Riding the Wave of Islamophobia The German Geert Wilders
Part 4: Berlin State Elections the 'Deciding Moment'
The party is still small, but it is growing, particularly in Berlin and the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia. It welcomed its 1,000th member in December. There are plans to form state organizations in the coming months, and a central party office is in the works. Stadtkewitz would like to see his party headquarters located in downtown Berlin, in its political center, but for now the party meets in Reinickendorf, an outlying district in the city's northwest.
The party's future will be shaped next year, when Berlin holds its parliamentary elections. "That will be the deciding moment. If we don't manage to get into the parliament, the party will be all but dead," says Stadtkewitz. But he also says that he expects to capture "significantly more than five percent of the vote."
He would like to have a strong figure to lead the campaign, a prominent face. But he will probably end up having to assume that role himself. Stadtkewitz wants to hire a coach to show him how to write statements, how to get into the news and how to score points as a guest on talk shows. "I have to become tougher, clearer and more trenchant. I also have to provoke. Just like Wilders."
Geert Wilders, the hero of the European anti-Islam movement, is Stadtkewitz's role model, even though he would never admit it. Nevertheless, he is already benefiting from Wilders' contacts. Stadtkewitz is now part of a European movement. In December, it took him to Israel, together with Heinz-Christian Strache, the chairman of the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), Belgian politician Filip Dewinter of the similarly oriented Flemish nationalist Vlaams Belang Party, and Kent Ekeroth of the national and anti-Islamic Sweden Democrats. The group met with Jewish settlers in the West Bank, visited the city of Ashkelon in the Gaza Strip, discussed "strategies against Islamic terror" and visited the Israeli parliament, the Knesset. The delegation's Israeli contact was Ariel Shomer, the head of the cabinet of former President Ezer Weizman.
The 'Jerusalem Declaration'
It wasn't entirely clear what the conservative Israelis expected from Stadtkewitz and the other party leaders, but perhaps they were simply united in their fear of Islam.
During the trip, the delegation issued the "Jerusalem Declaration," a manifesto of sorts. "Now that the totalitarian systems of the 20th century have been overcome," the document reads, "mankind currently sees itself exposed to a new, worldwide totalitarian threat: fundamentalist Islam. We see ourselves as part of the worldwide struggle by the defenders of democracy and human rights against all totalitarian system and their accomplices."
Stadtkewitz is beginning to attract attention, not just in Israel but also in the faraway United States. Former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin sent her best wishes to Stadtkewitz and his delegation in Israel, and he could be visiting New York, the center of the world, soon. Nothing is set in stone yet, says Stadtkewitz, but last year Wilders spoke in New York on the ninth anniversary of 9/11, at the invitation of the organization Stop Islamization of America. This year, on the 10th anniversary, the group is thinking about inviting Stadtkewitz.
The German Geert.
Stadtkewitz is working on his transformation into a German version of the Dutch politician. On a clear, icy morning, he is standing on the outer deck of a ferry as it slowly makes its way from Rostock in northern Germany to Denmark. Stadtkewitz is headed for Copenhagen to attend the international conference of the Free Press Society, a group critical of Islam.
Stadtkewitz disembarks in the Danish ferry port of Gedser and drives his BMW along a snow-covered highway to Copenhagen. He is late by the time he reaches the Danish parliament building, and when he finally walks into a beautiful old chamber on the second floor, the conference has already begun.
He takes a seat near the back of the room. His English is poor, but Doll translates for him. Suddenly he hears his name, as the chairman welcomes him with the words: "Hello Mr. Stadtkewitz from Germany!"
Stadtkewitz stands up and waves briefly, as if he were a visiting dignitary, to a roar of applause from the approximately 200 attendees. Here in Copenhagen, he is a fellow soldier, their man from Germany.
'We Are Pinning Our Hopes on You'
Peter Skaarup of the Danish People's Party is standing at the podium. "Political Islam will undoubtedly be the new totalitarianism of the 21st century," says Skaarup. The Danish People's Party is the third-strongest party in Denmark.
Later Jimmie Akesson of the Sweden Democrats, a party that has recently entered the Swedish parliament, steps up to the microphone. "Islam just hides behind religion. It is a political ideology," says Akesson. He tells the group that pork is no longer on the menu in some Swedish schools, and he talks about demographic change. "By 2060, the real, ethnic English will be in the minority in England."
A woman in the audience proposes a law that would permit all Muslims in Sweden to have only two children.
The conference continues in the same vein. Everyone in the room -- the speakers, the parties, Stadtkewitz -- subscribes to the worldview of a parallel society marked by fear and a defensive posture. And yet they believe that what they are fighting for is good: freedom, modernity and the values of the West. They see themselves as combatants against the dark threat from the East. This makes their Islamophobia more palatable for many fearful voters.
Stadtkewitz is standing at the window, looking out at Copenhagen under a blanket of snow. A short man in a black suit taps him on the shoulder: Chaim Muehlstein from Israel.
"We are pinning our hopes on you, here in Europe," says Muehlstein, "you and the other parties."
Stadtkewitz smiles, looking inspired.
"They're further along politically in Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands than we are in Germany. They're a parliamentary force," Stadtkewitz concludes, somewhat dejectedly, when the conference comes to an end. It's time for him to catch up. His goal, quite simply, is to capture the votes of Berliners.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan