As Germany received more and more refugees over the past few years, the extreme right party “Alternative for Germany”, also known as AfD, saw its popularity grow to unprecedented levels. Opposition to Islam’s growing presence in German society was and still is a cornerstone of its rhetoric. “Islam does not belong in Germany” is one of its most popular slogans.
But now one of AfD’s high profile politicians has become a Muslim himself, and far-right officials are suddenly on the defensive, insisting that religion is pretty much a “private matter.”
The man is 48-year-old Arthur Wagner. He started as a member of the “Christian Democratic Union” party, then joined the AfD. He slammed Chancellor Angela Merkel’s policy of allowing Syrian refugees to cross the borders into Germany and warned that the country was transforming into a different nation.
His extreme rhetoric helped him rise through the ranks to become a member of the AfD’s executive committee in the state of Brandenburg. An influential regional committee headed by Alexander Gauland who leads the AfD’s delegation in the German Parliament.
Wagner’s name has since disappeared from the list of committee members. It appears he had only recently converted to Islam, and he resigned from his position on January 11 for “private reasons.” Party officials denied his resignation was related to his conversion to Islam and said Wagner still holds another, lower-profile post. “Wagner still is the vice chairman of the AfD’s branch in Hafelland,” said Lion Edler, a press spokesman for the AfD in Brandenburg’s regional parliament.
Edler said the AfD had “no issues” with Wagner having converted to Islam, despite the party’s frequent warnings of an “Islamization” of the West. “We view this as his personal decision,” Edler said. Wagner himself has not commented on his conversion, and is so far not responding to requests for interviews from the press.
For the far-right party, Wagner’s conversion could not have come at a worst time. It is now the largest opposition party in Parliament, with the two biggest parties – the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats – again looking to form a coalition. In that role, the AfD heads several committees and is facing pressure to portray itself as a more moderate, solutions-focused political movement.
The party’s base consists mostly of people opposed to Islam and to immigrants. Frauke Petry, a former AfD head who was considered a moderate, argued in 2015 that officers should shoot migrants and refugees entering Germany, if necessary. Its political manifesto also includes various anti Islam references, like this one “The AfD views Islam as a great threat to our state, our society and our values, due to its spreading and the steadily growing number of Muslims”.
As more German newspapers started reporting on Wagner’s conversion to Islam on Wednesday, Andreas Kalbitz, the AfD’s head of its Brandenburg branch posted this on Facebook: “#Islam does not belong in Germany! The Press shows that a member of the afd brandenburg has converted to Islam. We have taken note of this development not without surprise… The conversion of Arthur Wagner to Islam is a private matter…”. Here is the full post on Facebook, with translation below the German text: