“Xenophobia, racism and naked hatred are not legitimate expressions of opinion, but attacks on the dignity of people”. The Catholic Bishop of Erfurt, Ulrich Neymeyr, has revealed himself to be “surprised and terrified” by the “aggressive rhetoric” currently being propounded by far-right and anti-semitic groups across Germany and Europe more generally. A phenomenon, he says, that constitutes a “worrying development” in European politics, and one that has the potential to “substantially damage… public debates and social coexistence”.
In an event Monday 12th in Recklinghausen to mark the Week of Brotherhood between Christians and Jews organized by the German Coordinating Council of Christian-Jew Cooperation, Bishop Neymeyr – the German Episcopal Conference’s pointman on relations with Jews – decried the “peculiarities of the right-wing populist rhetoric” that has taken root in Europe, and which consists not just in the criticism of opinions and actions “legitimate in a free society” but in deliberate attacks on the “moral integrity of people”.
In a speech entitled “When Populism Becomes Popular”, the Bishop of Erfurt likewise lamented the “with me or against me” policies of the leaders of the European far-right, such that “anyone who does not share the positions of right-wing populist politicians is considered by them [to be] morally disqualified”. “Entire groups are defamed and marginalized in this way”, rued Bishop Neymeyr. What most vexes the prelate, however, is that the “literally inhuman rhetoric” is used by far-right xenophobic and racist politicians who often style themselves as “heroes of freedom”, despite the fact that only “freedom and rights” together and not one or the other are the basis for our human dignity.
“Respect for people’s dignity is not a taboo to break, but the moral basis of our coexistence”“Whoever violates, devalues or defames the dignity of individual people or groups abuses the right to freedom of expression”, declared the bishop, in no uncertain terms, adding that “it is our duty as citizens and as Christians” to oppose xenophobic, racist or otherwise hate-filled attacks posing as mere expressions of opinion. “That’s why we have not kept silent as Churches in the past years and months and will not do so in the future”, Neymeyr reminded his audience, which along with the leaders of the principal Jewish groups in Germany – Rabbis Jonah Sievers of Berlin and Avraham Yitzchak Radbil of Osnabrück – also included the Evangelical Bishop of Hannover, Ralf Meister.
Neymeyr also took the occasion of the interfaith meeting in Recklinghausen to congratulate the Federal Government for the “good decision” of appointing a commissioner for antisemitism, even if he was quick to point out at the same time that “we must not leave the fight against anti-Jewish prejudices, as well as against any other form of human rights violation, only to the state agencies”. “We cannot let the respect we owe to all human beings be ridiculed as do-goodism or political correctness”, said the bishop, once again appealing to his listeners’ consciences as citizens and Christians, before reaffirming that “respect for people’s dignity is not a taboo to break, but the moral basis of our coexistence“.