Berlin, Germany – An activist who hoped to become Germany’s first Syrian refugee MP withdrew after receiving racist abuse and death threats, a move that sparked calls to protect politicians from ethnic minorities.
Tarek Alaows, who was planning to run for the Green Party in the September election, said this week he could no longer continue due to the level of threats against him and his allies.
“Tarek Alaows’ withdrawal must be a wake-up call,” said Niema Movassat, a member of the left-wing Iranian-born party that represents Oberhausen, where Aalows lives.
“I wasn’t surprised, because I feel it over and over again. This happens very often if you yourself are of an immigrant background, that you are the victim of racism and threats. “
A former law student in Damascus, where he attended anti-government protests, Alaows fled Syria in 2015.
After arriving in Germany, he campaigned for refugee rights and co-founded Seebrücke, which promotes rescue operations in the Mediterranean.
He became Oberhausen’s Green candidate in February and was vying for a place on the party’s state list in September, when he hoped to become a German citizen.
“My candidacy has shown that we need strong structures in all parties, politics and society that counter structural racism and help those affected,” he said in a statement released by his local branch of the party. , who added that he would remain out of public view. for a while.
A number of high-level political figures have publicly expressed their solidarity and frustration. Heiko Maas, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, called the racist abuses “pathetic for our democracy”.
Growing hate speech
The German Home Office and law enforcement authorities have noted increasing levels of hate speech and verbal abuse against politicians, health officials and journalists over the past year.
“Ninety percent of these insults are anonymous,” Movassat told Al Jazeera. “That means they can’t be traced – fake email addresses, Facebook accounts with a fake name… Even when they do have a name, usually nothing happens if you file a complaint.”
Movassat wants the police and prosecutors to use their powers to investigate these cases and identify the attackers.
Meanwhile, the case of Walter Lübcke is a chilling reminder that online threats can precede real violence.
In January, a Frankfurt court sentenced a neo-Nazi to life for the 2019 assassination of Lübcke, a local politician from Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union. He was targeted for his overtly pro-refugee views and was inundated with death threats before being shot dead outside his home.
Movassat said if such abuses are left unchecked, aspiring politicians of color will have doubts before considering a career in politics.
“I think it also leads, to some extent, to people trying to withdraw from public attention when they’re in politics. So maybe not stand out so much, not be so polarizing, ”he said.
Ethnic minorities remain under-represented in German politics.
Eight percent of the representatives of its federal parliament are immigrants or have immigrant parents, compared to 22 percent of the population as a whole, according to the online platform Media Service Integration.
“I would like the Bundestag to reflect our society, but this is not yet the case,” said Karim Fereidooni, professor of social sciences at the University of Bochum. “In my opinion, the parties should think about racism in their own ranks.”
Racism is not a phenomenon limited to the far right, added Fereidooni.
“Even people who wear ties instead of combat boots express themselves in a racist manner,” he said.
This week, German media reported that the CDU is delaying drafting a new law to increase public funding for civil society groups fighting “extremism”, fearing that it will end up benefiting organizations “too much.” to the left”.
For Movassat, this is yet another sign of government inaction.
“It’s not just the politicians, after all. Many people with a migration background are also victims of racism. And they need help.