One certainly cannot accuse Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the leader of Germany’s governing CDU party, of speaking in overly drastic terms. She sees Wednesday’s attack in the city of Halle as a “wake-up call.” It is alarm clocks that send out wake-up calls. Has somebody woken up from a deep sleep?
Halle suffered this week a more or less exact copy of the Christchurch attack. A radical right-wing man was filmed live as he got out of his car with the intention of entering a religious building (two mosques in Christchurch, a synagogue in Halle) to shoot at people indiscriminately using an automatic rifle — like a scene taken from a violent computer game.
In Halle, before beginning his murderous spree on the holiest of Jewish holidays, Yom Kippur, the 27-year-old Stephan Balliet spoke the following words: “Hi, my name is Anon, and I think the Holocaust never happened.” And then: “The root of all these problems is the Jew.” Balliet did not manage to force his way into the synagogue. Instead he shot a woman on the street who just happened to pass by, and later a man in a doner kebab shop. Two more people were seriously injured.
That a massacre with more than 50 mortalities like the one in Christchurch did not occur was down to luck, the good internal security measures taken by the Jewish community and the fact that the assassin’s weapon failed on several occasions. The name Halle is now associated with the unleashing of racist violence. And it is also associated above all with a failure by the state to fulfil its central obligation, which is to protect the public space. Why were there no police officers posted in front of the synagogue entrance on the holiest Jewish holiday?
And Kramp-Karrenbauer speaks of a “wake-up call.” Perhaps it was a sign when, on October 4 in Berlin — only a few days before the attack in Halle — a Syrian man managed to overcome the barrier outside a synagogue, screaming “Fuck Israel” and “Allahu Akbar” before pulling a combat knife. He was arrested and released one day later. Apart from disturbing the peace, he was not charged with any other offences. Signs like that are understood. As an invitation.
These are not wake-up calls. These are signs of the systemic failure of the open society.
Kramp-Karrenbauer’s completely inappropriate use of words stands symbolically for a political culture dogged by euphemisms. There is a distinct lack of will to call things by their proper name. Instead, things are covered up or played down. And when some parts of the media do tell the facts or show horrific images, then it is often not the actual events that are discussed; instead those who describe the reality are criticized or even accused of incitement. Germany’s political and media elites sleep the sleep of the righteous and dream the dream of political correctness. Are they scared of having their peace disturbed?
In Limburg, when an attacker with several previous convictions rams eight cars driving a stolen truck, injuring nine people in the process, and — according to eye-witnesses — shouting “Allah,” politicians talk about a “deranged offender working alone.” And German public television broadcasters ARD and ZDF initially only report about it on the margins, before referring to it merely as a “truck incident”.
When there are doubts whether soccer player Bakery Jatta of Hamburg’s HSV club is actually called Bakary Daffeh and is two years older than he says he is, it takes the police more than four years to investigate this and journalists systematically turn a blind eye. Instead, some criticize the fact that it is even reported at all, saying that such reports incite xenophobia.
When a man with several previous convictions butchers a person with a Samurai sword on a public street in the middle of a Stuttgart residential area, then German national radio station Deutschlandfunk decides not to report on it. The supposed rationale behind this decision? The story is not relevant for Germany as a whole or for German society.
When, after the sadly infamous night of New Year’s Eve in Cologne in 2015, Angela Merkel demands a “hard response from the rule of law,” 661 female victims of sexual assault are identified, 1,304 legal complaints lodged and 52 men accused, three men are eventually sentenced for sexual offenses.
Also of particular symbolic impact was politicians failing to act after judgment was pronounced in the Kuwait Airways case in November 2017. The judges decided that Kuwait Airways could not be expected to transport Israeli — that is, Jewish — passengers out of Frankfurt because of Kuwaiti law.
But perhaps one could have expected the German government to say in the wake of this scandalous decision that, if Kuwait Airways cannot be expected to allow Jewish passengers to board its planes, then Jews in Germany cannot be expected to accept that Kuwait Airways be allowed to fly from Germany for one day longer. In a similar case, both Switzerland and the USA decided to refuse the airline permission to land or take-off on their territory. In Germany, politicians preferred to look the other way and thus tolerate blatant racism.
On September 25, a so-called “Palestine demonstration” was to take place at the Brandenburg Gate. The rappers Shadi Al-Bourini and Shadi Al-Najjar were to perform at it. These two rappers glorify terrorists in their song texts and in the social media networks, praise the arming of young children against Israel, and call for the city of Tel Aviv to be bombed, burned to the ground and for the inhabitants to be driven out of the city.
They shout at the Jews: “I want to crush you beneath my feet.” These rappers were supposed to perform in front of the most famous symbol of Germany’s capital city where, seven decades ago, the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question,” the Holocaust, the murder of six million Jews, was organized. Simply because they were Jews.
