German racism: when politics no longer matters

As German far-right politicians attend a meeting at the British House of Parliament today, Arzu reflects on the crises of racism gripping Germany

Today former Tory now independent MP, Andrew Bridgen hosts members of the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party from Germany at the Houses of Parliament.  If the appellation ‘far-right’ isn’t enough to send shivers down the spine, then just for clarity, the AfD have recently held meetings in Germany with neo-Nazis to discuss mass deportations of ‘unassimilated citizens’.

Yes, mass deportations.

As Sandew Hira notes in the latest issue of The Long View, the rise of the far-right in recent times in Europe is not the anomaly many of us still wish to believe it is.  Our incredulity that fascism could rise again after the horrors of the second world war is the result of political narratives fomented by the victors of that conflict that sought to distance themselves from the Nazi project and diminish and even erase not just their own previous alliances with the Nazis, but the inherent strains of racism, the supremacist mindset and politics that inhere in a still very colonial Europe.  When you take a step back and look, the horror at the visit of AfD pales.  What is happening across Europe is not simply the rise to government or political prominence of political parties termed ‘far-right’ but that the political agenda across the left-right spectrum of the mainstream is increasingly showing itself so bemired in the same rhetoric and underpinning ideology/ies.

Let’s take Germany as a case in point.

The genocide against the Palestinians has caused a seismic shift in world opinion, with even some European states breaking away from the unswerving support of EU institutions for the Israeli entity (at the time of writing Belgium, Slovenia and Spain have supported South Africa’s case against Israel at the ICJ and Ireland, Norway and Spain have refused to cut funding to the UN aid agency for Palestinian refugees UNWRA despite the EU’s possible institutional break).  Not Germany.  Germany has intervened on the side of Israel.  Incredible as this may seem it is true.  As the Namibian Presidency, on behalf of the descendants of the earlier victims of German genocidal policy stated: “Germany cannot morally express commitment to the United Nations Convention against genocide, including atonement for the genocide in Namibia, whilst supporting the equivalent of a holocaust and genocide in Gaza.”

This is not the policy of the AfD whose links with Zionism are unquestioned.  This is the prevailing narrative of the German state.  Since 7 October, German state persecution of pro-Palestinian activism (see Denijal Jegic’s excellent piece here), from blanket bans on protests, arrests of protestors, cancellations of museum and art exhibitions and withdrawal of awards has been so severe it has featured in a complaint to the UN from IHRC under its human rights mechanisms.  However the story in Germany, as with Palestine, didn’t start on 7 October.  And, as with Palestine, Islamophobia and Islamophobic narratives, are the entry point for policy and politics in implementing the nationwide crackdown on dissent and the witch-hunt against those deemed to be dissenters.

I wrote in 2021 for The Long View on how both progressive and regressive debates about who can be a German citizen held inherent problematic ideas of the ‘other within’, and which permeated law and policy in other aspects of day to day life in the country.  It came from research I had undertaken for a 2020 report on Islamophobia in Germany, which I had co-authored.  Initially there were two German based authors, both of whom across the research period had to pull out because of the growing witch-hunt against those speaking out on Islamophobia and or in support of Palestine in Germany.  The situation was so febrile that even academics had to resort to publishing anonymously their research on how anti-semitism is instrumentalised to silence criticism of Israel, a matter that could ironically be discussed in the context of Germany in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

What can only be described as a witch-hunt has been underway for a long time against anyone with pro-Palestinian views: researchers, academics, artists, curators, activists.  In politics, pro-Palestinian sympathy is a simple no go.

There are so many examples of this, and surveillance and punishment regime that has swept up not just Muslims, or racialised groups but also anti-Zionist Jews who have stood up to the hegemony of pro-Israel discourse and politics.  The drama around the Documenta 15 festival is an example that engulfed artists from different countries including Indonesia and the UK.  Famous photographer Shad Alam is one of many to be blacklisted, likewise renowned poet and critic Ranjit Hoskote.  British artist Hamja Ahsan has found himself attacked and maligned.  Attacked in the press, he has like many other faced death threats.  Go back further and in 2018, the launch of the Counter-Islamophobia Toolkit on Germany, of which I was a part, had to be cancelled over security concerns for participants.  As in so many similar cases, the situation starts with a derisive comment from one of a handful of German politicians (the same ones again and again), quoted in a piece by a handful of journalists in the mainstream media, and then the dominoes start falling: contracts are nullified; or people lose their jobs; or a prestigious award is revoked; or an event is cancelled or a participant is cancelled.  At the end of all this whoever has been attacked is at best blacklisted and in some cases even prosecuted.  Institutions that dared host or take part in the research, political or cultural activities are usually cowed by the end of the process.

To get a sense of what life is like as a racialised other in Germany, with all its nuance, I highly recommend the work of Musa Okwonga and Hebh Jamal.  ‘Is Germany a democracy?’ is an eloquent and urgent discussion by Jamal in the immediate aftermath of 7 October.  Okwonga discusses Germany as ‘the cost-benefit country’, simultaneously a space with progressive and highly developed infrastructures, social services and quality of life, but also a nightmare of ‘hatred accelerating‘.

Meanwhile the resurgent far-right, whether the Afd or others, has no problem allying with Zionism and the Israeli state.  And even the protest movement against it, seeing in it something of the nightmare of Germany’s past has succumbed to the anti-Palestinian narrative.



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The violence of anti-Palestinianism is so extreme that even those who think they are protesting racism can raise their hands to exclude, deride and belittle Palestinians and those who support their struggle against the anti-Palestinian German state.  They do so to the extent that the state can exclude by diktat the voices of anti-Zionist Jews making direct and substantiated comparisons between the Nazi genocide of Jews and the Israeli genocide of Palestinians*. Water cannons face protestors, police harassment and brutality abound, but maybe this is what hurts the most and is most damaging to the possibilities of a truly anti-racist German future.  The presence of the AfD in the UK’s parliament heralds only that this dystopia is likely a shared one.

Arzu Merali is a writer and researcher based in London, UK. 


* See for example Masha Gessen’s comment on the removal of the Hannah Arendt prize for her piece in The New Yorker, In the Shadow of the Holocaust.



Photo: Free Palestine demo – Oranienplatz 21 October 2023 by Montecruz Foto, CC  BY CN 3.0