Article from our partners Belltower News
Right-wing actors have little of substance to contribute to the coronavirus crisis. The previous recipe of provocation, agitation, and populism is not very successful in times of COVID-19. However, Alternative für Deutschland (“Alternative for Germany”, AfD) and the like, insist on one thing: agitation against Muslims. Muslims’ fasting month, Ramadan, begins today, but the propaganda machine has been running for weeks.
By Stefan Lauer | 23 April 2020
(Source: picture alliance)
Already at the end of March, the extremely anti-Muslim website PI-News declared to know more than anyone else. They said that the restrictions on outdoor activities due to the pandemic would certainly be relaxed during Ramadan. Similar messages made their rounds on social networks. The “Crisis Centre for Berlin and Brandenburg” allegedly issued special regulations exclusively for people of Muslim faith, and thus allowed them to celebrate Ramadan. A “crisis centre” does not exist at all, as the Faktenfinder (“fact finder”) column of the Tagesschau (a German public service television news programme) reports. AfD Member of the Bundestag Jens Maier lowered the bar a little more and proclaimed in the first sentence of his Facebook survey on Ramadan Fake News: “Easter is cancelled!”, only to then ask whether his own fans believed that the restrictions on outdoor activities would be lifted for Ramadan.
Screenshot of the tweet by Jens Maier
In reaction to Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania’s Interior Minister, Lorenz Caffier posting of a picture on Twitter that addresses the virus-related entry restrictions to the federal state – pictured is a motorway sign that says tourist traffic is blocked –, Gunnar Lindemann (AfD), member of the Berlin House of Representatives asked “Will the signs still be there for Ramadan?”. What exactly the Muslim fasting month has to do with the motorways in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania is not entirely discernible. So far, Baltic Sea beaches did not stand out as particularly popular Ramadan destinations.
Screenshot of the tweet by Gunnar Lindemann (with spelling mistakes)
The AfD faction of the state parliament in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) adopted a different strategy, one more in the direction of "If we are not allowed to, they are not allowed to either!" They suggested that NRW Minister-President Armin Laschet (CDU) only plans to allow church services again due to the then-upcoming Ramadan, while Easter and Low Sunday were not allowed to be celebrated.
Screenshot of the tweet of the AfD in NRW
David Berger, who is behind the Islamophobic blog Philosophia Perennis, argues similarly. The city of Berlin had announced that religious events would be permitted again on May 3, subject to conditions. For Berger, this is “an impressive sign to which religious community the future in Germany belongs”. The not-so-easy-to-grasp logic behind the argument: Religious gatherings will be allowed again during Ramadan. Christians were not allowed to celebrate services at Easter. Germany is becoming a Muslim country.
Beatrix von Storch, AfD representative in the Bundestag, prefers to stick to fearmongering. She tweeted a subscription article by (German tabloid) Bild that suggests that churches remain “closed” because the government is afraid of “Ramadan chaos”. According to the article, which refers to anonymous sources “around the Federal Chancellery and state heads”, “politicians do not see any central contact person among Muslims in Germany who could reliably enforce rules (distance, hygiene et cetera) in mosques nationwide”. For Von Storch, all of this is the “self-abandonment of our Christian culture”.
Screenshot of the tweet by Beatrix von Storch
Apart from the fact that many churches and also mosques are not closed at all but are open for quiet reflection while services are not currently taking place, the narrative of Bild fits perfectly with the AfD’s view of Muslims. The watch-blog Bildblog comments: “With an eye toward the corona pandemic and compared to a few days ago, Bild does not explain why it should now be less dangerous for mainly older people to sit closely next to one another in a confined room and blare Christian songs, where the one or other saliva droplet is sure to fly through the air. Instead, Bild implies the following: The wild Muslims, who crouch in their grubby mosques and do not even wash their hands properly, are to blame that we Christians are not allowed to worship in our churches.”
Screenshot of the tweet by Martin Sellner
Martin Sellner, head of the right-wing extremist “Generation Identity”, went one step further and conjured up the connotation – not for the first time – of civil war. His linked videos are dominated by a racist view of Muslims, painting them as an apparently completely uncontrolled, homogeneous crowd, from which constantly emanates great danger[GU1][JU2][JU3]. Ramadan can be exploited perfectly to reinforce this narrative. The fasting month has been used for years again and again to stir up antipathy against Muslims.
In the meantime, Thuringia has announced that under certain conditions gatherings will be allowed again from 23 April onward. Church services can also be held again with a limited number of participants. This is referenced, obviously wrapped in irony, for example, by Ellen Kositza, wife of the micro-publisher and "new right" thought leader Götz Kubitschek.
Screenshot of the tweet by Ellen Kositza: “How unsurprising. Tomorrow is the feast of St. George, so Mr. Ramelos [Minister President of Thuringia]
will have mercy on the numerous Christians who then traditionally barbeque outside with their extended families in the evenings.”
Kubitschek of all people, whose “Institute for State Policy” is now being observed by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution as a “suspected case”, had recently reported on an in-house blog about a conspiratorial Easter service in which he and his wife claimed to have participated. It seems as though the best way to make exceptions is for yourself.
Besides, Thuringia is not a hotspot when it comes to Islam. Exact figures on how many people are Muslim in Thuringia are not available. However, the federal state has one of the lowest proportions of migrants in all of Germany. That is not sufficient for Björn Höcke. The AfD parliamentary party leader in the Erfurt state parliament scents the alleged “Islamization” in his state, too. According to Höcke, the amended regulations are an “obvious exception for Muslims”. The AfD is similarly concerned in Saxony – the proportion of migrants in the population is even lower here than in Thuringia; apparently, it considers Ramadan very important for the free state and publishes a contribution by the church-political spokesman for the state-parliamentary faction. The reasoning is also here: If Christians are not allowed, Muslims are not allowed to by a long shot: “It was very difficult for all Christians to spend an Easter without services due to the corona pandemic. However, the established rules were followed with great self-discipline, even if they were perceived as painful. We now also expect this from all Muslims in their holy month of Ramadan. In German mosques, Ramadan ceremonies with large groups of people should not be allowed to take place.”
As a matter of fact, the strange obsession of AfD, Generation Identity and everyone else in the alternative-right political bubble is pretty absurd. The ban on assembly, the restrictions on fundamental rights, and the ban on worship are all about one thing: the fight against the novel coronavirus. It is not an Olympics of self-denial in which whichever the religious group wins [GU4][JU5]that best insists on the public perception of its festivities. Rather, this is about infecting as few people as possible with the virus. Above all, Muslims in Germany and around the world are aware of this. Aiman Mazyek, the chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, had pointed out the dangers of the virus and the contagion already at the beginning of the assembly ban and commented again at the beginning of Ramadan: “As much as every day without going to the mosque hurts, each of these days is a victory so to speak in the fight against the spread of the life-threatening disease caused by the coronavirus. This is currently our big ordeal, our jihad. We see this struggle as our religious and likewise, civil duty.”
Mirza Masrur Ahmad, leader of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, also called on believers to abide by the regulations: “Beyond that, as mentioned above, the government has issued various instructions and laws for the well-being and health of the population. Stick to them wholeheartedly.” Saudi Arabia had already closed its borders for pilgrimages to Mecca and Medina at the end of February and is by now advising against planning the religious trip to Mecca this year altogether.