficiently represented and supported by the conventional parties. Indeed, the “converts” to the cause of the AfD and other far-right movements are not only disillusioned former supporters of the Christian Democrats or their Bavarian sister party, Christian Socialists; there are also disgruntled former supporters of the social democrats or the Linke (former communists). The AfD is represented in parliament at the federal level as well as in most states. It consistently downplays violence from the right, while vociferously attacking even the slightest legal transgression by a refugee – particularly if the refugee is a Muslim.
The cancer of racism is becoming more prevalent throughout Europe, with the rise of politicians such as Marine Le Pen, Matteo Salvini, Geert Wilders and Viktor Orban.
The prominent publisher of the influential Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper, Berthold Kohler, put it extremely well in an opinion article. “The business model (of the AfD) is inciting hatred and undermining liberal democratic values resulting in the self-destruction of civil society,” he wrote. These are strong words, but Kohler is definitely on to something.
The cancer of racism is becoming more prevalent throughout Europe, with the rise of politicians such as Marine Le Pen of the Front National in France, Matteo Salvini of the League in Italy, Geert Wilders and the Freedom Party in the Netherlands, and Viktor Orban and his Fidesz party, who have governed Hungary since 2010.
These politicians all capitalize on a malaise among many who feel left behind by globalization, and feel that traditional mainstream politicians care about neither their plight nor their concerns. In many cases these people are disenfranchised — either self-perceived, or in reality.
This is dangerous, as recent developments in Germany prove. If you speak to immigrants — particularly people of color, or Muslims — they will tell you that they fear for the future. The mainstream parties have their work cut out bringing those on the fringes, whether right or left, back into the center.
As for the rest of us, we must not sit idly by. Islamophobia is prevalent in Europe and needs to be addressed at all levels. Racism in whatever form is never acceptable, and allowing it to pass is dangerous. And when people engage in hate speech, a response of polite silence is never an option.
- Cornelia Meyer is a business consultant, macro-economist and energy expert. Twitter: @MeyerResources