German establishment rounds on anti-immigration party over Islam

German politicians from across the spectrum criticized the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) on Monday after the party declared Islam incompatible with the constitution.

The AfD, which has surged onto the political scene since its launch three years ago, backed a manifesto pledge at a congress on Sunday to ban on minarets and the burqa, the full face and body-covering gown worn by some Muslim women.

With concerns about Europe’s migrant crisis fuelling the AfD’s rise, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats led criticism of the party.

“What the AfD has decided on is an attack on almost all religions,” Armin Laschet, deputy chairman of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), told ARD television.

“They have identified Islam as a foreign body in Germany,” he said. “That is divisive, and startling to a Christian Democratic party for which faith has meaning.”

Greens parliamentary party leader Katrin Goering-Eckardt described the AfD manifesto as “reactionary” and accused the party of dividing society with Islamophobia.

Opinion polls give the AfD support of up to 14 percent, presenting a serious challenge to Merkel’s conservatives and other established parties ahead of a 2017 federal election. They rule out any coalition with the AfD.

The AfD has no lawmakers in the federal parliament in Berlin but has members in half of Germany’s 16 regional state assemblies.

Merkel has said freedom of religion for all is guaranteed by Germany’s constitution and that Islam is a part of Germany.

Germany is home to nearly 4 million Muslims, about 5 percent of the total population. Community leaders have called on politicians to ensure that no religious community be disadvantaged and that Islam not be defined as a “foe”.

Many of the longer established Muslim community came from Turkey to find work. Last year, more than a million, mostly Muslim migrants, arrived in Germany. Most had fled conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Alexander Gauland, who leads the AfD in the eastern state of Brandenburg, said Muslims could still practise their faith in Germany.

“A Muslim in Germany can follow his religion without minarets. The AfD has nothing against places of worship,” Gauland told Deutschlandfunk radio, insisting his party did not want existing minarets torn down but rather no new ones built.

Aiman Mazyek, head of Germany’s Central Council of Muslims who has likened the AfD’s attitude towards his community to that of Hitler’s Nazis towards Jews, told the Osnabruecker Zeitung the AfD manifesto was “an Islamophobic program” that “is of no help to solve problems, but rather just divides our country.”