Germany’s Far Right: Who is AfD’s Frontrunner Alice Weidel?

On September 24th, the parliamentary elections will maybe elevate the far right party “Alternative für Deutschland” (AfD) into the German parliament. The party fights immigrants and its members stick out with homophobic and racist remarks over and over again. Now their candidate for chancellor, Alice Weidel, seems to contradict this profile. What drives her?

Alice Weidel
Alice Weidel on nationwide party conference 2017 in Cologne (Foto: Olaf Kosinsky / kosinsky.eu)

Alice Weidel speaks slowly. It is very comfortable to listen, as she speaks calmly and pointedly. When she hits a punchline, she would raise her left eyebrow and grin with her lips drawn back. She grins towards the first rows like a baroness towards her servants. But this willingly displayed arrogance is not for her audience, who sit in front of her at a rally in Rheinfelden in June. They’re basically all party members or friends of its ideas. Her arrogance goes out to the media, who would see the video material of her speech on youtube. The very media, that supposedly draws a false image of her party, the AfD (“alternative for Germany”), day in, day out. The image of a racist, and minority-hating Nazi party. Therefore, she would, of course, stand in front of the mirror every day, to think about “against which minorities I want to unscrupulously agitate again today”, she said ironically.

Alice Weidel is 38 years old, highly educated, a graduate management-consultant, and a multiple startup-founder. Openly lesbian, Swiss partner with an immigrant background, child. This formerly little-known woman has been elected candidate for chancellor for the upcoming parliamentary elections (Bundestagswahl) on September 24th, after Frauke Petry, who The New Yorker once called “The New Star Of Germany’s Far Right“, quoting her enemies calling her “Adolfina”, resigned candidacy following internal power plays.

Frauke Petry speaking in Munich, 2016 (Foto: Michael Lucan)

And this nomination should actually be a contradiction. For the party itself, a party that fights migration like no other subject in their program, that denies the idea of granting equal rights to homosexuals, whiches members are sticking out again and again for racist, homophobic, and sexist statements, that have been partly sentenced for incitement of the people. But above all: Shouldn’t it be a contradiction for Weidel herself? For the much-travelled, who lived in Hong Kong to do research for her national economics PhD. Who once voted for the green and the liberal party (Grüne, FDP), as she told journalist Malte Henk. Who, as Henk writes, was sent to the AfD by her partner, “as a new pastime”. She joins the party in 2013, two years later she is elected as a member of the federal executive board. After that, some defeats, first in 2015, when she ran for the Landtag (German state parliament) in Baden Württemberg. She also lost state chairmanship to a colleague in 2016. Now, a year after, candidacy for chancellor. All hate Frauke.

This is not the path of a woman, who joins a party for “pastime”, and then waits, how things develop. You don’t make it to the top like that. Alice Weidel is someone who fights, overcomes defeats, works harder, wants to be front row.

AfD Wahlplakat Bundestagswahl 2017
Campaigning poster for September’s election: “New Germans? We make our own.” For the AfD, being German is a matter of descent.

And she is exactly there now. And still, she has to stand the remarks of fellow AfD-frontrunner, Alexander Gauland, who – after being asked about Weidel’s family at a press conference – “would define the word family differently“. And Alice Weidel said: not much. Not in response to Gauland, nor to other AfD-politicians, who often expressed their low opinion about homosexuality. The party’s stance on equality, however, does not contradict her own attitude towards the matter, as she made clear on several occasions.

Can’t she make a clear point about it, because then she would have to face the fact, that she sacrificed some of her principles to a promising career in a party, that actually opposes her way of living? Or does Weidel’s candidacy, in fact, mean, that we actually face a transforming party, open and more tolerant? In other words, is the AfD-racist soon not more than an unfortunate, but individual case in a tempered party, that won’t tolerate agitation against minorities anymore? Weidel, however, has indeed spoken out against such demagogues. She demanded the expulsion of Thuringian functionary Björn Höcke, who argued in a speech, that the reproduction behaviour of Africans is biologically set to spread out, in order to capture the image of the ever lusty sub-Saharan barbarian. She made similar remarks on the Berlin delegate Kay Nerstheimer, who referred to homosexuals as a “mistake”, a “genetic defect”, and “unnatural”.

Björn Bernd Höcke
Bernd Höcke in the Thuringian Parliament (Foto: Olaf Kosinsky)

Yes, Alice Weidel is far away from demagoguery and dumb agitation. The AfD sells her, as she does herself, as a moderate conservative and a liberal economist. She is supposed to be the middle-class face of a party, that feels to be treated unfairly by the media and other parties, who call it radically right wing and homophobic. But are these efforts to publicly condemn too radical statements not only a cover up?

