Jennifer Collins for NPR Berlin
Manfred Rouhs, center, one of the pro Deutschland candidates for Marzahn-Hellersdorf, held a rally in Neukoelln last Saturday, August 27th to protest what he calls the "Islamification" of Germany. Rouhs and his fellow party members feel the growth of Islam is a threat to democracy.
Manfred Rouhs, center, one of the pro Deutschland candidates for Marzahn-Hellersdorf, held a rally in Neukoelln last Saturday, August 27th to protest what he calls the "Islamification" of Germany. Rouhs and his fellow party members feel the growth of Islam is a threat to democracy. Jennifer Collins for NPR Berlin
"I'm Muslim, and I'm German. I was born in Germany. I have a German wife and daughter. What I can do now?" yells one bystander at a demonstration on Flughafen Straße last Satuday, August 27th.
The man's remarks were directed at members of the Bürgerbewegung Pro Deutschland, or "Pro Germany Citizens' Movement." Members of the movement gathered in front of an Islamic clothing store and a mosque in Neukölln as part of an "anti-Islamification" rally.
Members carried signs depicting a woman in a niqab, a cloth worn by some Muslim women to cover the face, with jailhouse bars in front of the gap left for the eyes.
Manfred Rouhs, chairman of the populist "Islam-Critical" pro party and one of its main candidates in the Berlin Senate election, announced "German women will remain free." For Rouhs and the other party members, Islam teaches the oppression of women.
Ana Margit Uller was among the large crowd of counter demonstrators who were protesting the "anti-Islamification" rallies on Saturday. As a German who converted to Islam 11 years ago, she says she has faced many difficulties.
"It can be really bad," Uller says. "I know many German Muslims who are Muslims in their hearts, and they are told, 'You don't belong here,' although they are German and maybe have been born here," she says, with tears in her eyes.
"These people deride Islam when they don't really know what the religion is about."
Uller says she believes more Muslims need to take to the streets to demonstrate against the pro party and others like them.
Earlier in the day, Manfred Rouhs outlined the idea behind what he calls Berlin's first "Anti-Islamification Congress" and the pro party's electoral strategy. Sitting in front of a German flag with the slogan "Islamification? No Thank You!" at the party's headquarters in Marzahn, Rouhs spoke to a room of 15 journalists of the "creeping" Islamification of Germany.
Jennifer Collins for NPR Berlin
Pro Deutschland supporters carry signs depicting a women in a niqab with jailhouse bars in front of the gap left for the eyes.
"Muslim values are just not compatible with Germany's democratic values. Multiculturalism and integration have not worked. It's clear. The Turkish live in closed communities," Rouhs says.
The Bürgerbewegung Pro Deutschland was founded in 2005 following the success of the Pro Cologne movement in the 2004 and 2009 city council elections. The Fredrich-Ebert Foundation describes the party as a new type of "right-wing populist party in Germany that is trying to fill the political space between those on the extreme right (specifically the NPD) and conservative center-right parties."
To combat what they see as Islamification, the party's manifesto suggests a number of populist measures, including referendums on issues such as a ban on burqas and minarets and a stay on building mosques. (Of the 2,600 mosques, or Islamic prayer areas, in Germany, less than 10 percent have minarets.)
Halting Islamification is a core issue for Pro Deutschland, Rouhs says. The party recently came under fire for its election posters, one of which features a crossed-out mosque. The poster originally read "Go vote for Sarrazin's Theses," a reference to the Socialist Democratic Party (SPD) politician Thilo Sarrazin's popular, but widely criticized book Deutschland Schafft Sich Ab, or Germany Does Away With Itself.
Sarrazin successfully filed for an injunction against Pro Deutschland's use of his name in their campaign in an attempt to disassociate himself from the party's critical views of Islam. (Berlin's regional court ruled that the campaign violated Sarrazin's "right to control his own name.")
The Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands, or NPD, was also recently slammed for its election posters, one of which portrayed NPD Chairman Udo Voigt sitting on a motorbike with the text "Gas Geben," which can mean "Get Moving," but could also literally be translated as "Give Gas." The slogan triggered a public outcry with a number of politicians, including Andreas Gram of the Christian Democratic Union, who accused the party of deliberately invoking the image of gas chambers. Voigt dismissed the claims in Der Spiegel, saying he is a passionate motorcyclist.
Rouhs believes these criticisms have not damaged the party's chances. In fact, he feels the added attention has probably boosted them.
"One million Berliners have already received their campaign flyers," he says. Moreover, according to recent surveys, Rouhs says around 10 percent of the electorate would vote for a party "critical of Islam." This translates into around 100,000, meaning the party "will make it to the Berlin House of Representatives."
Pro Deutschland will have to breach the five percent barrier if it is to gain seats in the city or district parliaments. Rouhs is confident he can do this, although a recent ZDF survey says "Politbarometer didn't place the party in the running." Of course, Rouhs admits, some Berliner districts will prove more difficult to win over than others. And one of these districts is Neukölln – the site of Pro Deutschland's first anti-Islamification event a week ago.
Berlin Senate elections will take place this September 18th.