Germany is beginning to regret its decision to allow a far-right political party to display anti-Muslim cartoons near mosques as part of an electioneering campaign.
Spikes in violence at recent gatherings – including a major riot on Saturday that left two police officers seriously injured with stab wounds – have triggered fears of more bloodshed.
Courts in Germany took the view that cartoon images of the Prophet Mohammed and Allah – both outlawed under Islam – were acceptable in a country where freedom of expression is enshrined in the constitution. But with resistance growing to the tactics of the radical Pro NRW party, Germany is looking to defuse tensions.
More than 100 people were arrested at the protest in Bonn on Saturday where the police officers were stabbed in the legs; a further 27 officers were injured. One man has been charged with trying to incite the deaths of three policemen among the crowd of 600 Salafist Muslim demonstrators outside the King Fahd Academy in Bonn.
The far-right Pro NRW party has said it intends to send activists to 25 mosques in the run-up to the state election in North Rhine-Westphalia on 13 May, staging protests in Cologne, Bonn, Düsseldorf, Aachen, Wuppertal and Solingen.
Last week, a state court lifted a prior ban on the group using Mohammed caricatures in its election campaign, despite criticism that the images were purely being used for provocation. Also last week, 81 people were arrested in Solingen after violence broke out during a protest of Salafist Muslims against Pro NRW. The group had set up a stand showing cartoons of Mohammed outside a mosque.
German interior minister Hans-Peter Friedrich of the Christian Socialist Union (CSU), said he had been in touch with state officials in the past week, hoping to find a way to defuse the situation. He put the blame for the violence firmly on the shoulders of the Muslims.
“Salafism’s fanatical members represent a special danger to German security,” he said this week. “The Salafists deliver the ideological basis for many who then become violent.”
Critics say the violence would never had happened if Germany had treated the cartoons they brandish the way it treats Nazi symbols – with a blanket ban.
North Rhine-Westphalia interior minister Ralf Jäger said he recognized the hatreds stirred up by the Pro NRW supporters, calling their cartoon campaign “targeted provocation”.
Pro NRW, which has 250 members, has said it is also planning to award a cash prize for the “best” anti-Islamic caricature. Party campaign manager Lars Seidensticker says he did not understand the outrage, and says his party would bear no responsibility for any violence.
“If the situation is so tense that you can’t do a campaign like this against Islamist influences any more, then the politicians are responsible for doing away with Germany,” he said, alluding to a 2010 book by banker Thilo Sarrazin called Germany Does Away with Itself, which criticized Islamic immigrants in Germany.
He added: “Mosques are potential centres of a new civil war that we have to prevent. That’s why we have to pull out the Islamist evil by its roots.”