Extremists vs. Extremist: Salafists and Right-Wing Populists Battle in Bonn

May 10th, 2012

Published on Spiegel Online International, by Charles Hawley, May 7, 2012.

Germany’s right-wing populists are fond of insulting Islam in order to attract attention. On Saturday, violence prone Salafists took the bait, resulting in a riot that left 29 police injured. Despite the clash, however, the anti-Islam party can continue to display their anti-Islam caricatures, a court has decided.  

It was clear from the start that the tiny, right-wing populist group Pro-NRW would stop at nothing to attract attention in the run-up to state elections in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia this Sunday. With Salafists in the state now reacting violently to Pro-NRW’s inflammatory parading of Muhammad caricatures in front of Muslim establishments, the splinter party appears to have gotten its wish.

On Saturday, violence flared anew when Salafists attacked police protecting a Pro-NRW demonstration in front of a Saudi Arabian school in Bonn. Twenty-nine officers were wounded, two of them having been stabbed, and more than 100 people were arrested. On Monday, a 25-year-old man was arrested and charged with attempted murder in the knife attacks.

Ralf Jäger, interior minister for the state, promised that there would be “severe consequences,” adding that he would “join the federal government in exploring all legal possibilities for countering these extremists.” The police president in Bonn, Ursula Brohl-Sowa, spoke of an “explosion of violence like we haven’t seen for some time.”

The Pro-NRW march in Bonn consisted of just over two dozen people, but some 500 to 600 counter-demonstrators also gathered, including, according to police estimates, some 200 Salafists who had travelled to Bonn from across the country. Several hundred police were also present to keep the two groups separated.

Deliberately Provoked: … //

… Campaigning, Pro-NRW Style:

Indeed, the violence of Saturday — coming on the heels of a similar confrontation between Salafists and Pro-NRW last week — would seem exactly what Pro-NRW had been hoping for. The stridently anti-Muslim party has spent years struggling, and failing, to attract the kind of attention comparable right-wing populist parties have achieved in virtually all of Germany’s neighboring countries. Sunday parliamentary elections in the group’s home state have spurned them to once again try to attract votes.

And provocation has been the cornerstone of that effort. “It is of course part of the campaign,” Pro-NRW spokesman Markus Wiener told SPIEGEL ONLINE on Monday. “We are a party that is critical of Islam and we wanted to show our standpoint.”

To do so, the group launched a “Muhammad caricature contest” earlier this spring and is now parading the “winners” in front of area mosques and other Muslim establishments. The move, of course, is cynically calculated to attract the kind of attention the formerly unknown Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten received after it published similar caricatures in 2005.

Whether the strategy has been successful will become clear once the votes are counted on Sunday. In the meantime, the Pro-NRW parade of provocation will continue. Bielefeld police had sought to ban a planned right-wing march in the city on Monday, but a court intervened and allowed the Pro-NRW demonstration to go forward. Some 15 anti-Muslim marchers took to the streets, along with 400 counter-demonstrators. This time, there were no immediate reports of violence. (full text).

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