Islam Under Fire in Europe’s Two Biggest Nations

By Patrick Goodenough | May 2, 2016 | 4:09am EDT
Alternative for Germany leader Frauke Petry delivers a speech at the party’s conference in Stuttgart. (AP Photo/Christoph Schmidt/dpa)

( – A right-wing party in Germany that made gains in recent state elections has adopted a party manifesto declaring that “Islam is not part of Germany.”

The policy embraced Sunday by thousands of members of the populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party meeting in Stuttgart also called for a ban on the Islamic public call to prayer, minarets, and the wearing of headscarves in public schools.

“Islam is not part of Germany” is a direct response to an assertion by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, voiced on various occasions including in a speech last January amid a series of anti-Islamization protests, that “Islam is part of Germany.”

The development comes as a new opinion poll finds that large pluralities of respondents in both France (47 percent) and Germany (43 percent) view Islam as a threat – an increase of five and three percent respectively since 2010.

The survey (in French), conducted by the IFOP polling company for the French daily Le Figaro, also found that 63 percent of respondents in France and 48 percent in Germany regard Islam as too visible and too influential in their societies.

Fifty-two percent of French and 49 percent of Germans respondents said they opposed the building of mosques, and opposition to the wearing of headscarves in public schools was measured at 88 percent in France and 75 percent in Germany.

(Headscarves and other religious garb have been banned in French public schools and government offices since 2004.)

Another finding in the poll: 67 percent of French and 60 percent of German respondents blamed a perceived failure by Muslims to integrate into society on a refusal to adapt to local customs and values.

France and Germany have the largest Muslim populations in the European Union – 4.8 million in Germany comprising 5.8 percent of the total population, and 4.7 million in France, or 7.5 percent of the population, according to the Pew Research Center.

Muslims at prayer (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber, File)

Recent months have been marked by tensions stoked by Islamic terror attacks in Paris last November and in Brussels in March, and for a longer period by the European-wide refugee and migrant crisis. A deal with Turkey, brokered by Merkel to respond to the migrant influx, has stoked fresh controversy, not least of all because of an element expected to allow Turks visa-free travel in the E.U.’s visa-free Schengen zone.

Riding on a wave of anti-migrant sentiment, the AfD in Germany has seen its popularity grow rapidly. Within three years of its founding, it now has representatives in eight of Germany’s 16 state parliaments, making it essentially the country’s third-largest party, after Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Social Democratic Party (SPD).

It has also won representation in the European Parliament, and is eyeing seats in Germany’s federal legislature in elections due in the second half of next year.

The party conference drew public protests, with left-wing demonstrators who tried to disrupt proceedings in the south-western city scuffling with police. Senior leaders of both the CDU and SPD criticized the AfD’s stance, describing it backward and driven by fear.

Earlier during the weekend event, AfD co-chairman Jörg Meuthen said that while religious freedom was an essential part of German culture, the Western, Christian world view was the guiding principle, not Islam, Deutsche Welle reported. Meuthen defended the manifesto, saying it represented “healthy patriotism.”

Other elements of the adopted platform included calls for Germany to leave the eurozone, restrictions on immigration, and an expression of support for the “traditional family” model.

Aiman Mazyek, chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, said Monday the AfD program was characterized by “demagoguery and populism.”

Such an “Islamophobic” program does not solve Germany’s problems, but merely divides the country, he told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung paper.

In an interview with the public broadcaster NDR, Mazyek compared the AfD’s program to Nazi policies.

Meanwhile in France, IFOP opinion department director Jérôme Fourquet was quoted as telling Le Figaro that although the Paris terror attacks contributed to the deterioration of Islam’s image in that country, the trend was already underway before then.

“What we’re seeing is more of a growing resistance within French society to Islam,” he said. “It was already the case among voters for the [far-right] National Front and part of the right, but it has now expanded to the Socialist Party.”

Last month French Prime Minister Manuel Valls – a Socialist – voiced support for the existing headscarf ban to be extended from public schools and government institutions to cover universities, a stance that drew strong protests, including from some members of his own party.

Apart from the headscarf ban, since 2010 it has been illegal in France, which prides itself on strong secular traditions, to wear any full face-covering clothing in public.

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