Source: ABC News
By FRANK JORDANS, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Weeks after declaring that there is no place for Islam in Germany, a surging nationalist party has sharpened its rhetoric against prominent Islamic groups and suggested limiting the religious freedom of the more than 4 million Muslims in the country.
Senior members of Alternative for Germany cut short a meeting Monday with the Central Council of Muslims, accusing the group of failing to renounce religious beliefs that they claim clash with the German constitution.
The confrontation came days after the party — known by its acronym AfD — launched a campaign against the construction of a mosque in the eastern state of Thuringia, joining up for the first time with the group known as the Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West.
Both groups have seen their popularity rise after Germany saw a greater influx of migrants in 2015 than any other European country. Nearly 1.1 million people — most of them Muslims — were registered as asylum-seekers, though the actual number who came is believed to be somewhat lower.
AfD had previously kept PEGIDA at arm’s length due to its links with far-right extremists, but the party’s leader in Thuringia, Bjoern Hoecke, said there was “a lot of overlap” between the two on the issue of Islam.
“We see a need to send a signal,” Hoecke told The Associated Press ahead of a rally last week in Erfurt, the state capital. “We have common goals.”
PEGIDA is known for staging protests that draw thousands in neighboring Dresden each week. One of its founders, Lutz Bachmann, was recently convicted of inciting hatred online after referring to migrants as “cattle” and “trash.”
In Erfurt, PEGIDA and AfD have teamed up to oppose an application from the Ahmadiyya Muslim community to build the mosque for its 70 members in Thuringia, claiming the building’s domed roof and minaret would symbolize Islam’s attempt to conquer Europe.
AfD is introducing a bill in the state Parliament to stop new mosques from being built, though it’s unlikely to win the support needed from other parties to pass.
Instead, Hoecke hinted AfD was prepared to take its case to the streets, a point the party underlined by inviting a senior PEGIDA member to last Wednesday’s rally.
“AfD in Thuringia will do everything legally possible to prevent this building,” he said.
The party shocked Germany’s political establishment in March when it swept into three state Parliaments on a wave of anti-immigration sentiment. In Thuringia’s neighboring state of Saxony-Anhalt the party received almost a quarter of the vote to come second behind Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats.