Anti-Islam Party Politician Resigns, Converts to Islam

A German politician who was a member of a controversial far-right party that believes “Islam is not a part of Germany” has resigned amid reports that he has converted to Islam.  

German broadcaster Deutsche Welle reported that Arthur Wagner left the Alternative for Germany (AfD), win which he was a member in the eastern state of Brandenburg, citing personal reasons for his decision. 

But speaking to Germany’s Berliner Zeitung newspaper on Tuesday, AfD spokesman Daniel Friese claimed that Wanger had converted to Islam and that the AfD had “no problem with that.”

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The anti-immigration party received a surge in support in Germany’s 2017 election, securing a record 12.6 percent of the vote and raising pressure on embattled Chancellor Angela Merkel, who had been outspoken in her backing for refugees and migrants settling in the country. 

Starting out as a Eurosceptic party less than a decade ago, the AfD capitalized on popular discontent about Merkel’s policy on refugees, particularly in her home state of Bavaria, using openly anti-Muslim rhetoric in its campaign material. The party won 94 seats in parliament, although two of those members have since left.

While widely perceived as anti-Muslim, AfD officials have argued that while it rejects multiculturalism, it supports freedom of religion.

Wagner, who was once a member of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), joined the AfD in 2015, as the party began ramping up its anti-Muslim rhetoric. A manifesto approved by the party a year later even called for banning the call to prayer and the full-face veil in public.

The Russian-German politician was tight-lipped on the reasons for his reported conversion, telling national newspaper Der Tagesspiegel that the matter was “my private business.” But he insisted that the AfD had not pressured him to leave its ranks.

The AfD’s stances are on the fringes of German politics. But polls show it has only increased its popularity since the September election, while Merkel’s winning CDU has failed to assemble a majority coalition. Polling at 14 percent, the AfD is only four points adrift from the second biggest party in Germany—the Social Democrats, Politico reported.

The left wing party initially ruled out joining Merkel in a coalition government for another term. But as other possibilities for a deal with non-AfD parties in parliament have been unsuccessful, the Social Democratic Party has voted to begin coalition talks again.

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