Extremists backtrack on anti-Islam video | Germany | News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 16.09.2012

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Extremists backtrack on anti-Islam video

A German fringe right-wing party had announced it would show the controversial anti-Islam film in its full length. In an interview with DW, the deputy chairman now says the group is having second thoughts.

The "Bürgerbewegung Pro Deutschland" (Civil Movement Pro Germany) has next to no real political significance in Germany, yet the group regularly attracts attention with populist, anti-Muslim, anti-Salafist and xenophobic campaigns. A few days ago, the party announced on its website that it intended to publicly show the controversial Mohammad film "Innocence of Muslims" in Berlin. According to the site, the party made the decision after the film had caused violent protests across the Muslim world.

In its edition from Monday, September 19, German news magazine "Der Spiegel" quotes the chairman of the party, Manfred Rouhs, as saying that the group wants to show the film in its entirety to support "freedom of art and expression."

"Primitive video"

But in an interview with Deutsche Welle on Sunday, deputy chairman Alfred Dagenbach backed down a little. He said the party hadn't made the final decision yet whether it was really going to show the film, which triggered widespread protests and the attacks on US, British and German embassies in Sudan and other countries in the Muslim world.

Dagenbach said "that one shouldn't now jump on the bandwagon, partly because I think the video is so primitive that it's comparable to depictions of Christianity that we see coming out of the Arab world." Dagenbach called Rouhs' statement "an idea - but the content [of the film] obviously wasn't entirely known." Now that he has seen the video, Dagenbach pointed out, he believed it was "so disgusting that you actually can't support something like that."

A counter demonstration against 'Pro Deutschland' (picture: Tim Brakemeier/ dpa/lbn)

A counter demonstration against 'Pro Deutschland' - the party has only few followers in Germany

Dagenbach said the party was currently still discussing the issue. Those whom he had contacted, he said, have become reluctant to support the plan. "Initially we saw only a short trailer and at that stage it looked like something worth considering."

Small party - lots of harm?

German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich told "Der Spiegel" magazine that further dissemination of the anti-Islam film could be understood as an act of provocation. He warned that he would use "all legal means possible" against any such plans.

According to Friedrich, "Pro Deutschland" was "negligently adding fuel to the fire" with its plan to show the film in public. After the attacks on the German embassy in Sudan, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle condemned the attacks and also the video, but added that it was "still no justification for the use of violence."

In early September, several radical religious leaders in Sudan had drawn attention to "Pro Deutschland" demonstrations outside mosques in Berlin showing Muhammad caricatures and banners with crossed out mosques. The attack on the German embassy could therefore have been an act of revenge by Islamist extremists.

Smoke billows from the burning German embassy in Khartoum (picture: Ashraf Shazly/AFP/GettyImages)

The attacks on the German embassy in Sudan could have been a reaction to 'Pro Deutschland' activities

Right-wing extremist past

In Germany, the "Bürgerbewegung Pro Deutschland" is categorized as a right-wing populist group. The party has existed since 2005 and Germany's domestic intelligence agency, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, has listed it as a right-wing extremist party. This means that there is evidence of right-wing extremist intentions.

Several party officials, among them chairman Manfred Rouhs, have a right-wing extremist past. Rouhs used to be a member of the NPD, the country's main right-wing extremist party. Public protests staged by "Pro Deutschland" often seem directly aimed at provoking Muslims.

But the party remains a tiny fringe group - in late 2010, "Pro Deutschland" had a total of 256 members. The group itself claims the number has grown to a current total of 1760 members. The party is financed largely by donations. Politically, it has almost no significance. In regional elections for the Senate in Berlin in September 2011, the party's Berlin branch "Pro Berlin" got a mere 1.2 percent of the vote.

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