Rather than cracking down on the Muslim extremists, however, the German authorities have sought to silence the peaceful critics of multicultural policies that allow the Salafists openly to preach violence and hate.

In an explosion of violence that reflects the growing assertiveness of Salafists in Germany, on May 5th more than 500 radical Muslims attacked German police with bottles, clubs, stones and other weapons in the city of Bonn, to protest cartoons they said were "offensive."

Rather than cracking down on the Muslim extremists, however, German authorities have sought to silence the peaceful critics of multicultural policies that allow the Salafists -- who say they are committed to imposing Islamic Sharia law throughout Europe -- openly to preach violence and hate.

The clashes erupted when around 30 supporters of a conservative political party, PRO NRW, which is opposed to the further spread of Islam in Germany, participated in a campaign rally ahead of regional elections in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW). Some of those participating in the rally, which was held near the Saudi-run King Fahd Academy in the Mehlem district of Bonn, the former capital of West Germany, had been waving banners depicting the Islamic Prophet Mohammad (see photo here), to protest the Islamization of Germany.

The rally swiftly disintegrated into violence (photos here and here) when hundreds of angry Salafists, who are opposed to any depiction of their prophet, began attacking the police, whose job it was to keep the two groups apart.

In the final tally of the melee, 29 police officers were injured, two with serious stab wounds, and more than 100 Salafists were arrested, although most were later released. A 25-year-old German protester of Turkish origin, suspected of having stabbed the two police officers, remained in custody on suspicion of attempted homicide.

According to Bonn's police chief, Ursula Brohl-Sowa, "This was an explosion of violence such as we have not witnessed in a long time."

Germany's intelligence and security agencies say they are closely monitoring the Salafists, who are increasingly viewed as posing a threat to German security.

Salafism, a branch of radical Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia, seeks to establish an Islamic empire (Caliphate) across the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, and eventually the entire world. The Caliphate would be governed exclusively by Islamic Sharia law, which would apply both to Muslims and to non-Muslims. Salafists also believe, among other disconcerting doctrines, that democracies -- governments made by men as opposed to theirs, which was made by the almighty -- legitimately deserve to be destroyed.

According to German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich, "Salafism is currently the most dynamic Islamist movement in Germany as well as internationally. Its fanatic followers represent a particular danger for Germany's security. The Salafists provide the ideological foundation for those who then turn violent."

The interior minister of the German state of Lower Saxony, Uwe Schünemann, said, "The violence of the Salafists in Bonn has once again shown what is behind the mask of supposed religiosity: nothing but brute force." He also said that the violence was "a direct challenge to liberal democracy as a whole."

The interior minister of Bavaria, Joachim Hermann, said that: "We cannot tolerate violent retribution and revenge. We apply the rule of law, not Islamic vigilante justice." He added that Salafists should be "brought to justice and severely punished," and that "We have to monitor the Salafist scene even more. And we have to be more diligent in cracking down on hate and violence. We cannot allow that terrorists and violent criminals are free to operate under our noses. We need to take action against Salafism and its intolerant, fanatical ideology with all legal means."

Despite these and many other pronouncements, Salafists still have free reign in Germany: Salafist preachers are known regularly to preach hatred against the West in the mosques and prayer centers that are proliferating across the country.

In recent weeks, Salafists have been engaged in an unprecedented nationwide campaign to distribute 25 million copies of the Koran, translated into the German language, with the goal of placing one Koran in every home in Germany, free of charge.

The mass proselytization campaign -- called Project "READ!" -- is being organized by dozens of Islamic Salafist groups located in cities and towns throughout Germany, as well as in Austria and Switzerland.

According to the German newspaper Die Welt, the Salafists have launched a "frontal assault" against people of other faiths and "unbelievers." Die Welt has reported that German authorities view the Koran project, which fundamentalists are using as a recruiting tool, as a "most worrisome" campaign for radical Islam. Security analysts say the campaign is also a public-relations gimmick intended to persuade Germans that the Salafists are transparent and "citizen friendly."

A spokesperson for the Berlin branch of Germany's domestic intelligence agency, the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (BfV) told Die Welt that "the objective of this campaign is to help bring those who are interested into contact with the Salafist scene to influence them in the context of extremist political ideologies."

In response to Project "READ!" PRO-NRW launched a cartoon contest under the motto "Freedom Instead of Islam." The contest, which ended on April 25, generated dozens of submissions. The winning entry was a cartoon depicting a Christian church surrounded by six minarets (Muslim prayer towers) with the caption: "I think the church in Germany has integrated itself very well." Some of the other submissions can be found at a German free-speech website called Politically Incorrect.

As Muslims have said they feel offended, and as Europe prides itself on being multicultural, left wing politicians have converted the "Freedom Instead of Islam" cartoon contest into protest against free speech. After releasing all but two of the Salafists responsible for the brawl on May 5th, the Interior Minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, Ralf Jäger, cast blame on the democratic -- and peaceful -- PRO NRW. He ordered police to prevent PRO NRW from displaying anti-Islam any more cartoons during the final phase of the state's regional election campaign, to be held on May 13th.

Jäger, who is a member of the center-left Social Democrats, characterized PRO NRW as a "far- right extremist group" and said the group's cartoons had been a "deliberate provocation" that had triggered the attacks by the Salafists.

The guardians of German multiculturalism, enabled by the German mainstream media, invariably label PRO NRW "far-right" – presumably to dismiss its views rather than examine them. Ironically, most of the PRO NRW group's members, including its senior leadership, hail from the center-right Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) and could never -- even with the most extreme exertion -- ever be considered extremists.

PRO NRW's members have, in all likelihood, just been frustrated by the refusal of the mainstream center-right parties to push back against the steady Islamization of Germany; they describe themselves as a citizen's movement (Bürgerbewegung), possibly akin to the Tea Party movement in the United States. The group's members say they love their country and are upset about the direction in which politicians are taking it.

On May 6th, administrative courts in the towns of Arnsberg and Minden ruled that Jäger's ban on PRO NRW freedom of speech was unconstitutional, and authorized the group to continue its campaign activities.

PRO NRW, in a statement, declared that the favorable court decisions were "predictable, because the law and our Constitution have not changed overnight. The only amazing thing is that an Interior Minister who has sworn to uphold the Constitution keeps enacting unlawful decrees."

PRO NRW also reminded politicians that they have "the responsibility to provide the police with sufficient human, financial and material resources" for them to do their job. Spokesmen for the organization said, "It is unacceptable that, as was the case in Bonn, too few police officers were exposed to an aggressive mob. Where were the water cannons or the dogs? Unfortunately, 29 injured police officers have paid a bitter price. They have our sincere sympathy. To Mr. Jäger and other responsible politicians, we have only one thing to say: Resign immediately."

Free speech lives on in Germany... for now, at least.

Soeren Kern is Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook.

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