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Long overdue

Matthias von Hein/db, cmkDecember 13, 2014

Germany's state interior ministers take a strong stand against right-wing populists. Given the growing anti-immigrant sentiment in Germany the decision was long overdue, says DW's Matthias von Hein.

Right-wing protestors
Image: Nastassja Steudel / DW

Germany's state interior ministers have sent a gratifyingly clear message against xenophobia and Islamophobia: Those behind recent demonstrations against the alleged Islamization of the West must be revealed, they argued at a conference in Cologne on Friday.

It was about time, too.

When 10,000 people take to the streets in Dresden to protest the alleged Islamization of the West, something has gone terribly wrong in Germany. Far-right extremists and demagogues with false messages have been successful in planting vague fears in the midst of society. And they've also provided a misguided answer - "Out with foreigners" - to numerous difficult questions.

Deutsche Welle Chinesische Redaktion Matthias von Hein
DW's Matthias von HeinImage: DW

As the interior ministers were wrapping up their twice-yearly meeting on Friday, news broke that refugee shelters in Bavaria had gone up in flames in a suspected arson attack. It was a stark reminder that Germany faces great danger from right-wing extremists.

Earlier this week, new evidence also emerged in connection with a deadly attack on Munich's Oktoberfest in 1980. A bomb planted in a waste container at the entrance to the popular beer festival killed 13 and injured more than 200.

The investigation into the attack has now been reopened, and prosecutors believe that a new witness may be able to shed light on connections to organized right-wing extremists. For years, witnesses were not taken seriously, and evidence was destroyed. Investigators' behavior is, unfortunately, reminiscent of the failure in the investigation of the series of murders committed by the National Socialist Underground, when authorities turned a blind eye.

Muddled situation

Today, refugees are coming to Germany in increasing numbers: This year, 200,000 people applied for asylum. Many have been seriously traumatized and must be given shelter and access to health care and other social services.

It's a great challenge for German society - but this rich country is up to it.

Federal and state governments have now agreed to devote an additional billion euros to this task.

But in some parts of the country, Germans have reservations about taking in foreigners. Such fears are fertile ground for groups like PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West), who have been protesting the perceived prevalence of Islamists and Salafists in Germany.

No tolerance for intolerance

At the same time, conflict in the Middle East has trickled back in to Germany. Radical Islamists are gaining ground, with around 600 Germans reportedly having been drawn into fighting the supposed "holy war" in Syria. Intelligence services have warned of radicalized, trained military returnees - further fodder for the right-wing extremists.

In recent months, the "Hooligans against Salafists" (HoGeSa) mobilized in a number of German cities. This grouping of hooligans, right-wing extremists and thugs drew on the hidden sympathies in an unsettled majority society. Faced with the protests, the interior ministers now plan to investigate HoGeSa.

The ministers further plan to confront right-wing propaganda with reliable information - and to investigate the other side, as well, looking into Islamist propaganda.

This is right, and important. But in both the conflict against Islamist extremists and the right-wing extremists, German society must ask itself: How tolerant can we be of intolerance?