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The Central Council of Muslims responded in unequivocal terms to a hard anti-Islam stance announced by the populist Alternative for Germany party over the weekend.

"For the first time since Hitler's Germany there is a party that once again is discrediting a whole religious community and threatening its existence," Central Council of Muslims chairman Aiman Mazyek told public broadcaster NDR on Monday morning.

He was responding to interviews with the AfD leadership published on Sunday that commit the party to a tough anti-Islam line.

“Islam is a political ideology that is incompatible with the [German] constitution,” AfD spokeswoman Beatrix von Storch told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung (FAS) in an interview.

While she allowed that “many Muslims belong in Germany,” she insisted that “Islam does not belong in Germany.”

The party's deputy chairman Alexander Gauland went further in comments to the FAS, turning to medical terms and dubbing Islam a “foreign body” in German society.

“Islam is not a religion like Catholic or Protestant Christianity, but always intellectually linked with taking over the state,” he said, warning of the “Islamization of Germany.”

Ban on minarets and burqas

In two weeks, AfD members will vote on a policy programme for the coming year – an important one that will see German parties positioning themselves for a general election in late 2017.

It's an opportunity for the party to build on their success in state elections this March, when they secured bumper results in Rhineland-Palatinate, Baden-Württemberg and Saxony-Anhalt.

And the populists are betting heavily on anti-Islam sentiment being a key vote-winner, with a slew of measures planned to single out Muslims.

Von Storch says that she will call for a ban on minarets, on muezzins (the singers who call Muslims to prayer at regular intervals through the day) and on full-body veils such as the burqa.

It's a significant departure for the party, which has played on anti-immigrant sentiment, but until now claimed not to have a specific anti-Islam bent, unlike street demonstrators in the Pegida movement – short for “Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West”.

AfD chairwoman Frauke Petry has regularly insisted that there is more to the party than anti-immigration or anti-Islam feelings and that it is not simply the political wing of Pegida.

But AfD's complex internal politics – which have seen it shift from a movement against the Euro single currency to a broader right-wing populist platform – appear to have got the better of Petry for now.

Long-burning themes

"The AfD is taking up themes people think the main parties haven't addressed," Professor Werner Patzelt, a political scientist at the Dresden University of Technology, told The Local.

"There are more than a few people in Germany who think that the mainstream parties aren't representing the interests of the population, from immigration to European integration."

He added that given the scale of the challenge Germany faces in integrating large numbers of migrants and refugees - a task likely to take closer to 20 or 30 years than just a few - the themes of Islam and migration will "feed the AfD on a long-term basis".

And there's little that Chancellor Angela Merkel's centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) - traditionally the one banner under which right-wingers of all stripes gathered - can do to gather lost voters back to the fold, Patzelt said.

"AfD voters aren't being reached by the CDU because the party is saying that their way of seeing things is wrong. It will be difficult to fight them."

"The window in which the CDU could have done something to stop the AfD has closed," Patzelt said.

In the long term, the right wing of German politics could fracture in the same way as the left has, he suggested.

On the left, the traditionally dominant Social Democratic Party (SPD) entered a long-term decline following the emergence of the Green party in the 1980s and has been further weakened since the founding of the Left party in 2007.

'Calling fundamental rights into question'

Patzelt's analysis seemed to be borne out by the reactions of CDU leaders, who lost no time on Monday in saying the AfD was beyond the pale.

“The AfD is inciting people, they want to be provocative,” CDU deputy chairman Armin Laschet told the Passauer Neue Presse.

“When a party increasingly calls fundamental rights into question and disrespects them, the security services will be evaluating this very precisely,” he added.

The SPD has already called for AfD and Pegida to be placed under observation by Germany's domestic intelligence agency (Verfassungsschutz) – whose job it is to evaluate threats to the democratic order in the country.

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