Germans reacted furiously to the latest Islamophobic statement by the country's rising anti-refugee party, Alternative for Germany, or AfD.
"Islam is a political ideology that is not compatible with the German Constitution,” said AfD deputy leader Beatrix von Storch over the weekend. She went on to state that the AfD is in favor of banning minarets, burkas and mosque calls to prayer.
Muslims, leaders of Islamic organizations and politicians from across the ideological spectrum denounced the proposal and suggested that the party's anti-Islam stance -- a natural progression from its anti-refugee position -- is a ploy to attract voters.
The AfD’s remarks are “cheap propaganda,” Cem Özdemir, the chairman of Germany’s Green Party, told HuffPost Germany. "The AfD is, once again, throwing stink bombs that are polluting the political discourse. In Germany, there is freedom of religion, which obviously applies to Muslims as well."
Banking on growing Islamophobia and public disapproval of how German Chancellor Angela Merkel has handled the refugee crisis, the AfD has enjoyed a surge in popularity and made significant gains in Germany’s regional elections in March. With seats in half of Germany’s regional governments, the party is capitalizing on widespread panic resulting from the influx of migrants and refugees and the lack of a cohesive European response to the crisis.
In its campaigns, the AfD has used slogans such as “stop the asylum chaos.” The party has been linked to the anti-Islam protest movement Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West, or PEGIDA.
“What is the AfD actually demanding? That we renounce our religion as citizens of this country? Or that we only practice it in secret?”
Aiman Mazyek, the head of Germany's Central Council of Muslims, told the Hamburg-based public broadcaster NDR that it is important to create awareness about the wave of Islamophobia currently hitting the country. "Creating awareness means pointing out that for the first time since Hitler's Germany, there is a party which is discrediting and existentially threatening a religious community,” Mazyek said.
"Nobody needs to like Muslims or Islam," said Bilkay Öney, the integration minister for the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg. "But nobody needs to hate Islam either, because there's nothing to be gained from it. But the AfD has learned that you can rise to political office that way. It's too cheap for my taste."
The party's political platform lacks substance, she added. “The AfD doesn't have any sensible ideas about the economy, pensions, healthcare and many other issues."
Michel Abdollahi, a reporter for NDR, echoed those sentiments. “You’re concerned, rightfully so, about radical Muslims, but you don't offer any kind of solution, because you're not interested in solutions, you’re just fishing for votes,” he said.
“If I were them, in the future I'd worry less about architecture and foreskins and more about the protection of the constitution," he said.
Lale Akgün, founding member of the Rheinland Islamic Community and a former member of the Bundestag, said she finds the AfD’s remarks baffling. “What is the AfD actually demanding? That we renounce our religion as citizens of this country? Or that we only practice it in secret?” she asked.
"As a professed Muslim, I strongly reject the statements issued by the leaders of the AfD party," Akgün continued. "They're shameful for a democratic society. In our country, nobody has the right to question another person’s religious practices and to marginalize 4 million people because of their religious affiliation."
“Today, if there's anything that's incompatible with the constitution, it's the AfD and its ideology.”
The AfD “deliberately conflates Islam and radical Islamism and wants to suggest that all people of Muslim faith are radical and dangerous," said Dilek Kolat, Berlin's senator for integration. "That's incorrect. I appeal to everyone with common sense to make the distinction: The majority of Germany's Muslim population lives here peacefully and lawfully.”
Cemile Giousouf, the first Muslim member of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union party, predicts that Muslims won't be the AfD’s only target. "During their march to the extreme right, the AfD seems to have lost control," she said. "Today, it's the refugees, who they think it's OK to shoot at. Tomorrow, they'll prohibit the circumcision of Jewish and Muslim boys. And the next day, they'll take care of the gays and women with jobs."
Ahmed Agdas, a student and member of the CDU’s youth organization, said his family migrated to Germany because they believed “in a future of democracy, freedom, protection of minorities, and peace in Europe.”
“We haven't belonged to Germany for that long, but we do belong to it," Agdas said. "The ideology represented by the AfD isn't the distant past, but it is the past. The German people chose to reject the ideology that's represented by the AfD today, and made the choice for pluralism, prosperity, and peace. They decided against the persecution of minorities, murder and agitation."
“Today, if there's anything that's incompatible with the constitution, it's the AfD and its ideology."
A version of this post first appeared on HuffPost Germany. It has been translated into English and edited for clarity.