By Steven Martin Kensington
The German party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) has recently been subjected to a rather extraordinary experience. AfD has since last fall been a member of the Bundestag (federal parliament in Germany,) and is now the third biggest party in the country. They are commonly accused of being “far-right” or “right-wing extremists” due to their anti-Islamic and anti-immigration rhetoric. Now, however, they may have come in a puzzling situation. One of their own politicians had now converted to Islam. This politician was Arthur Wagner, who has been a representative since 2015 and been a leading party official in Brandenburg – a state in North-Eastern Germany. How could this strange scenario make sense in any way?
The party spokesman Daniel Friese said that Mr. Wagner resigned on January 11, and that “only afterward was it known that he had converted to Islam.” He has refused to talk about his conversion, Friese says, because “he believes it is a private affair.”
The party said that, regardless of Wagner’s conversion, they stood for the constitutional right of religious freedom, and that, puzzled as they may have been, supported his right to conversion. As the spokesman said: “The party has no problem with that,” but, as David Graham of The Atlantic notes (https://www.theatlantic.com/amp/article/551438/), “one can imagine his new religious identity would create some awkwardness with his old chums. AfD has, for example, used the slogan ‘Islam does not belong to Germany.’”
However, this isn’t the first time this has happened. For instance, a member of the Dutch Freedom Party (PVV), Arnoud van Doorn, also left the party and become a Muslim. The PVV calls themselves “a Dutch nationalist and right-wing populist party,” whilst the Atlantic calls them “another far-right, anti-Islam party.” This also happened in France, with Maxence Buttey: “A Front National local councilor has embarrassed France’s far-Right party by announcing his recent conversion to Islam – and urging fellow members to join him.” () Another instance of this was the American 18-year-old neo-Nazi in Tampa who likewise converted, but who additionally killed two of his neo-Nazi roommates.
Mr. Buttey, who was a counselor in Front National, told Le Parisien that an important reason for “far-right” members converting to Islam was that “both are demonized and very far from the image portrayed in the media.” “The far-right movement had more in common with the religion than its members realized,” he claimed.
Michael Hogg, a British psychologist, claims to have a better explanation of the mental aspect of the conversion. He has developed an ‘uncertainty-identity theory’, which claims that people seek to reduce difficult questions of how people view them, who they are, and where they fit into the world. He says that a method to satisfy this motivation is to identify with a group which fulfills all of these questions: it “defines and locates oneself in the social world … [,] prescribes how one should behave and how one should interact with others.”
The phenomenon of Islam-critics converting to Islam seem quite unintuitive, and is a relatively new one, but with the explanation given by Hogg, one can get a sense that some people have arrived in such “radical” groups as a result of them struggling with such questions, and that they may have converted due to a subjective experience feeling it may have, for instance, have more to offer in one way or another, i.e. in answering the difficult questions mentioned.