Steve probably did not intend for his guest bloggers to transform TWN to a sports weblog. So, I apologize in advance for the following entry related to the Soccer World Cup which started in my home country of Germany yesterday.
Please, bear with me if I direct your attention to an important game. It’s Angola v. Iran. Mark your calendars. It’s on June 21st.
Actually, the game itself is not really important, at least not to me. But watch out for the events unfolding around the stadium in Leipzig. You will likely witness a meeting of minds, a lovefest of Germany’s tiny, but ugly Neo-Nazi right and Iran’s leading revolutionary, Mohammed Ahmadinejad. You might see extremists parading through the streets. You might see counter-demonstrations. You might see the German Government struggling with the decision to let a soccer fan by the name of Ahmadinejad into the country if he so desires. Let’s at least hope it won’t be a day of violence.
Germany’s extreme right has been preparing for months. It all began in March when “The German Voice”, the Party Newspaper of the extremist “National Democratic Party”, started quoting Ahmadinejad at length. The Iranian President is a hero for the right wing fringe because he wants to wipe out Israel and denies the Holocaust ever happened. Well, in fact, Ahmadinejad is a bit more sophisticated. He just asks the question whether the Holocaust ever took place. As it happens Germany’s radical right does the same thing. Under German law Holocaust denial is a crime. It is one of a few restrictions on free speech that we have on the books. Actually, the Americans urged the Germans to enact the law after World War II. Consequently, extremists just ask questions about the Holocaust. And who would blame anybody for asking questions?
Last week, the Newsmagazine DER SPIEGEL published the first ever Q+A interview with President Ahmadinejad. The German Extremists rejoiced when they read how Ahmadinejad turned the tables on the journalists and asked a question himself:
Ahmadinejad: I have a question for you. What kind of a role did today’s youth play in World War II?
Ahmadinejad: Why should they have feelings of guilt toward Zionists? Why should the costs of the Zionists be paid out of their pockets? If people committed crimes in the past, then they would have to have been tried 60 years ago. End of story! Why must the German people be humiliated today because a group of people committed crimes in the name of the Germans during the course of history?
SPIEGEL: The German people today can’t do anything about it. But there is a sort of collective shame for those deeds done in the German name by our fathers or grandfathers.
Ahmadinejad: How can a person who wasn’t even alive at the time be held legally responsible?
A new hero is born! The radical right has found a friend who actually reinforces them in their belief that Germans are being victimized and terrorized by a postwar guilt culture. The key quote is: “End of story”! Finish! No more self flagellation! Germany seizes to be a victim! Finally, or so they think, Germany will be able to further its own national interest.
The commonalities don’t end here. The extremist right has been fascinated with Islamism for quite some time. In late 2005, an activist of the National Democratic Party offered his own definition of the term “jihadist”: “Those who assert the right to self determination and cultural difference against the dollar-dominated McWorld.” Even if nationalists and Islamic fundamentalists differ in many respects, the man goes on to argue, they share an enemy: the “world-dominating apparatus of the United States” that oppresses “distinct cultures and peoples”. The author of these sentences, published in “The German Voice”, is a member of the state assembly of Saxony where right wing radicals were able to garner more than 5 percent of the vote. In April the same man attacks “the policies of the United States against the Arab world” and praises a “morally justified defense” against “the aggressors of ‘McWorld'”.
It doesn’t get much better: Anti-Americanism, Anti-Capitalism, Anti-Semitism, Cultural Relativism, Nationalism — all in one basket. And Mohammed Ahmadinejad as Patron Saint of the movement.
The Soccer World Cup is shaping up as the coming-out party of this meeting of minds. In March the Parliamentary Leader of the radical right in Saxonia, Holger Apfel, announced that there would be “activities” to “welcome the soccer team of the Republic of Iran” on June 21st. These “activities” shall be a “conscious show of solidarity towards a people which might have to face a brutal attack by the United States and its Allies because it refuses to subordinate itself to the dictate of the so called ‘Free West'”. Time and place of these “activities” are carefully selected. Leipzig is the only city in former East Germany to host the tournament. It is located in Saxony, the German state where the extremists can claim to have something of a base. And the Iranians face a team which will be made up of mostly black players. A field day for racists.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Neo-Nazis aren’t going to take over Germany tomorrow or even the World Cup. They are routed in part of the youth culture of former East Germany and draw some support from disgruntled and disaffected adults there. Overall, they are isolated and reside on the radical fringe of German society. According to the latest reports the number of Neo-Nazis in Germany is approximately 4000. If other forms of potentially violent right wing extremism are included the number is said to be about 10000.
It is also noteworthy that dramatic ideological differences remain between Islamists of the Ahmadinejad type and Neo-Nazis. While both advocate a policy of “re-patriation” they mean entirely different things. Ahmadinejad would like to relocate the Jews to “where they came from”. That would potentially be Germany. The Neo-Nazis wouldn’t like that much. They, in turn, would like to send Muslim immigrants to the homelands of their parents. Mr. Ahmadinejad is unlikely to endorse that project.
Yet, it is disturbing to see how extremist anti-western ideologues start working together. For extremists in Europe, it is easier to identify with President Ahmadinejad than with Osama bin Laden. Some of the right wing radicals have already used force in the pursuit of their political goals. There are reasons to watch the extremists on June 21st — and beyond.
Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff is the Washington Bureau Chief of the German weekly DIE ZEIT.