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If Tareq Alaows can't be a candidate, we are all the losers

Volos 2018 | Luisa von Richthofen
Luisa von Richthofen
April 3, 2021

Tareq Alaows wanted to be the first Syrian refugee in the German parliament but has given up after being targeted by hate speech and threats. This is a great loss for Germany, says Luisa von Richthofen.

Tareq Alaows at a demonstration in support of asylum-seekers
Tareq Alaows could have made German political historyImage: Panagiotis Kouparanis/DW

When Tareq Alaows announced he would stand as a candidate for the Greens at upcoming German national elections, it made a great stir. The 31-year-old is a lawyer and former Red Crescent volunteer. But for many in Germany, only one thing matters: He is a refugee from Syria.

It hasn't been an easy 10 years for Alaows. But after having survived the despotism and war in Syria and the flight from his homeland, and after having lived in Germany for six years, learned the langauge and worked for the cause of asylum-seekers, it seemed the time had come: He could have made history as the first Syrian refugee in the Bundestag. One could imagine Alaows saying with a smile: "Yes, we've made it; we're really here."

Luisa von Richthofen
DW's Luisa von RichthofenImage: privat

Threats and racism

But that will no longer be happening. On March 30, a message from Alaows' press team landed in my mailbox. It was not the consent for an interview that I had long hoped for but the news that he was going to withdraw from the race.

I was stunned when I read that Alaows described "the great threat to him and, above all, for people close to him" as the main reason for withdrawing his candidature. The press team also wrote that Alaows had experienced racism on a massive scale.

The statement did not clearly say from what quarter the threat came. In the media, there was speculation that there had been death threats from far-right extremists, while other reports said it was Alaows' family in Syria that had been threatened. We don't have precise details yet. But I was nonetheless shocked — and very angry, too. No matter what one thinks of Tareq Alaows and his political orientation, this withdrawal is a loss for all voters in this country.

Violence has no place in democratic debate

The people threatening Alaows and his family are negating our status as responsible adults. They are taking away our chance to decide whom we want to vote for and what kind of political thinking we choose to engage with. In other words, they are stealing part of our freedom. In a democracy — ideally, at least — there should be a competition of the best ideas. It is a great problem that intimidation and violence are establishing themselves as political tools instead of ideas and arguments. And we mustn't tolerate this happening.

Unfortunately, Alaows is only the latest example. Green politicians like Cem Özdemir and Aminata Toure are probably just sadly shaking their heads — racist abuse is part of their everyday lives. Even in politics at a local level, there is often a climate of fear that affects all the parties. Crimes against politicians, party members and party property are on the increase. Being involved in politics in Germany has become a high-risk job. And our institutions seem incapable of protecting politicians properly.

Fighting intimidation

Of course, one would hope that Alaows would keep going despite the threats because he lives in a country where it is assumed that you don't have to die for your convictions. But then one thinks of the politician Walter Lübcke, who supported the cause of refugees and was murdered. So I can understand Alaows' decision. No one should have to suffer this fear or inflict it on their family.

Perhaps it would be good if Alaows were to say openly exactly who has been threatening him — though, of course, not if the matter is under police investigation. There are already plenty of abstruse speculations about conspiracies. However, it is also understandable that Alaows needs time to breathe.

But the example given by the Social Democrat politician Helge Lindh, who published the threatening letters addressed to him, shows that taking a clear stance makes an impact. The attempts at intimidating politicians are real and must be taken seriously. We have to take up the fight against them. If we do, the haters won't have won completely.

This article was translated from German.