Incidents spark new fears of anti-Muslim sentiment in Germany

Aiman Mazyek - “German Muslims are very unsettled and feel that not enough is being done to protect them.”
Sunday 23/02/2020
Police officers escort a man, believed to be one of the 12 men arrested during a nationwide investigation into an extreme-right terror network, at the Federal Supreme Court in Karlsruhe, southern Germany, February 15. (AFP)
Serious concern. Police officers escort a man, believed to be one of the 12 men arrested during a nationwide investigation into an extreme-right terror network, at the Federal Supreme Court in Karlsruhe, southern Germany, February 15. (AFP)

London - Fears of anti-Muslim sentiment in Germany spiked following a far-right terrorist attack on two shisha cafes in western Germany in which at least nine people were killed.

Tobias Rathjen, 43, a bank clerk, on February 19 attacked people in cafes frequented by immigrants in Hanau, near Frankfurt. His body was later discovered at his home, along with the body of his mother, in what police said was murder-suicide.

Before the attack, Rathjen uploaded a 24-page text to his personal website in which he espoused far-right conspiracy theories and xenophobia. He called for the “complete annihilation” of certain ethnic minorities, including those from Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

“If there was a button available that would make this become a reality, I would press it in a flash,” he wrote.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the shooting exposed the “poison” of racism in German society and pledged to take stronger action to clamp down on far-right extremism.

“There is much to indicate that the perpetrator acted out of far-right extremist, racist motives. Out of hatred for people with other origins, other faiths or a different appearance,” Merkel said.

Far-right terrorism has become an increasing threat in Germany. The Hanau attack was one week after German authorities said they foiled a far-right terror plot targeting at least ten mosques. They arrested 12 men and seized automatic weapons.

The men, aged between 20-50, named their group “Der harte Kern” (“The Hard Core”) and had reportedly got to know each other via WhatsApp, raising questions about the ease of far-right radicalisation.

“It’s shocking what has come to light here and that there are cells which appear to have become radicalised in a very short length of time,” German Interior Ministry spokesman Bjorn Grunewalder said.

Aiman Mazyek, chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, said Muslims were afraid and called on the German government to do more to protect them.

“The mood is not good,” he told the German newspaper Allgemeine Zeitung. “German Muslims are very unsettled and feel that not enough is being done to protect them given the rapid increase in anti-Muslim racism in the country.

“It seems that, almost every other day, a mosque or Muslim community group or representative is attacked.”

After the Hanau attack, Mazyek said Germany’s Muslims would have to be more vigilant and proactive in their own protection. “The Hanau terrorist may have acted alone but his murderous, racist ideology is by no means an isolated case,” Mazyek said in a statement, warning that failure to identify the attack explicitly as far-right, anti-Muslim terrorism would encourage further attacks.

“Unfortunately, far-right terrorists are encouraged by decades of inactivity from the political and security authorities to protect Germany’s Muslim community and minorities, not to mention defamatory media reports about Islam and migrants,” he said.

“I call on the authorities, once again, to protect — visibly and seriously protect — our places of worship and representatives. This is the only way to restore trust in the German state.”

German politician Konstantin von Notz, who sits on the panel that oversees Germany’s intelligence services, acknowledged that anti-immigration sentiment was becoming more mainstream, explicitly pointing to the rise of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which became the second-largest party in Germany last year.

“It is clear that the agitation against migrants, the use of anti-Semitic narratives and the contempt for the state and the media, as has been systematically practised by the AfD for years, have fatal consequences,” he said.

“This poisoned social climate is the breeding ground for the right-wing terrorist structures, murdering individuals and terrorist attacks such as those in Halle, Kassel and now Hanau.”

Von Notz was referring to far-right terrorist attacks over the past year — the killing of a pro-migrant Christian Democratic Union politician Walter Luebcke in June by a neo-Nazi extremist and an attack on a synagogue in Halle in October by far-right extremists armed with rifles and explosives.

German police recorded an increase in hate crimes from 7,913 in 2017 to 8,113 in 2018, the majority attributed to the far right. In the first half of 2019, police registered 8,605 right-wing extremist offences, an increase of 900 over the same period in 2018.

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