(Photo via VICE Germany)
A strange thing is happening in the world’s coolest league, the Bundesliga: far-right hooligans affiliated to various clubs are putting their differences aside to unite against Islamic fundamentalists.
Sunday saw the biggest gathering yet, when, outside Cologne Cathedral, between 2000 and 4000 people turned up to preach hate against Salafists – an Islamic movement seeking to instate Sharia law – and attack police. What’s startling about this is that the previous gathering in Dortmund only drew 400 people: this time out there were up to ten times as many. Forty-four policemen were injured, a riot van was overturned, pro-Nazi slogans were shouted and a loaded hand gun and machetes were confiscated from the crowd. Though a counter-protest of 500 passed off peacefully nearby, one policeman told Die Welt newspaper that the police were now facing an unprecedented level of political extremism within football hooliganism.
Currently known as Hooligans Against Salafists (or HoGeSa for short) and organised over Facebook (as of writing, at least two of their accounts have been active for a couple of days, already gathering around 1000 likes each), these groups are indicative of the general growth of far-right extremism not just within football but insde the country as a whole.
HoGeSa are frightening because they have the power to unite old rivals against a common enemy. At the moment, this is Islamic extremism – the number of Salafist groups in Germany is small but growing, and German domestic intelligence chief Hans-Georg Maassen expressed concern Saturday that such groups may be inspiring German residents to travel to Syria and Iraq to fight alongside ISIS. But what happens if the target of the mob's ire shifts? One slogan boasts that HoGeSa bring together “sworn enemies from various football clubs”, which by my estimation is about 17. It would constitute "a new phenomenon”, police union chairman Arnold Plickert said, “if previously warring hooligans develop a common structure”.
In the context of the last few years, it seems at first a strange thing for German football to be associated with. The league system has been rightly and repeatedly praised for getting many things spot on: like ticket pricing, safe standing areas within stadia, anti-tika taka tactics (try saying that one while drunk) and Shinji Kagawa. Let us not forget: this is the football hipster league of choice. The trendiest kid about. 1000 English supporters in the Gelbe Wand! What could be cooler?
Borussia Dortmund are particularly relevant here; the team are both the poster-boys of cool Bundesliga and one of its most prominent links to extremism. HoGeSa are partly organised by Dortmund fan and neo-Nazi Siegfried Borchardt, who set up hooligan coalition Borussenfront in the 1980s. Although officially banned from Westfalenstadion, the group have been active again since 2006 and are known to recruit younger fans after matches. During Dortmund’s run to the Champions League final, two of their right-wing fans were attacked in Donetsk after reportedly shouting “Sieg Hiel!” and pissing on a statue of Lenin.
(Photo via VICE Germany)
This dichotomy extends far beyond Borussia Dortmund. As a nation, Germany has been riding the crest of a PR wave for some time now. In 2013, it was voted the world's favourite country. The national side went on to win this year’s World Cup, without their best player. The country is both economically powerful and socially mobile. 20 percent of its population was born abroad. It basically runs Europe. But internally, the past few years have seen Germany undergo a shift towards right-wing disillusion. With inequality continuing to widen, the German Economic Institute this year argued that the country had the largest wealth gap in the whole of Europe. With an open immigration policy and increased poverty comes far-right extremists: nationalists who blame their situation on people who are almost certainly in a worse position than themselves.
Unsurprisingly, tensions surrounding Islam in Germany are being fed by events abroad. A couple of weeks back, roughly 1300 police officers were deployed in Hamburg after a peaceful Kurdish protest against the Islamic State’s attacks on the Kobani border was disrupted by ISIS supporters. Daniel Abdin, imam of Hamburg’s Al-Nour Mosque, described the city as “Hamburgistan”. The same week, a reported 100 people fought in Celle, Lower Saxony, over similar differences.
It’s a perfectly terrible storm. Germany’s support of Kurds in Northern Iraq causes tension between Kurds and certain radical Islamic groups in major German cities, and this tension is then manipulated by extreme right-wingers who cite it as evidence of the country's Islamification. Without the presence of the far-right groups, it's doubtful whether or not things would have blown up to this extent – Germany is home to at least 4 million Muslims, 1 million of whom are Kurds and only 5,500 of whom are Salafists. But insidious far-right parties like the National Democratic Party know how to infiltrate other causes to draw in supporters – be it football, anti-corporate movements or even Christmas markets. German football is just another carrier of the movement, an artificial insemination designed to provide Nazi shitheads with borrowed legitimacy.
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