Germany’s Growing Right-Wing Extremism In The Face Of ‘Never Again’

Germany’s most recent attacks in Hanau are a stark reminder of the right-wing’s growing confidence. The attacks of a shooter targeting Muslims at shisha bars and killing nine while injuring five is the latest example in the continued violence that minorities in the country face. Deutsche Welle (DW) has observed that this attack is a series of other right-wing attacks within the past year such as the October attack on a synagogue in Halle and the murder of local politician Walter Lübcke a supporter of Chancellor Merkel’s 2015 migration policy last June.

This comes at a time when parties such as the Alternative for Germany (AfD) are using right-wing rhetoric of division and fear and revisionism of history to gain traction in cities. When placed in the context of Germany, the rise of the far-right and the violence that accompanies it is particularly problematic. This is due to the memory of 1939-45 which continues to overshadow and to haunt the nation. Any failure to remember and accept the past is only furthering the agenda of the far-right as they instead utilize this memory to their advantage. Consequently, more needs to be done to safeguard minorities. To continue on this trajectory may see Germany fall to a fascist agenda yet again.

Since the implementation of Merkel’s 2015 migration policy which saw nearly one million refugees and asylum seekers stream into the country, it has sparked a question of German identity and how the future of Germany will look. According to Spiegel International, every fifth person within Germany comes from an immigrant background. This is where identity politics and parties such as the AfD are capable of manipulating public opinion. This creates fear and fear is often when the public is most susceptible. Consequently, there is a growing level of anger and rage simmering in those who believe in the narrative being created by the AfD. This includes the belief that Islam is alien to German society and characterizing migrants and the movement of people as an “invasion of foreigners”, as spoken by AfD co-chairman Alexander Gauland. This has then been expounded upon to create a new sense of German pride by altering the perception of the Holocaust, where AfD leader Björn Höcke, once described Berlin’s Holocaust memorial as a “monument of shame” and called for a “180-degree turnaround” in regards to how Germany handles its Nazi past, he has also trivialized the Nazi era stating that it is “just a speck of bird’s muck in more than 1,000 years of successful German history”. January 27th marked the 75th anniversary of the Holocaust and such statements work to belittle and trivialize a memory of trauma and pain for survivors and their families. It also aims to undermine the actions of the Nazi German government who were responsible for the systematic killing of six million people.
Originally starting as a political party that was opposed to the euro in 2014, the AfD has quickly evolved into an anti-immigrant party with its leader Björn Höcke often being accused of stocking hatred.  Yet, the party gained second place in the recent state elections of the eastern German state of Thuringia, where The Guardian reported that the party won 24% of the vote. This outcome demonstrates how the right is being legitimized and accepted into mainstream politics. This ultimately demonstrates the failure of Germany’s political parties to find a solution to dealing with the far-right. Therefore, even when our political parties are failing to curb the right-wing, how do we then combat such rhetoric?

This is where space for not only civil society but the general public is made clear. The Saturday following the attacks in Hanau, approximately 10,000 people marched through the streets to demonstrate their solidarity with the Muslim community and remember the victims. However, such actions need to be taken more regularly and not only in the face of attacks. The dialogue that needs to be created is one of inclusion and diversity to demonstrate how all cultures and religions are capable of co-existing together. Here, civil societies such as EXIT-Deutschland (ED) have made progress.

Founded in 2000, ED specializes in facilitating the deradicalization process of right-wing extremists and has helped approximately 500 individuals ‘escape’ from right-wing ideology. Similarly, from the other side, government-funded groups such as Hayat (meaning life in both Turkish and Arabic) have created counseling hotlines to discourage minorities from radicalizing. Therefore, the German government can further support such initiatives through funding and education.
Ultimately though, it is up to individuals to notice the signs and act against right-wing extremism and this is why a strong need for remembrance of the events during the Nazi period exists. The Holocaust is a reminder of the trauma and pain that radicalization can lead to as it continues to haunt our present. Therefore, when we say ‘never again’ it needs to truly resonate and be felt as we reach a point where few survivors of the Holocaust remain.

In such tumultuous times, there is a need to remember our shared history and humanity; therefore the famous words ‘never again’, it is meant as a rejection of the “troubling increase in xenophobia, homophobia, discrimination, and hatred of all kinds”, as explained by United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres. Fear and change within society prompt many different reactions but what we cannot allow ourselves to feel is indifference. For this is the worst possible route we could take when faced with a loud and confident right-wing. Consequently, the past needs to be remembered to forge a safer and diverse future.

Isha Tembe