Weidel as well uses terms like “so called refugees”, when she talks about the sinking boats in the Mediterranean, or talks of “stone age sharia” when she is generally referring to Islam. Every now and then she uses the German word “Asylant”, which today has a negative connotation since it was used as a swear word in the 90s. She demands a cap for asylum seekers and a 100 percent deportation quota. In short: Of course, Weidel backs the core demands of her party. And they didn’t change at all, no matter if all the Höcke’s  and Nerstheimer’s have been condemned: The program states, that “the presence of over 5 million Muslims” is dangerous for Germany. Furthermore, every immigrant should assimilate. That means a full adaption while renouncing every aspect of one’s own culture. Immigration should be the exception anyway because only people with German parents can actually be German. Also, only relationships between men and women are normal. Nothing of the above is changed by the fact Weidel was elected frontrunner, on the contrary: as a member and temporary chairwoman of the federal program commission, she is decisively responsible for the phrasing of the contents.

Alice Weidel may have been the new face of the AfD last year. This unknown woman, suddenly on stage, speaking so differently in comparison to her fellow party members. Some might even have been hoping to deal with a more cautious far right party from now on, while, in fact, her moderate style changes nothing about the real face of the AfD. On the other hand, she is not the catchpenny, quota-lesbian, who was installed to lead people to believe in a not existing tolerance for alternative life designs. Alice Weidel is not a woman to be lead or guided. A woman like her, who worked for Goldman Sachs, who was a consultant for Rocket Internet, and a multiple startup founder, is not a political pawn, but a career woman from the corporate sector: capable, determined, and hungry for power. Which isn’t necessarily a difference to other politicians. But other than Weidel, most politicians join a party for their beliefs and principles. Alice Weidel, who was initially sent to an AfD gathering by her partner, apparently decided to let go of these principles that affect her personally, in order to rise.

She is not a demagogue. Which makes her dangerous for the big people’s parties and electable for bigger parts of the population. Alice Weidel is a far right wolve in a civic-conservative sheep’s clothing. Or maybe she indeed represents the moderate part of her party. Doesn’t matter in the end, because with her, a pack might move into the German parliament, that doesn’t even bother to hide in sheep’s clothing.

 

 

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Office Dresscode: the ‘Skirt Yes, Shorts No’ rule is unfair – but it’s also sexist

Skirt Yes, Shorts No might be unfair towards men. But the reason it exists in the first place, is, that women still have to be fuckable.

Joey Barge on his way back to office (Photo: Barge on Twitter)

At the beginning of this week, a man called Joey Barge, decided to wear shorts in the office due to extremely warm temperatures in the UK. He was sent home by his boss, because the office dress code wouldn’t allow such inappropriate clothing. So he decided to come back in a dress again. His boss would give in eventually, since dresses apparently are fine. Ever since, 3/4 shorts are fine.

Joey Barge had his fair share of buzz on social media. More and more employees around the world, and even pupils in boarding schools have copied Barges creative protest.

And ever since, everybody is talking about how unfair office dress codes are towards men, because shorter dresses or skirts seem to be ok to be worn by women. Poor men!

Well, of course it is unfair. But let’s also ask ourselves why a shorter piece of cloth is only considered to be offensive, if worn by a man. Why, indeed, is it ok for a woman to wear a skirt? The reason lies in history. Let’s take a look back to the 50s and 60s. To the times when a woman in an office had one purpose: To represent the enterprise towards the outside, since as secretaries they where the first the customer would see. And, finally, to please the eye of the male employees towards the inside. In other words: A woman in an office had to be one thing: she had to be hot.

Additionally fuckable

That is one reason why still today, dress codes are different for men and women: Girls who have worked as hostesses at business events for example, often still have to wear skirts that end above the knee, alongside uncomfortable high heels.

Clearly, the problem is, that the still dominating male gaze in offices sees no problem in the fact, that a woman not only looks neat while doing her job and dealing with customers, but additionally is fuckable as well. While that same gaze is obviously taking offense by some hairy male legs.

So yes, it’s good to question standards that seem to be, well, questionable. But maybe let’s abolish these dress codes, because they are inherently sexist. Not because it is unfair towards men.

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Media covered Chris Cornell’s death as suspected suicide without any conformation

Not even 24 hours after the passing of Soundgarden and Audioslave frontman Chris Cornell media has started to give out information about a suspected suicide. Since studies show the number of suicides increase after suicide news coverage, this is a problem.

The digital era has given us a lot of amazing possibilities for our work as journalists. But it also raises questions about how to deal with the new face of journalism ethically. In a time when reports from news agencies are coming in at a one-second frequency, we have to ask ourselves what is worth and right to publish.

Now a police official confirmed the following to the Mirror about the Cornell case: “We are investigating this as a suspected suicide.” “That is the line we are proceeding along.” This seemed to be enough for the Mirror itself, and afterwards the Independent, the NME, the Rolling Stone, Bild, etc. to run a little piece about it. And I ask why?

