On 19 February, a horrific act of right-wing extremism cost nine people their lives in a racially motivated attack. At around 10 p.m. on Wednesday in the West German town of Hanau, Tobias Rathjen entered a Turkish bar and began opening fire on the locals who were seated inside, enjoying an evening meal. After leaving the premises, he then returned home and shot his 72-year-old mother before killing himself as well.
The bar’s owner, Kemal Kocak, stated, “Everything is gone,” feeling an emptiness after the horrors of the shooting. A lawyer for victims of terrorism, Mehmet Daimaguler, commented that “If people are silent for long enough, things like this will happen,” whilst German Chancellor Angela Merkel depicted the event as exposing the “poison of racism,” underlying Germany. The mayor of Hanau, Claus Kauinsky wept, describing the attack as the “bitterest, saddest experience.” Volker Bouffier, premier of the state, told immigrants, “We’ll do all we can to stand against hate.”
Right-wing extremism is on the rise in Germany as discontent over the state’s immigration policies and intakes of refugees present divisions within the community. As Chancellor Merkel pointed out, ignoring the growing extremism spreading throughout the country means that domestic terrorism has been allowed to foster within the state. Despite having one of the strictest gun laws in Europe, there are still loopholes. Rathjen had easy access to firearms with the rifle he used for the attack being purchased from the Internet. Many extremists in Germany have also been able to acquire semi-automatic weapons with a police raid occurring just a week before the shooting seizing several firearms that were believed to be intended for anti-Muslim attacks. Most importantly, rhetoric blaming refugees and immigrants for a nation’s problems have now become normalized and part of the mainstream, meaning racist sentiments are no longer being called out for what they really are—racist. In the face of increased funding to fighting Islamist extremism, nations have forgotten about domestic extremists in the country. The past five years have seen a rapid resurgence of nationalism and protectionalism spreading across Europe. Those who seek to accommodate or compromise with the far-right only end up encouraging their racist ideology even further.
There is little doubt that the attack in Hanau was racially motivated. The shooter made multiple comments online about “annihilating” groups from Asian, African and Middle Eastern backgrounds. Despite rising extremism, when individuals don’t challenge these sentiments, they become accepted in dominant discourse. Intelligence agencies have reported an increase in online content that both dehumanizes and degrades groups from non-European or Caucasian backgrounds. Social media has exacerbated the problem of far-right attacks with the truth constantly falsified and distorted to suit the agendas of those against immigration and multiculturalism. As of now, domestic intelligence agents estimate 24,000 far-right extremists are currently living in Germany. These high figures present a worrying sign that future racially-motivated attacks are likely.
Around the world, growing nationalism and a desire to maintain what was once the status quo now poses a threat to the lives of many. As globalization continues to spread and movement across borders continues, if these actions are not actively pursued as threats of violence, they will very quickly become acts of violence. Active challenging of racist comments, criticisms on social media and an emphasis on education programs which emphasize multiculturalism are urgently needed. Highlighting the experiences of different people from a variety of backgrounds and developing empathy and cross-cultural communication is essential. In a challenging time such as this, divisions should not be encouraged and common connections must be formed.