The Washington Post

BERLIN — Donald Trump may be testing the boundaries of tolerance on the U.S. campaign trail. But here in Germany, the government is effectively enforcing civility, taking aim at a surge of hate speech against refugees and Muslims.

As Western Europe’s most populous nation grapples with a historic wave of mostly Muslim migrants, politicians and activists are decrying a rash of incendiary speech bubbling to the surface of German society. In a country whose Nazi past led to some of the strictest laws in the West protecting minorities from people inciting hatred, prosecutors are investigating inflammatory comments as judges dole out fines, even probation time, to the worst offenders.

German authorities, meanwhile, have reached a deal with Facebook, Google and Twitter to get tougher on offensive content, with the outlets agreeing to apply domestic laws, rather than their own corporate policies, to reviews of posts.

Critics call it the enforcement of political correctness, raising the question of what constitutes hate speech and sparking a national debate over free expression. Germans have been outraged, for instance, by reports of more than 100 sexual assaults and robberies in the city of Cologne allegedly committed by gangs of young Arab and North African men on New Year’s Eve. Some Germans are questioning whether their online comments could be taken down, or whether they could be charged with incitement, for publicly pondering whether refugees could have been among the assailants.

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Two of the suspects have been identified as Moroccan citizens. But Cologne police say they have not yet determined whether any of the assailants were recently arrived asylum seekers. Nevertheless, the incidents have fed a strain of anger and suspicion here beyond the traditional migrant critics in the right wing.

“It’s not politically correct to say anything against migrants. We don’t have freedom of opinion anymore. #Cologne,” Tweeted a German user from Hanover going by the handle Pulvermann.