After each of the recent assaults, terrorist attacks and rampage killings in my native Germany, I found myself thinking “I hope it was a German.” That would have seemed right to me in view of the thoughtless, often hateful immediate reactions of so-called “concerned citizens” to these acts, involuntarily pointing towards migrants as the most likely assailants. Nor did I want the bleary visions of the future in my own family, fearing a growing threat of Islamist terror, to receive any further confirmation.
Then came Yom Kippur. I was in Germany and, not being Jewish, had planned to spend the day working. The radio news after lunchtime put an end to an otherwise peaceful morning.
„Vor einer Synagoge in Halle ereignete sich heute Mittag eine tödliche Schießerei, dabei kamen nach ersten Erkenntnissen zwei Personen ums Leben. Die Polizei fahndet nach den Tätern und gab eine Warnung an die Bevölkerung heraus.“
White noise in my head. An attack? On a synagogue?
Horror overwhelmed me for a few seconds. Then, reflexively, my brain kicked back into action and started the usual thought. “I hope it was —”
STOP! An attack? On a synagogue? In Germany!?
“Dear G-d, I hope it was NOT a German…”
STOP! What am I thinking!?
“I hope it was… some kind of shooting between criminals, some awful family drama, anything … anything other than an hatred attack on Jews! Not now, not here, not in Germany…”
Not a revolting, detestable murder attempt by a mad fanatic with crude conspiracy theories…Not a dreadful new climax of Anti-Semitism, which was never dead in this country, but hasn’t been as much alive for many years.
Only a short while later, the sad certainty that all my fears were justified. The deed was anti-Semitic, the assailant a native German. More and more details became known within hours and days about the exact course of events, the presumable partial failure of police and security authorities regarding both the protection of the synagogue as well as the persecution of the perpetrator. The despicable, disgusting world view of the attacker. Yom Kippur, the day of atonement and reconciliation, was brutally desecrated.
Despicable and disgusting to me were also some of the hollow phrases uttered by German politicians, speaking of their dismay, their deep mourning, and of the fact that there was no room for hatred of Jews in our country. Only a day after the attack, the blatant, obvious problem of right-wing radicalism and anti-Semitism was once more watered down, and political attention was yet again turned to a different direction. According to our minister of the interior, we would now need to “take a closer look at the gamer scene”… probably the most outrageous reaction to the attack, aside from the CDU chairwoman characterizing it as an “alarm signal.” If that was an alarm signal, I never want to experience the actual emergency!
Stereotypes and hatred towards Jews are so prevalent throughout the entire population – but people dissociate themselves from this whenever possible, words are twisted and statements relativized, because no one wants to be called an anti-Semite. Add to this the persistent “criticism of Israel”, especially from members of the Left and the Green parties, who would of course also never think of themselves as anti-Semitic. But this is exactly where we have to start, we have to expose Anti-Semitism if we see or hear it. We have to speak up about the prejudices, the stereotypes, and create awareness for how unsubstantial they are. At the same time, we have to stop holding the people of a country and the adherents of a religion responsible for the policy of a foreign government.
How senseless is the current debate that we are having currently – instead of discussing the uncomfortable facts, we are attacking each other on the grounds of political correctness. PC stops for me where deliberate misstatements are made, (historical) facts are denied or others insulted or defamed. Anything else must be allowed to be said out loud, otherwise our public discussion will end up as meaningless phrases and platitudes. The hush-hush around Anti-Semitism for fear of “false” words only adds fuel to the fire set by intellectual arsonists. Tolerance does not mean silence. We have to talk, before vague stereotypes turn into radicalized fanatism.
We need to be sensitive and attentive towards each other, and courageously speak out against any wrongs. We do not have to take a closer look at the gamer scene, but at all of us, no matter the age, and especially, those who are at the margins of our society. Honestly listening and talking to each other may reach those who are still able to be reached – and those who are already too far away can at least not hide anymore behind the silent majority.
We have to be vigilant and ask ourselves unpleasant questions. It may not be comfortable to face Anti-Semitism, or to remind ourselves constantly of Germany’s past. But it would surely be much more uncomfortable to live in a present where the world is frightened of Germany once again. We must not allow this country to helplessly and negligently prepare the way for fascists and Anti-Semites.
STOP! It’s time to speak up.