If Germans thought the international protests against an anti-Muslim video produced in the US had nothing to do with them, they now know they were wrong.
After protesters in Sudan’s capital Khartoum set fire to the German embassy there last week, an anti-Muslim organization in Germany announced it would be staging a public screening of the video later this year. Now Germany’s political class is debating whether or not such an event should be banned.
Chancellor Angela Merkel rejected accusations that banning the screening would violate freedom of speech. “We are not intending to ban the film,” she told journalists in Berlin on Tuesday. “We are checking if a public screening might disturb the peace and should therefore be prohibited.”
The interior minister, Hans-Peter Friedrich, is convinced that a public screening of “Innocence of Muslims” by the anti-Muslim “Pro Deutschland” group must be prevented. “This would constitute a political demonstration. They are recklessly pouring oil on the fire. We will exhaust all legal possibilities to stop such a demonstration from happening,” Mr. Friedrich told German broadcaster Phoenix.
The political opposition is not so sure though. “The film is tasteless nonsense,” says Green parliamentarian Volker Beck, “but it does not break any laws.” Katrin Göring-Eckardt, vice president of Germany’s parliament and a member of the Green party, argues that “the video is not worth risking our right to freedom of speech for.”
“Pro Deutschland” is a small far-right party which tries to garner support through populist actions like protests against the building of mosques and minarets in German cities. In Berlin and Cologne, members held demonstrations outside mosques, holding up prints of the controversial Danish Muhammad cartoons that sparked unrest across the Muslim world in 2006.
“Pro Deutschland” leader Manfred Rouhs defended the decision to show the controversial video, which for a short time was also posted on the party’s website. “Muslim people living in Germany have to accept that critics of their religion […] will speak out publicly,” Mr. Rouhs said in an interview on Reuters Television. “There should be no other standards for an Islam which allegedly belongs to Germany than for any other religion.”
Muslim leaders in Germany are also divided about the right approach to the provocation by “Pro Deutschland.” The chairman of the German Central Council of Muslims, Aiman Mazyek, said all legal means should be used to enforce a ban of the movie, which, in his words, was designed to “sow discord and hatred.”
But the Liberal Islamic Federation in Germany warns against a ban. “The more one […] forces this kind of material to become a taboo, the more damage it will cause,” says chairwoman Lamya Kaddor.
Germany is home to four million Muslims, mostly of Turkish or Kurdish origin.
Experts see anti-Muslim campaigns as a tool of the far right in Germany to appeal to a wider public. “'Freedom, not Islam' sounds much better for German voters than ‘Kick out all foreigners,'” says Alexander Häusler, an expert in right-wing populism at the Düsseldorf University of Applied Sciences. “But the basis for this criticism of Islam’s alleged democratic deficits is racism.”