Dec 25 2017

German Turk opens Nazi hotline

Ali Can is one of some 3 million Turks living in Germany. The 24-year-old was only two years old when his family sought asylum in Germany, Al Jazeera said.

Perhaps it is his empathy with refugees which has kept him engaged in the fate of millions of refugees that began to arrive in Germany in 2015. This influx, mostly driven by the ongoing war in Syria, was the highest number of immigrants in post-war history.

The numbers proved much too high as German displeasure at the newcomers became increasingly pronounced.

Xenophobia is certainly not a new sentiment in Germany, but fuelled by the recent influx of immigrants, one anti-Islam Pegida party rally in 2015 in the east German city of Dresden drew out 25,000 supporters. The Pegida party, at various rallies since, has brought out thousands on to the streets.

Pegida

It was in March 2016, when Ali toured east Germany, a region home to burning anti-immigration sentiment, that he realized he no longer wished to sit on the sidelines of what he saw as a festering wound.

Then something wonderful happened. A woman he had met in Giessen at a Pegida protest phoned to tell him about a nice encounter she had with a refugee. It was evident that people needed to talk. And so did Ali. This conversation became an inspiration for Ali who became convinced that he wanted to understand where these groups were coming from.

Witnessing this spewing of hatred motivated Can to do something. "I researched to find out where I could find neo-Nazis or initiatives against immigrants," Ali explained.

"Most people have prejudices and are scared of what they don't know," he said. "But that does not mean they are racist."

Ali soon posted a video sharing his phone number on Facebook, inviting anyone to call him.

"You can reach me on this number if you're worried, angry or just have questions about the increasing number of refugees in Germany," he said in August.

Since then he has received approximately 200 calls.

It is an unpredictable hobby. "Sometimes nobody calls, some days six people call," Ali explains.

Ali explains that following acts of terror he receives more calls than usual and callers can become more aggressive.

AFD

"Racism and prejudice are often rooted in the fear of losing control and the unknown, as well as old-fashioned thinking structures," he said. "It's best to meet those fears in person."

As a former asylum seeker, Ali is in his element in helping rid people of their fears.

Allowing people to talk about their fears decreases the likelihood of them turning to right-wing populists, who use those fears to advance their political agenda, Ali notes.

Holger Lengfeld, a sociologist at the University of Leipzig who has researched AfD voters, thinks Ali's initiative certainly sends a good message. "Talking to each other is always good, there's nothing better," Lengfeld explained.

Ali also gets his fair share of emails and sometimes even personal visits. In a book he penned about his hotline, Ali recounts how an AfD voter visited his parents' restaurant in order to speak to him face to face. That man has now become a regular at their eatery.

Ali admits that his endeavour may be naive but ask a compelling question:"What's the alternative?"

 

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