These are disturbingly dark times for Germany. On July 24, a 21-year-old Syrian asylum-seeker butchered a pregnant woman to death, wounding two others in Reutlingen, southwestern Germany. Just two days prior an 18-year-old German of Iranian citizenship, Ali David Sonboly, wielding a Glock pistol sprayed bullets at innocent civilians in Munich’s Olympia shopping mall. The shooter killed nine people, mostly children, wounding 27, prior to committing suicide.
The Munich tragedy is the fourth deadly assault in Europe in eight days: Nice, Würzburg, Munich and Reutlingen.
Ali Sonboly is the first ‘Muslim’ declared ‘mentally ill’ rather than a political terrorist. This is truly rare as Muslims are intensely stigmatised. Amongst Sonboly’s victims were three Turks, three Kosovars, an Albanian and a Greek national. In cruel irony, he purposely targeted immigrants. As shooting sprees in the US indicate, such ‘lone-wolf’ kill fests alarmingly trigger copy cat attacks. This is probably why Germany is pondering tougher gun laws.
Ali Sonboly was no immigrant. Born and bred in Munich, bullied at school, he suffered from depression, and was obsessed with shootings, drawing deadly inspiration not from Isis, but from far-right fascist Anders Breivik, a stone-cold Norwegian neo-fascist killer who in 2011 killed 77 people in Oslo to curtail Muslim immigration.
Before dying Sonboly yelled, “I am a German, I was born here and grew up in the Hartz IV area”, implying unemployment, a ghettoised life in a rough neighbourhood, reinforcing his identity crisis in an unwelcoming environment. He purposely targeted immigrants and Muslims, seeking revenge for not being able to integrate into German society.
The Würzburg, Munich and Reutlingen assaults throw flames on Germany’s incendiary political tinderbox, reopening Germany’s raging debate on Muslim immigration. Chancellor Angela Merkel is on a knife’s edge for welcoming 1.1m asylum-seekers, which Germany (partly) undertook to ‘redeem’ itself from the haunting legacy of the Nazi Holocaust. Yet the Germany of today in many ways mirrors Hitler`s Germany.
Würzburg, Munich and Reutlingen type attacks have increased as racist xenophobia saddles the nation since January, 2015.
Angela Merkel’s CDU faces a national federal general election in 2017, for which she must remain pro-refugee yet demonstrate a steely resolve on security – a tough balancing act for the best of us.
Germany’s political pendulum has perilously swung far-right, with anti-Islam parties like Pegida, NPD, Hogesa and Alternative for Germany (AfD) gaining traction and narrative. Running on racist platforms, these skin-head movements evolved from the streets and onto the government all over Europe.
Far-right extremists have strong support especially in eastern Germany, Saxony, in Duisburg and Köln, which are simmering cauldrons of diversity with large immigrant populations. Many who counter the neo-Nazi militancy of the far-right are denounced as ‘Volksverräter’, a Nazi term implying ‘traitor’. The pro-refugee Muslim press is derided as ‘Lügenpresse’ or the ‘lying press’.
Many Germans fear that they are losing identity due to foreign influence. Such fears are unfounded. A practical example of peaceful harmonious inter-cultural co-existence (up until recently) were the Scandinavian countries and the pre-Trump US ‘melting pot’.
Refugees in Germany tackle daunting racism daily. For instance an angry Pegida mob blocked a bus full of refugees from pulling into Clausnitz, near the Czech border. Tourists are now staying away from Germany, which is re-cultivating its sinister concentration camp atmosphere.
Germany must better socially integrate its five million Muslims. EU federalism by its very nature is open-border, assimilationist and welcoming. Europe can ill-afford to sink into insular isolationism especially after Brexit. Grassroots community resilience programmes are needed as well as more intense cultural sensitisation for incoming refugees.
Society must learn that when you stigmatise Muslims or any other community, you foster disunity which terrorists relish and thrive on. That way you unknowingly further their agenda. Tragically, again it is Munich`s tragedy that got much more airtime than the 80 Shia Hazara minorities killed in Kabul’s protests or the 12 lives lost on July 24 in Baghdad. “Selective solidarity” is the spectre that haunts the sound bites as Muslims are media castigated as children of a lesser God.
This is an historic moment for Mrs Merkel, who has shown exemplary generosity by welcoming refugees, to exhibit even more decisive leadership by weaving a mantle of multi-culturalism.
Germany was blessed with the falling of the Berlin Wall in 1989. In 2016, the last thing the country needs is to set up new walls between communities. Germany and Europe’s people need to start building bridges rather than putting up walls.
The writer is a freelance contributor.
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