Until last fall, Arthur Wagner was a member of a prominent group, and a politician in a party that self identifies as anti-Islam and anti-immigration, the “Alternative for Germany”. It is the first far-right party to enter the German parliament since the 1950s. But this year, Arthur Wagner made a stunning move, he converted to Islam and left the party.
According to reports in German media, Wagner has been one of the leaders of the party in Brandenburg state, and its representative since 2015. The newspaper “Deutsche Welle” quoted a spokesman for the party as saying that Wagner is of Russian origin and “was a member of the state commission responsible for churches and religious communities.” As for his conversion to Islam, the spokesman said “The party has no problem with that.” However, it seems that Wagner’s new religious identity will create some uneasiness among his old colleagues, especially since the party’s slogan is “Islam does not belong in Germany.”
Preceded by politicians in France and the Netherlands
Wagner is not the first politician to convert to Islam and leave an extreme right-wing party hostile to Islam in Europe. Arnoud van Doorn, a member of the right wing “Dutch Freedom Party” of its founder, Geert Wilders. Van Doorn left his party in 2011, converted to Islam a year later and performed the hajj shortly after.
In 2014, Maxence Buttey, a local adviser to the National Front, the right-wing anti-Islam French party, was suspended after announcing his conversion to Islam.
There are many other cases of anti-Islam activists who became Muslims. It is still not very common but there are enough of them that many observers are wondering what’s behind such radical shifts in these peoples’ lives.
When the advisor of the French National Front announced his Islam, he said that the far-right movement had much more in common with the Islamic religion than the party realized. “They are both demonized and are a far cry from the image the media tries to paint them as,” he told “Le Parisien” newspaper. “The National Front is defending the weak as Islam does. The party refuses the exorbitant interest charged on the debts accumulated in our country, and Islam strictly forbids usury”.
Trying to explain this new trend, some observers noted that, compared with political parties and the mainstream Christian movement, Islam is not hierarchical. It is distinctive, it has clear membership standards and boundaries, and prescribes attitudes and behaviors.
The idea of radical critics of Islam embracing it is a new trend in history. This is in part because right wing political parties opposed to Islam are in themselves a new phenomenon in Europe. All European politicians of earlier eras were anti-Islam but their chances of meeting and mixing with Muslims were very small. But the Internet gave right wing activists the opportunity to easily explore new identities.
There are older cases tough, like that of French surgeon Maurice Bucaille, who was one of the fervent skeptics of the Quran, but later converted to Islam and became an advocate of the idea that the Quran is scientifically perfect.