“Pressekodex”

The media and especially news journalism works by certain rules. Of course, these rules vary by region but western media works more or less similarly. In Germany media is (voluntarily) restricted by the “Pressekodex“, a bunch of regulations dealing with personal rights, discrimination and so on.

Paragraph 8.7 says that coverage about suicides commands restriction. In many cases, German media doesn’t talk about suicides at all, since also studies have shown that numbers of people killing themselves increase directly after coverage (copycat suicide or “Werther-Effekt“).

We shouldn’t write about suicide light-mindedly

So you see suicides should be dealt with a great sensitivity towards everyone involved. Up to the point where public interest overweighs one’s personal rights, which is given, for example, when it comes to people standing in the public light. Of course, Chris Cornell was a public figure and one of the most influential musicians of Grunge and 2000’s Alternative Rock.

But given the fact that up to the point of writing this text there is no confirmation yet, whether the singer killed himself or not, we should at least question these specific patterns of news coverage. We shouldn’t write about suicide light-mindedly because it kills people.

In a case like Cornell’s – when a body is found on a hotel’s bathroom floor – investigating suicide is standard procedure that shouldn’t be newsworthy. Yes, he is a public figure and the public has an interest in knowing how he died. But we should talk about publishing the story AFTER the suicide is confirmed.

Update: The cause of death has been officially confirmed. Chris Cornell killed himself by hanging.

Dear far right, Neukölln is not the Bronx, no matter how hard you wish

Berlin-Neukölln is hell. Sharia law, anarchy, no women on the streets. That is, when you believe some media reports and right-wing politicians. Is it though?

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There are some places in cities that gain a lot of attention and become infamous for the lawless hellhole they’re supposed to be. The german equivalent to Harlem, the Bronx, or the Parisian Banlieues, one could think, is Berlin Neukölln. It’s the kind of place your parents would warn you about when you decide to move to Berlin because they saw this report about criminal Arabs and daily violence on national TV. It’s that place you were never allowed to go to visit your friend as a Berlin Charlottenburg-raised kid because your parents feared for your life and thought that friend living there is probably bad news anyway. Neukölln basically took over the job from Kreuzberg for being Berlin’s anarchist dump, full of lowlifes and criminals.

I’m not saying there’s no truth to it at all and Neukölln is a place full of happiness and candy. But there’s a difference between hype and reality, between seeing and fighting real problems and picturing a structurally weak area as some sort of failed state or second Aleppo in order to push a short-sighted political agenda to please people who irrationally fear Überfremdung (fear of becoming a foreigner in your own country).

Whatever “real Germans” is supposed to mean 

It’s no wonder that Germany’s far right use Neukölln as a symbol for Überfremdung since they simply don’t like foreigners: 15% of its inhabitants are of Turkish and 10% of Arabic origin. Let’s just put aside the fact for a moment, that most of them are 2nd or 3d generation and born here, in order to understand AfD’s Björn Höcke, when he said “I don’t want conditions for Thuringia like in Berlin-Neukölln, Dortmund or Mannheim. This is not Germany anymore, this is no constitutional state anymore.”

Well. A quote like that shouldn’t surprise us, for we all should know by now, that Björn Höcke is a hardcore nationalist and a racist who thinks whites are superior. Therefore he would just thankfully use any example that links criminality in any way to people that don’t look like “real” Germans (whatever that is supposed to mean).

What is “positive diversity”?

Another thing is when a member of the government coalition shares his concerns about an area with high migration rates by giving delicate insights of his view on the migration matter. Jens Spahn of Merkel’s CDU said in a “Die Zeit” interview, that “when I walk through Neukölln, sometimes I barely see any women in some streets – and if, they wear head scarfs. In a free country, I have to accept that. But I don’t let myself be told, that this is a cultural enrichment. Positive diversity looks different to me.”

Now, I really wonder where exactly Jens Spahn takes his walks because it surely isn’t the same Neukölln I spend almost every day in. First of all, I see women everywhere. In every street I walk, in every shop I go, in every cafe I sit. Some of them wear head scarfs, some of them are not, there are even women from time to time who don’t wear anything at all because they’re just on their way home from some fetish party. There are white people, people of color and when I jump on M41 from Hermannplatz all the way down to Sonnenallee I hear people speak Arabic, Turkish, German, Italian or Swedish. And here it comes: Nobody gives a shit.

Sure, there’s groups of drunk men in the night that comment on women’s outfits, there are dealers trying to sell their stuff and there are people beaten up in metro stations occasionally, just like in every other major city where a lot of different people have to share limited space. Yes, these are real problems that have to be faced. But when a member of the government implies, that there is a good and a bad kind of diversity, then I highly doubt he has understood the idea of diversity at all.

