BY KIAN RAHIMNEJAD
Chancellor Angela Merkel was re-elected in the 2017 Bundestag election, leaving the Christian Democratic Union in power and defeating the Social Democratic Party whose leftist message failed to resonate with voters. However, the true shock came from another result. Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), or Alternative for Germany, recently won 12.6 percent of the national vote, awarding the party its first ever seats in the Bundestag. AfD is a relatively new political party in Germany and the country’s far-right populist political wing. Though this win may be alarming to Germans and non-Germans alike who remember the last time the country had a far-right government and the resulting worldwide devastation, these poll numbers are not too surprising considering the recent popularity spikes among Europe’s far-right political parties. The French Front Nationale and the Dutch Party for Freedom, both anti-immigrant, Eurosceptic parties, came second in their respective country’s recent parliamentary elections. The Freedom Party of Austria, a right-wing populist and nationalist political party, has also recently entered into a coalition with the already right-wing Austrian People’s Party, which just won the Oct. 15, 2017 election. The campaign to leave the European Union in the United Kingdom, led by the far-right, anti-immigrant UK Independence Party (UKIP), shocked many in mainstream British politics when they succeeded in winning a national referendum. Many attribute the sudden rise in influence among these parties to the platforms they stand for: anti-immigration and anti-Muslim. These exclusionary sentiments are growing rapidly among Europeans, especially as a result of the European Migrant Crisis in which waves of hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Middle East and Africa came to the European mainland in search of safety and a better life.
The sudden jump in support for AfD made them the third largest party in the country and struck fear in both the ruling party and their traditional rivals, the center-left Social Democratic Party of Germany. The overall goals of AfD, according to German news site Deutsch Welle, is to “seal the EU’s borders, institute rigorous identity checks along Germany’s national borders and set up holding camps abroad to prevent migrants from leaving for Germany in the first place.” Leader of the party, Alice Weidel, has said the party wants to achieve “negative immigration” to Germany. She also argues that Germany is being ‘Islamified’ and is losing its Christian values. The AfD opposes immigration and the entrance of refugees, particularly from Muslim areas, which directly clashes with the open-door policies of Chancellor Angela Merkel who allowed 1.5 million migrants to enter Germany over the span of two years.
People have now begun wondering what is fueling this nationalist sentiment, which hasn’t been seen in the country during the post-war period. Massive immigration levels, accompanied by increases in levels of violent crime — with some exaggerations — can begin to explain this phenomenon. There is a striking parallel between the damaging epidemic of “fake news” in the elections in both the United States and Germany. Online content, published, shared, and promoted throughout social media by right-wing politicians and regular citizens alike is described by The Intercept as including “story after story about migrants raping German women, claims that migrants are bringing “highly infectious diseases” to Germany, and Muslims are transforming entire German neighborhoods into “no-go zones” where local police have lost control.” Many of these stories, however, “have been debunked as false or sensationalized.” Propagators of such content include a New-York based advocacy organization known as the Gatestone Institute, which, along with the epidemic of “fake news,” has caused political reverberations in the United States. The Gatestone Institute is known for “pumping out reams of dangerous anti-Muslim propaganda.” Two of the foremost financial backers of the Gatestone Institute include Rebekah Mercer, who was a major backer of Donald Trump and Breitbart News network, and Nina Rosenwald, an heiress to the Sears family fortune and backer of largely pro-Israel and anti-Muslim organizations.
The European refugee crisis continues and the European Union, along with the economic state of Europe, continues to falter, made worse by the recent ‘Brexit’ vote. If this does not change, it will remain convenient and easy for foreign provocateurs such as the Mercer and Rosenwald families, or even elements of the Russian government, to influence people’s views and the eventual outcome of elections. Until people’s worries can be addressed and they can be educated about their prejudices, groups like the AfD and their political equivalents throughout Europe will continue to prosper, like a virus that can only damage an already weak host.