Today, these competing narratives of threat and renewal feed into how the German far right envisions German identity in relation to Islam: it claims on the one hand to defend and embody a liberal, progressive and modern Europe and on the other hand yearns for a traditionalist spiritual re-rooting. Since its foundation in 2013, the German far-right party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) and its surrounding far-right milieus have oscillated between these opposing visions of German identity and whether Islam should be seen as an “other to” or an “enhancer of” it.
The rationalist approach in AfD
The dominant West German base of the party inclines towards a rationalist approach, celebrating Germany as the embodiment of western liberal modernity. Held up in contrast to German/European rationalism, then, Islam is either seen as entirely incompatible with Germanness or as compatible only if Islam is fundamentally reformed and turned into a “liberal” or even “secular” Islam. Yet a number of mainly East but also a few West Germany-based spiritualist public intellectuals, on a mission to counter a “soulless” western modernity, have come to see Islam either as a competitor or an enhancer. Various Muslim-background public intellectuals in the far right have found a place in both currents.
It is the two rationalist approaches to Islam that are most visible in German public debate and that have allowed the far right to build bridges to a mainstream discourse that is sceptical if not outright hostile to Islam. Similar to al-Kubaisi in Norway, Walters in Sweden and Hirsi Ali in the Netherlands, German figures like Turkish-background sociologist Necla Kelek or Egyptian-background political scientist Hamed Abdel-Samad have emerged as prominent rationalist “Islam critic” with ties to a predominantly West German AfD milieu and conservative circles of the governing Christian Democratic Union’s far-right association, Werte Union. Both Kelek and Abdel-Samad have declared their break with Islam and argue that it is incompatible with German identity as it is in fact not a religion but a fascist political ideology. Both are close to factions in the AfD that self-identify as atheists or Protestants and celebrate Germany’s tradition of rational thinkers and discipline.
Palestinian-background psychologist Ahmed Mansour and Kurdish-background former lawyer and current self-declared liberal Imam Seyran Ates have also become popular figures in rationalist far-right circles. While Ates has strong links to a Berlin-based New Left milieu that emerged in the 1980s, Mansour is close to the Green Party. While both underline their distance to parties like the AfD, their contributions as “liberal Muslims” find resonance in parts of the far right. In 2018, Ates gave a celebrated talk at an event of the Austrian far-right Freedom Party of Austria. Only a drastically reformed Islam, they both argue, can be compatible with German identity, reform that can only be brought about through a new sexual revolution inside Muslim communities that will break the religion’s inherent patriarchism, authoritarianism and anti-Semitism.
The spiritualist current in AfD
Less visible but with a growing influence is a spiritualist current in the German far right that sees German identity as a counter movement to rational modernity, consumerism and liberalism. Here, Islam is either seen as a competitor in the fight against liberal modernity or as a potential ally and a source of spiritual renewal. Islam has gained surprising support among far-right figures surrounding the far-right think tank Institut für Staatspolitik, based in East Germany. The think tank has close links to Thuringia’s AfD leader, Björn Höcke, and its even further far-right intra-party association, Der Flügel, now officially dissolved. Although a West German himself, Höcke is known to oppose a West German-dominated vision of German identity as liberal and modern, promoting instead a mythic vision of German identity that draws on nineteenth-century romanticism and calls for ethnocultural homogeneity.