They don’t speak to the people who actually live in these places

That Jens Spahn is a man of double standards who uses two sets of weights and measures, depending on whether it affects Germans or foreigners, shows another interview with Deutsche Welle, where he expressed his concern towards soldier’s parents, who now had to live with the fact that their children serve in Afghanistan, while a court ruled it is too dangerous for Afghan refugees to be sent back there. Herr Spahn, this is, because there’s war.

 

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“How do I explain to a German mother whose son or daughter serves in the north of Afghanistan, that we don’t deport young Afghans?” – Jens Spahn

Of course, Neukölln is a thankful metaphor for politicians. They want an easy example of a place where things go wrong, to address voters who live far away from these places. As a result, they create a distorted image of a place that surely struggles with poverty and unemployment. What they don’t give us is a realistic analysis of these problems being created by intersectional discrimination. They don’t speak to the people who actually live in these places. They don’t speak to me, who lived there, not to the many of my (mostly female) friends who live there, not to my immigrant girlfriend who lives and loves it there and especially not to the many people with a migration background. To politicians like Spahn and Höcke, Neukölln is not more than a scapegoat.

 

How the debate about Cologne’s “Silvesternacht” all went wrong

A version of the following article was first published in Al Ard – Die Welt in Berlin, for which I work as the chief editor. It was published in both German and Arabic language. See here the English version:

The massive sexual assaults in the last night of 2015 around Cologne central station had vast implications on both asylum and the sexual offences act. These political knee-jerk reactions mirror a fatal public debate about the origin of the offenders and allegedly imported sexual violence against women.

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This night still moves us. A night full of disinhibition, loss of state control and sexual assaults. A collective loss of protection and security. Incredible. New year’s eve 2016, around Cologne Central Station: hundreds of women were sexually assaulted, hard-pressed and robbed by a marauding horde of more or less organised men. The days after many believed this would be both a political and societal turning point. But nobody was sure about what exactly would change now.

Because a lot of the suspects and actual offenders turned out to be people who identified as asylum seekers, these assaults were immediately connected to the considerable migration movements to Germany of the year 2015. During the weeks after new year’s eve social climate was downright toxic: In social media, people disinhibited completely and flooded the internet with the most wicked racist verbal diarrhoea. At the liberal end of the social spectrum, the educated middle class denied everyone having any sense of humanity, who dared to question the then practised asylum policies in any way.

A lot happened but no answer to the most urging problem

The media was criticised as well for their belated coverage. They now had to discuss whether it is justified to name an offenders origin or ethnicity, no matter if this actually plays a role or not (Other than in anglo-american media the german consensus is not to). A great number of commentators feared the german public now would finally split into extremely polarised camps. The government’s reactions seemed helpless in their effort to rapidly tightening up both the asylum and sexual offences act.

You see, a lot happened last year. But there’s no answer so far to the most urging problem: Sexual violence and a molesting culture against women. The whole issue was so rapidly consumed by the left and right wing groups trying to push forward their agenda in the so-called “refugee-debate”. Therefore nobody seemed to talk about the fact that this wasn’t a new unknown phenomenon brought into the country by the allegedly pervy orientals. That this problem is also deeply rooted in german society itself.

Just another story about some rape somewhere in the paper

However, the problem is, that domestic issues are not so easily addressed because they’re not as visible as the Cologne events were. It is just too common and happens every day. Once in a crowded metro – suddenly you got a hand in your crotch. Once on your way home – random people commenting on your decollete. Once – just another story about some rape somewhere in the paper. Sexist, molesting and assaulting behaviour is still everyday behaviour as it has always been. But: Instead of thinking about whether our society has a problem with a specific type of masculinity the debate only raised the question whether only recently we have a problem with a foreign type of masculinity.

As if this wasn’t enough, also the victims were blamed and their advocates attacked. Feminists had to explain themselves why they had been so silent after the events, while their opponents already delivered what they thought to be the answer: If feminists would speak out now, they had to acknowledge the fact of imported violence by culturally unfamiliar foreigners. What was ignored here is, that these women and feminists just didn’t want to be instrumentalised by people, who just recently discovered the feminist inside and felt appointed to protect “our good german women” from evil foreign lechers.

A racist misogynist as US-president

All that happened would have been a chance for the whole society – and yes, also the newly arrived members – to think together about which forms of masculinity we are willing to tolerate from this point on and how we challenge and change the sexism in our culture and in our heads. Because only then we will stop to reproduce sexism.

The western world is good in presenting itself as if values like freedom, equality and justice have been invented here. But reactionary tendencies as we see not only in countries like Hungary, France or Germany but also in the USA – that just made a racist misogynist president – reveal a very different signal to the world: for now, it seems, you can just go on grabbing.