A prominent member of one of Germany’s most far-right political parties has stunned many observers by quitting his post and converting to Islam.
Arthur Wagner, an executive member of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) Party in the state of Brandenburg, resigned his post abruptly earlier this month. Days later, in a telephone conversation with the state’s party leader, Andreas Kalbitz, Wagner revealed he had converted and was now a Muslim.
Wagner had engaged in some anti-Muslim rhetoric himself before converting.
"Germany is mutating into a different country," he once said about Muslims emigrating to the nation.
His previous attitudes about Muslims is likely the reason why it was such a shock to his former party members to hear about his conversion to Islam.
“I was very surprised,” Kalbitz said, adding that Wagner was a big part of the state party’s Christian activities.
The AfD, perhaps trying to dismiss the magnitude of Wagner’s departure, wrote in a blog post on its official website that his conversion isn’t inconsistent with the party’s values.
“We fully subscribe to the freedom of belief enshrined in the Basic Law,” Kalbitz wrote in the post.
Yet that runs contrary to the AfD’s recent statements, as well as the front page of that same blog’s website. An ad campaign during last year’s elections, in which the party came in third place overall, included blatant Islamophobic imagery. Some of the ads had a picture of a pig with the caption, “Islam? Doesn’t fit in with our cuisine,” and another anti-immigration poster read “New Germans? We make them ourselves.”
The party also once proposed the banning of new mosques being constructed in the nation.
Wagner’s conversion to Islam is a positive sign of religious liberty that shouldn’t be shunned away by any political party, nor frowned upon by any citizen of Germany, for that matter. It does run contrary to the AfD’s vision, which is extremely reactionary and opposed to the rights that citizens have to choose their own religious preferences. His conversion, however, highlights the rights that Germans celebrate in their nation.
The freedom to choose one’s belief is paramount in any free society. Wagner’s new views may not be shared by the majority of people in his nation, but the rights of minority belief systems must be respected and protected. The AfD would be wise to respect the rights of other Muslims in Germany in the future, just as it purports to respect the rights of its former member to convert to that faith.