The demonstration was given permission to go ahead and did take place. The appearance of the glorifiers of terrorism was prohibited at the last minute only because of immense pressure from the public. When a counter-protester unfolded an Israeli flag, the police tore it out of his hands.
Racism and xenophobia are becoming stronger again in Germany.
These are not wake-up calls. These are signs of the systemic failure of the open society. A country where the president traditionally sends letters of good wishes to the mullahs in Iran. In which the federal government refuses to ban the terrorist organization Hezbollah. Where a parliamentary decision against the BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel) is criticized by one of Germany’s leading media outlets as being the result of sinister Jewish lobbyism. While another leading media outlet argues that this showcases Jewish influence on the media and places the term anti-Semitism in quotation marks. Such a country should not be surprised that hatred of Jews is slowly becoming socially acceptable again and many Jews are asking themselves the serious question of whether Germany can still be a safe home to them.
Racism and xenophobia are becoming stronger again in Germany. They have always existed. But the decisive factor is how the majority of the population and their democratically elected leaders handle these phenomena. Our current handling seems to be fanning the flames of hate. The main reasons are:
First: Refugee policies that are highly questionable in a constitutional state and which hardly differentiate between war refugees and economic refugees. That is, fail to make a difference between people whose very existence is under threat (who we must help), and people living in precarious economic circumstances (who we cannot help indiscriminately).
Second: A police force that is far too weak in numbers and badly equipped. That fails in an increasing number of cases to prevent and prosecute criminal offences. And fails in its duty to protect the public domain, thus making people feel they have been left alone to cope with their problems.
Third: An overstretched and sometimes also deliberately inactive public administration and judiciary system that does not identify criminals and criminal immigrants fast enough. That fails to deport without delay and does not by any means sufficiently exploit the legal framework provided for criminal prosecution.
Fourth: A political elite that refuses to face up to reality or is far removed from it. Which talks instead of taking action and often promises far more than it actually delivers. And which does not defend the basic liberal order and our constitution passionately against imported and intrinsic intolerance. While, instead, being tolerant of intolerance.
Fifth: A media elite that too often depicts and describes what things should be like instead of describing the situation as it is. Media that often give attitude priority over facts. And in this way, weaken its most important principles: credibility and trust.
Remaining silent about criminal offenses committed by foreign nationals generates mistrust, gives rise to conspiracy theories and ultimately creates more hate of foreigners. The one-sided understanding for anti-Semitic attitudes among some Muslim immigrants reinforces radical right- and left-wing anti-Semitism. People stop listening when they feel that journalists and politicians no longer see and talk about what is really happening. And yet they mean well. For months, our politicians from all parties (or almost all – the Alternative for Germany is a macabre alternative here) have been trying to outdo each other on their soapboxes with the same plea: “Anti-Semitism never again!”
After Halle, the country no longer needs one single demonstration, expressions of solidarity or a chain of lights. We also don’t want to hear any more speeches crying “Anti-Semitism never again!” Because anti-Semitism is already among us. Every single day. In 2018 alone, crime statistics counted 1,800 anti-Semitic offences in Germany. And most people turn a blind eye. We do not need remembrance events or political speeches.
We need the constitutional state to assert the rule of law, to apply the laws that are already there. And we need a confident and sovereign defense of our liberal values. We need a truly empowered democracy. If Germany fails to gain command over the challenges presented by old, but newly kindled Islamist, left-wing and right-wing anti-Semitism, then it has failed to pass the litmus test it has been set by history. The eyes of the world are upon us and the world wants to know how capable we are of safeguarding liberty and how human we have become since 1945.
Things are changing in Germany. And we urgently need intelligent leadership to calibrate our moral compass and overcome old hostilities, new sectarianism and ill-guided hot-bloodedness and cold-heartedness. We can take hope from the younger generation, which is more political than it has been in a long time.
It is above all the 15- to 30-year-olds who have become active, for example, in the important fight against irresponsible climate policies, taking the matter into their own hands. It would have been a nice gesture if, on that terrible “extinction day” in Halle, the demonstrators from the Extinction Rebellion movement had taken down their tents on Potsdamer Platz and gone as a united group to the vigil taking place before the synagogue in Oranienburger Strasse. I hope it was only by chance that this opportunity was missed.
I, in any case, do not want to live in a country in which people reprimand their neighbors for failing to separate their trash, but look the other way when their fellow citizens are murdered. Because of their skin color. Or because they are Jews. And I believe, or hope, that most Germans feel the same way.
Mathias Döpfner is chairman and CEO of Axel Springer, the co-owner of POLITICO‘s European edition.