The mass murder in Hanau, a small town near Frankfurt, where on Wednesday a 43-year-old German man gunned down nine people at shisha bars, is the latest albeit most shocking incident in the increasing racist violence in the country. The murderer, identified as Tobias R, also shot his mother before killing himself.
“On the suspected perpetrator’s home page, he had put up video messages and a kind of manifesto that, in addition to obscure thoughts and absurd conspiracy theories, pointed to deeply racist views,” Public Prosecutor General Peter Frank said. And German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer has described the shootings in Hanau as “a clearly racially motivated terror attack.”
The victims, people of Turkish origin, were selected by the assailant ostensibly to send shock into the migrant communities in Germany.
No wonder Olaf Scholz, SPD politician and deputy chancellor, said, “Politically, nobody can deny that 75 years after the Nazi dictatorship there is real terror again”.
Chancellor Angela Merkel pointed to racism as a “poison” in German society and a main cause of the increasing racist violence in the country linked to the right-wing campaign of hate and intolerance. “Racism is poison, hatred is poison and this poison exists in society and it is to blame for too many crimes,” she said.
In the past one year, there have been an increase in anti-foreigner, xenophobic violence.
Walter Lübcke, a CDU politician known for its opposition to the right wing, was shot and killed by a right-wing extremist in the western city of Kassel in June last year.
In October, an anti-Semitic gunman opened fire outside a synagogue on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year, in the eastern city of Halle and killed two people. The alertness and security measure in place in the synagogue prevented a bloodbath as the killer couldn’t enter the place of worship which was filled with worshippers at the time as he had intended to.
This spate of violence is linked to the increasing influence of the right-wing xenophobic party, AfD, since 2015 when about 1 million refugees, mainly from Syria and Iraq arrived in Germany.
Representatives of migrant communities have been reacting to the latest incident.
The Confederation of the Communities of Kurdistan in Germany accused Germany’s political leaders of “not resolutely opposing right-wing networks and right-wing terrorism”.
Speaking during a march against the mass murder in Berlin on Thursday, Bafta Sarbo of the Initiative of Black Germany (ISD) was more explicit when she said: “We will not stop the killings as long if we only observe silence for a few minutes [in memory of the victims], organize memorial marches and give speeches. It will not stop as long as investigators suspect the relatives of the victims instead of looking for the real perpetrators. It will not stop as long as files that could lead to the investigation of perpetrators are locked away or destroyed…. and it won’t stop as long as anti-fascists are criminalized ….”
The authorities are perceived to be soft on the right-wing terrorists as their crimes are not pursued with the rigour deserved. An example is the serial murder of shop owners with migration background, eight of them from Turkey and one Greek, committed by the terror group Nationalsozialistischer Untergrund (NSU) between 2000 and 2006.
Instead of the police authorities probing possible extreme right-wing motivation of the murders, the relatives of the victims were considered and treated by investigators as the prime suspects. Subsequent investigations of the infamous killing spree almost ended in chaos as many official files on the case disappeared or were destroyed.
Moreover, the government is seen as pandering to the right wing as it often makes policies to show that it’s addressing the issues raised by the AfD, for example, by making restrictive laws concerning migrants. An example was the incident in Cologne during the New Year eve of 2015/16, when some migrants of Middle Eastern descent molested many women. The incident, which received national and international attention, was exploited by the AfD to further its anti-refugee campaign, portraying the newcomers as rapists and criminals. The federal parliament reacted by making a more restrictive law on, among others, naturalisation even though the crimes committed by the molesters, who recently arrived in the country, could be punished, and were punished, under the normal criminal code.
That the mainstream parties react to the pressure of the AfD emboldens the right-wing extremist elements to up the ante in their campaign of hate against people of migrant origin in the country.
The Hanau massacre will hopefully lead to a change of course in Germany’s attitude to the danger posed by the right-wing extremist forces.
“The breeding ground for right-wing terrorism is above all trivialization, shyness, racism and the quick return to the agenda. Kassel, Halle and now Hanau,” writes Pierrette Herzberger-Fofana, European MP and member of the German Green party, in reaction to the Hanau killings.
“Let us assume all of our responsibilities and pay attention to our language – in politics, in the media and everywhere in society! Let us stand up for the dignity of individuals or minorities in our country!” said German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Hanau on Thursday. In his own reaction, Robert Habeck, co-national leader of the Green party, said, “The fight against right-wing extremism and racism should be the priority going forward”.
The task for German political leaders therefore is to seriously tackle discrimination and racism and promote greater inclusion. The time has come for the country to address, through laws and policies, the under-representation of minority groups in the political decision-making process and deficits in their human rights protection. For example, the staffing of public administration should reflect the diversity of the country’s inhabitants.
Making polices of exclusion that appears to address the issues raised by the extreme right wing only emboldens them and makes them stronger. The state must make it unmistakably clear, through its words and deeds, that Germany is a diverse society and has gone long past the fascist vision of the neo-Nazis.