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AfD's red card

Schliess Gero Kommentarbild App
Gero Schließ
May 29, 2016

Yesterday the church, today a national soccer hero: The Alternative for Germany keeps seeking to discredit moral authorities and societal role models. You can only fight the AfD with facts, DW's Gero Schliess writes.

Deutschland AfD Bundesparteitag in Stuttgart Gauland
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Murat

Combining the words refugees, foreigners and Islam with fears and prejudices, you can concoct quite a nasty brew in Germany these days. Alternative for Germany (AfD) uses this formula almost every day - yet nothing has been done to remedy the situation.

The AfD's latest target is the national soccer team's Jerome Boateng. Deputy Chairman Alexander Gauland (pictured) told the Sunday edition of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung that the defender might be appreciated for his performance on the football field but people would not want "someone like Boateng as a neighbor." Many feel that Gauland's gaffe gives deep insight into the AfD's psyche, though party leader Frauke Petry quickly apologized to Boateng, and Gauland tried to defend himself by explaining that he was just "describing some peoples' opinions."

Born in Berlin to a Ghanaian father and a German mother, Boateng is practically a poster child for successful cultural integration. He worked his way up to the top and has become a national hero.

Schliess Gero Kommentarbild App
DW's Gero Schliess

That may be the reason why the AfD has decided to attack Boateng: The party wants to raise doubts and fuel resentment. The AfD needs to discredit a highly successful example of integration, and belittling a national hero seems to be its chosen method. By doing so, AfD is also trying to bad-mouth the sport itself. Soccer is an emotionally charged competitive sport in which people from different backgrounds work in teams. The diversity does not weaken the group's efforts; in fact, it strengthens them.

Successful integration proves the fearmongering of xenophobes wrong. In recent months, many sports clubs have caused a sensation by offering refugees great programs. Maybe that is why the AfD's enthusiasm for the sport is waning.

The church, too

The same pattern is discernible in the AfD's outrageous attacks on churches and their associated charitable organizations. In the past, the party has also expressed suspicions about international aid organizations: According to AfD, they have turned refugees into a billion-euro business. The AfD has specifically targeted the German Caritas and Diakonie organizations with its baseless accusations in an attempt to subvert churches' moral authority.

Even though the AfD's statements are easy to see through, it would be foolish to dismiss them. Ignoring the party makes it seem like one is refusing to engage in the debate as the Catholic Church appeared to do when it didn't invite AfD functionaries to this weekend's assembly of Catholics in Leipzig.

It was an unwise thing to do, and it backfired. The debate is still taking place, but it is an uglier one as the AfD and its followers feel validated in their conspiracy theories. Exclusion is a bad strategy to use against the right wing. And soccer officials must express more than mere outrage. The AfD is a conduit for fears that may be excessive and culturally insensitive, but which do exist - and are more widespread than one would expect.

Dialogue as a remedy

In a democracy only discourse can remedy the spread of rage and fear - which means using factual arguments.

It seems that some political parties have already learned a lesson about other social groups. Former Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger leads the way in this. In the Süddeutsche Zeitung, she submitted the AfD's platform to a fact check that made the party look rather bad.

Let's openly confront the right-wing zeitgeist. Otherwise, the AfD's kindred spirits will continue working on an unsavory brew of fears, reservations and prejudices.

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