On October 26th, 2014, hooligans from rival football clubs were brought together by a common cause – they were united against Salafists, loosely bandied about in Germany as a synonym for Islamic extremists. The protest they organized in Cologne, in which several far-right groups also participated, attracted more than a thousand supporters (some reports have cited up to four thousand protesters). Lines of reinforcement police vehicles could be seen kilometres away and a helicopter circled the area until late in the evening. Following an escalation of violence, pepper spray as well as water cannons were brought in to hold the protesters at bay. That it all ended in violence with several police officers wounded and some protesters arrested, seemed to shock no one. The irony that extremists themselves came out against extremism is but laughable. As a foreigner residing here in Cologne, Germany, it is beyond my understanding why such a protest was authorized to take place.
Hooligans, Salafists and Extremism: Where do you draw the line?
by Nasima Akaloo
According to reports, the group that organised the protest on Sunday goes by the name Ho.Ge.Sa (Hooligans against Salafists). It was started on Facebook and drew the support of anti-Islamic football fans as well as far-right groups. Slogans such as ‘Foreigners Out’ were reportedly part of their mantra as they gathered outside the main station in Cologne on Sunday. Later in the evening, when the police managed to scatter the group and accompany some of the hooligans to their trains, other attacks and harassment against foreigners reportedly occurred. The upsurge of such violent outbursts and in this case, the State’s complicity through the authorization of such protests, are both worrying and exasperating.
The readers’ comments accompanying some of the news reports are equally distressing – ‘diversity = white genocide’; ‘anyone who is against uncontrolled (Muslim) migration is deemed a racist or neo-Nazi’. These two examples highlight the extent of the problem in Germany and Europe. It would be deceptive to think that this hate is restricted to far-right groups. In fact, the abuse of immigrants in many cities, the daily racism encountered and the recent case of ill-treatment of refugees by (privately hired) security guards all resonate in the mainstream society. So should the State not assume a more responsible role in quelling such anti-immigrant opinions which seem to become more and more widespread? Does it not show complicity when such protests are allowed to take place? But then again, it serves the State to have a public united against a common enemy, stirred by fear, panic and insecurity. Such a public is bound to be more accommodating and consenting to the growing restrictions on individual rights and privacy. But the reader may justifiably ask – isn’t it the right of every individual in a democracy to openly and freely be able to express their opinion, including in the form of a collective protest? Yes, but not when such protests have more than just the potential to lead to violence and directly harm or injure part of the society. Why, after all, do we give up some of our freedoms to the State? Is it not to protect us from danger and ensure our well-being in exchange?
There is already talk of the same group organizing a similar protest in Berlin and Hamburg. Although their extreme violence and xenophobia are not shared by the mainstream society, there is an urgent need to openly discuss the growing phenomenon of intolerance and violence against ‘foreigners’. While this incident illustrates an extreme case, sadly the phenomenon of anti-immigration and Islamophobia is much more widespread.
Photo taken from MorgueFile.